Not surprised, motherf--kers? Admit it: you were at least a little surprised.
You were at least a little surprised when Khamzat Chimaev missed the 170-pound weight limit Friday by the size of a child’s bowling ball. The frenetic game of musical chairs it set off saw Chimaev exit the main event, only to witness the creation of a better contest by his absence—two action-fighting veterans would now square off, with Tony Ferguson stepping in to face the inimitable Nate Diaz.
And if that didn’t surprise you, how about 24 hours later, when Diaz brandished a guillotine choke of Ferguson in the fourth round? That was at least a mildly surprising outcome, if the oddsmakers are any barometer.
But here’s one thing that should never surprise you when it comes to Nate Diaz: He knows how to play this fight game, and when the lights went dim at the end of UFC 279 Saturday in Las Vegas, he was the last player standing.
Having just completed the last fight on his UFC contract, in his post-fight speech Diaz essentially declared it open bidding season for his services. That goes for a long-anticipated foray into boxing, but didn't end there either.
“I’m just gonna show everybody how to own another sport,” Diaz told longtime UFC broadcaster and podcaster Joe Rogan after the fight. “All the motherf--kers out there trying to run the other sports—boxing, kickboxing, jiu-jitsu, other MMA organizations—crème de la crème right here. I’m coming for you.”
We’ll unpack that more in a second, but first his win over Ferguson. As many observers noted, it’s a little sad and downright strange that this fight didn’t happen years ago. At 37 and 38 years of age, respectively, and with plenty of bouts on each ledger, Diaz and Ferguson are still plenty frisky but no longer at the peaks of their primes. No matter, the bright lights were on and there was money to be made, and in the case of Diaz, a much better shot at winning than he had against the terrifying Chimaev. (All Chimaev did was rag-doll Kevin Holland into submission inside a round in the evening's co-main event.)
“I was here to get my job done,” Diaz told Rogan. “I had one fight left, and I told them after not letting me have fights forever to just give me anyone you’ve got. I got a worthy OG, a great representative of mixed martial arts.”
Both early rounds were close, with the first being a feel-out affair that Diaz barely took on volume: 22-19 in significant strikes, per UFC stats. The second round was also close, with Ferguson bleeding around his eye by round’s end.
The third round was all Ferguson, and it looked for a moment as if El Cucuy might carry the day. At roughly 4:10 of the round, Diaz took another in a barrage of leg kicks—42 percent of Ferguson's significant strikes went to the legs—and wobbled and visibly winced. He then walked in a slow circle around the cage. It was clear Ferguson’s leg kicks—hard things that pitted bone on bone—were having their effect, including on Ferguson, who suffered from a gash on his own left shin. The damage was piling up, and Ferguson wasn’t letting off the pressure.
The momentum was not in Diaz’s favor when the championship rounds began. There were solid exchanges, with Diaz again retaking momentum by landing flurries as he chased Ferguson around the Octagon. Ferguson, perhaps reeling a bit, went for a double-leg takedown. But Diaz was ready and caught Ferguson’s head in a choke attempt. It wasn’t long before the guillotine was locked in, and Ferguson was forced to tap.
Afterward, Diaz was surprisingly magnanimous toward the UFC, a company he has previously urinated on.
“All I know is there’s been a love-hate relationship with me and the UFC the whole time I’ve been in this f--kin’ organization,” Diaz said to Rogan in an understatement. “At the end of the day, I love the UFC. Shout out to Dana White and [UFC Chief Business Officer] Hunter Campbell for giving us the platform. I feel like I’ve had the longest career in the UFC, and I’ve had the most successful one.”
But after giving his employer their flowers, he then turned to new pastures.
“I want to get out of the UFC for a minute to show all these UFC fighters how to take over another sport, how you’re supposed to do it,” Diaz said. “Conor McGregor didn’t know how to do it. I’m going to go out to another profession and I’m going to go out there and take over that, show everybody I’m the best at that, then I’m going to get right the f--k back in here and get a UFC title.”
So, what will Diaz do now? That, as they say, is the million-dollar question.
Surely Bellator and Professional Fighters League will make overtures—that $1 million PFL championship format might be alluring—but for all its long-running and well-documented issues on fighter pay, no other MMA show will be able to offer a fighter like Diaz anywhere near the return on investment that the UFC can provide. Remember: these are shows without regular pay-per-views. It might make sense in many cases. It doesn’t with Diaz. The ceiling of MMA is still rather low.
I can’t see Diaz seriously trying kickboxing, but jiu-jitsu could be a possibility. If competitive bucket-listing is now the name of the game for team Diaz, wouldn’t it be hard to resist the narrative bookend of jiu-jitsu? After all, that’s what started it all for Nate and older brother Nick. Any grappling show would sell their grandmother's dog to get Nate Diaz under its banner. Would it surprise you to see him go this way? He’s done surprising things before.
And though he doesn’t need the money, boxing is where the money is, and it’s where he’s talked about going for quite a while now. In fact, recently he’s been flirting with celebrity-boxing luminary Jake Paul. In the business world, they call that a license to print money. No surprise in the world if he takes this. (Though I'd be less surprised to see Paul find a reason not to move forward.)
Further, Diaz and the aforementioned McGregor still have unfinished business, and they both know this. There's nothing saying their trilogy fight has to a) happen in the UFC or b) be an MMA fight.
If that wasn’t enough, he also purportedly has a promotion of his own, Real Fight, Inc., in the works. Diaz has previously said this could focus on combat sports outside of MMA, so his post-fight callouts could be in relation to this. It's not just a fly-by-night thing either. Not only has he applied for a promotor's license, there are also hats.
This is a man with irons in the fire. This is also a man with a golden horseshoe lodged somewhere inside that triathlon-sharpened personage. If Chimaev hadn’t missed weight by such an egregious amount, Diaz would almost certainly have been on the business end of a one-sided beating Saturday night. Instead, he won a two-way action fight that ended with his open pitch to the entire freaking world of combat sports.
Sometimes, it’s good to be Nate Diaz. But that shouldn’t come as a surprise.