There is a fairly polarizing, possibly hot take incoming. Prepare yourself accordingly.
What if the Diaz brothers aren’t the moneymakers everyone thinks they are?
Don’t say you weren’t warned.
The 2017 MMA calendar is almost through its first quarter and neither of Nate or Nick Diaz have been anywhere of consequence. Sure, they’re showing up on TMZ or in obscure gym interviews, lovably getting high and doing triathlons or threatening to go get rich in a boxing ring, but the actual fistic action has been quite limited.
Nate hasn’t fought since August of last year, when he officially became richer than he could ever have imagined after a UFC 202 bout with Conor McGregor.
Nick has been missing even longer, bureaucratized into irrelevancy since early 2015 by the Nevada Athletic Commission after a series of failed recreational drug tests.
Fights have been offered, and fights have been turned down. Unanimously. The responses have been anywhere between a sassy tweet and total silence, leaving UFC President Dana White’s pristine dome to redden with frustration as two of his bigger guns maintain their self-imposed hiatuses.
Bigger guns? Is there really any concrete evidence of that? The whole sport has begun to take the idea of the Diaz brothers as draws for granted because they’re just so damn enjoyable, but is it a notion that can truly be supported?
That’s less of a certainty.
If one looks at the numbers, Nate has always done well on television. As a headliner in the Spike TV days he never dropped below a million viewers drawn, and in the FOX era he’s never drawn below 2.4 million with his name on the marquee.
On pay-per-view, though, he’s largely been used as an action fighter who’ll bolster a card featuring other, bigger names. The only times he’s headlined were against McGregor, and while those events were two of the top selling events the UFC has ever offered, it’s fair to suggest that has as much to do with McGregor as anything else.
The Irishman is the undisputed pay-per-view king of MMA and has parlayed his success into a near-certain meeting with boxing megastar Floyd Mayweather despite never having competed in the ring. McGregor versus his own socks would do 750,000 buys at this point, but there’s nothing to suggest that Diaz can draw such interest without the right opponent.
The evidence is even more problematic when looking at Nick. Despite having negotiated pay-per-view points as a non-champion, there’s not much beyond the sheer love of the hardcore MMA community to indicate the elder Diaz is a major star when behind a paywall.
In his time fighting in EliteXC and Strikeforce he served as a headliner regularly and put on some of the best fights the sport has ever seen in the process. The most viewers he ever drew? 561,000, when he won the Strikeforce welterweight title against Marius Zaromskis.
It’s not grossly sunnier in the pay space. A total of 280,000 people paid to watch him fight BJ Penn, 400,000 for Carlos Condit in an interim title fight and a respectable 650,000 for a fantasy matchup against all-time great Anderson Silva. His home run was against Georges St-Pierre, which sold nearly a million units, but St-Pierre is akin to McGregor in that many people in the sporting mainstream were invested in his career and most would pay to watch him fight a coat rack.
Again, not much to suggest that Diaz can draw without the right opponent, regardless of how purely entertaining and enjoyable he is both in the lead-up to a bout and once the cage door closes.
At a time when the UFC is scrambling to fill cards and trying to find matchups that can sell, the answer that comes from the fanbase more often than not is to call a Diaz brother or two; they’ll instantly get people interested and make you some quick cheddar, and they’ll do it by being fun to watch.
The latter is apparent—there is no one, no one, in MMA more fun to watch than a Diaz brother. Their violence is poetry, all rangy crispness on the feet and lethal finishing instinct on the ground.
The former, though? That’s less sure. The sport has taken it for granted for quite some time, but the numbers don’t necessarily bare it out.
And maybe that, above all else, is why the UFC hasn’t rushed to get them back into the mix at a time of such obvious urgency.