Conor McGregor vs. Nate Diaz 3: The Only Fight to Make

Jeremy Botter@jeremybotterMMA Senior WriterSeptember 27, 2017

FILE - In this July 7, 2016, file photo, Dana White, center, stands between Nate Diaz, left, and Conor McGregor during a news conference in Las Vegas for UFC 202. McGregor is being fined $150,000 by the Nevada Athletic Commission for a profanity-laced bottle-throwing fracas that erupted during a pre-fight news conference with rival Nate Diaz in August in Las Vegas. (AP Photo/John Locher, File)
John Locher/Associated Press

Conor McGregor vs. Nate Diaz?

In the words of Diaz, I'm not surprised.

This is destiny, or at least something like it.

I've long written that McGregor would never return to the Octagon after his Mayweather payday. McGregor himself hasn't been shy about his mantra: Get in. Get Rich. Get out.

Conor McGregor @TheNotoriousMMA

Get in. Get rich. Get out.

He's rich beyond measure now, so it seems like a good time for the third part of that plan.

And besides, how could he go back to making a few million dollars for a single fight? He just pulled in well over $100 million in the easiest payday he'll ever receive. The idea of McGregor going back to the UFC and facing the likes of Tony Ferguson, Kevin Lee and Khabib Nurmagomedov? For 1/10th of what he received for his last fight?

It's silly.

Of course, that was before Dana White started talking about granting McGregor an ownership stake in the UFC, per MMAjunkie.

White's admission was the latest sign that in this new WME-UFC world, the old rules can be broken. Genuine stars are treated differently than the rank and file. Exceptions can be made.

If the rumor mill is correct, McGregor's getting another special exemption.

The Irish tabloid Sunday World reported over the weekend that McGregor vs. Diaz 3 was set for December 30 in Las Vegas, Nevada, which makes all the sense in the world. Tabloids, in general, aren't exactly known for the accuracy of their reporting; you take their copy with a whole bottle of salt.

But then White tweeted that the story wasn't true. Which essentially confirmed that it was, in fact, true. Any UFC fan will tell you that it's best to just believe the opposite of whatever White says. Veteran journalist Ariel Helwani—a much more dependable source than White these days—noted that the fight wasn't a done deal, but that it was still the plan.

Ariel Helwani @arielhelwani

That fight is still the plan, however, any report claiming it’s a done deal or even close to done is premature. Not close to done at all.

Whether it happens in December or sometime in 2018, it's clear that McGregor's next fight in the UFC will be against Diaz. It's the fight that makes sense, both for McGregor and for the UFC. Yeah, the winner of Ferguson vs. Lee on October 7 will be a much more deserving title fight candidate than Diaz. The Stockton kid hasn't fought at lightweight in two years, and his record in the division isn't stellar.

But records don't matter. The idea that someone is deserving of a title shot being passed over has no place in mixed martial arts, and yet it's the one concept a subsection of fans have the most trouble grasping. From its inception, mixed martial arts has been about drawing money. Hardcore fans like to speak of PRIDE and how good things were in the old days; some of them would be wise to read up on the founder of PRIDE and why that company came about in the first place.

The modern UFC has been wrapped in the veneer of sport, with a network television sheen and high-gloss vibe that makes it more palatable to a wider audience. But in truth, it's the same old business it has always been, and the point of the thing is the same as it's always been: maximize eyeballs and pull in dollars by the fistful.

Isaac Brekken/Associated Press

Ferguson vs. Lee is a sublime fight. The winner will be interim lightweight champion, and in a perfect world, they would move on to a unification match with McGregor. They'd get the chance to show the world that they, not the loud-mouthed Irish guy who talked his way to the top, are the best in the world at what they do.

But winning the interim lightweight title will put them no closer to McGregor than they are right now, because they've already been leapfrogged by Diaz. For McGregor, Diaz represents the biggest payday possible. The biggest chance to continue filling his coffers.

LAS VEGAS, NV - AUGUST 24:   (L-R) Opponents Tony Ferguson and Kevin Lee face off during the UFC 215 & UFC 216 Title Bout Participants Las Vegas Media Day at the UFC Headquarters on August 24, 2017 in Las Vegas, Nevada. (Photo by Brandon Magnus/Zuffa LLC/
Brandon Magnus/Zuffa LLC/Getty Images

McGregor has never once cared about proving that he's the best in the world, at least not for the reasons everyone else cares about proving they're the best. If that was his goal, he would've given Jose Aldo a rematch. He would've faced down the top featherweights in the UFC before moving to lightweight. He would've competed against Nurmagomedov and the very best at lightweight and not even considered a bout against Mayweather, regardless of the money it represented.

But none of those things happened, because what McGregor cares about is being wealthy. Which is absolutely fine, because he's been honest about his goals and the path he'll take to reach those goals from the start. It's not like we're seeing an unexpected personality change. This is who he has been from the very beginning.

Which is why nobody should be surprised that he's returning to the Octagon not against a legitimate contender who can help him cement a legacy, but against the man who will help him earn the biggest payday possible.