Why Did the UFC Bury Possible Fight of the Year in Dustin Poirier vs. Nate Diaz?

Scott Harris@ScottHarrisMMAMMA Lead WriterAugust 7, 2018

Dustin Poirier (left) and Nate Diaz (right)
Dustin Poirier (left) and Nate Diaz (right)Jeff Bottari/Zuffa LLC/Getty Images

Don't let tunnel vision happen to you.

Friday's booking of Conor McGregor vs. Khabib Nurmagomedov for the latter's UFC lightweight title set the MMA world ablaze. Its biggest star, one of its best champions, two compelling but competing styles and a lot of bad blood. The sport offers no better combination.

If you noticed a narrowing sensation in your eyesight upon hearing the news, know you are not alone. Symptoms include an inability to see anything aside from Conor-Khabib and a near-total loss of perspective. If you notice yourself experiencing these symptoms, take heart. There is a cure.

Dustin Poirier vs. Nathan Diaz, which the UFC also announced Friday, will take place Nov. 3 at Madison Square Garden in New York City.

Make no mistake: This could be the fight of the year.

Therein lies the heightened risk of tunnel vision. The UFC announced Conor-Khabib the same day as it announced Diaz-Poirier. Not only that, it did so at a Los Angeles media event ostensibly designed to promote Diaz-Poirier.

The timing was not lost on Diaz or Poirier. The former was in attendance for the media event. Upon seeing the big reveal, he promptly got up and stormed out. 

He later claimed he would no longer fight, and that the UFC was underpromoting him (language NSFW).

Diaz is one of the UFC's biggest stars. He's also among its most mercurial. Bluster and wild proclamations are nothing new from him.

This time, though, Diaz had the backing of a steadier presence: Poirier. Not long after Diaz voiced his frustration, Poirier did as well. He may have been joking, but he hasn't deleted the tweet, either. Stranger things have happened in the name of plausible deniability.

Assuming the source of their frustration was the timing of the Conor-Khabib announcement, it makes some sense. Couldn't the UFC have waited a week? Robbing Peter to pay Paul has never been a sustainable business model.

Was the news burning too hot a hole in the pocket of UFC President Dana White? Would a small delay in the Conor-Khabib announcement cause an indelible impact on ticket sales and pay-per-view buys? Wouldn't a small waiting period give Diaz-Poirier a chance to marinate a bit in the minds of casual fans? Why did this become almost an either-or situation when there were plenty of column inches to go around?

Hardcore MMA followers need no persuasion. Diaz hasn't competed in two years. He lost to McGregor the last time he fought, but that evened their personal ledger after Diaz became the first person to beat McGregor in the UFC Octagon. Diaz has a gutsy boxing style backstopped by a solid jiu-jitsu base. His incorrigible-but-lovable persona atones for any fan concern over his constant war of words with the UFC.

Poirier might be the best lightweight out there today not named Khabib Nurmagomedov. The historical book on the Louisiana native was that he was a good, exciting fighter who didn't quite have what it took to reach the top echelon. That perception changed when he returned to lightweight in 2015. He has a well-rounded skill set and a nose for the finish that led him to an 8-1 (1) record since that return, including six stoppages and a knockout of ex-champ Eddie Alvarez.

This was a welcome-back party for Diaz and a coming-out party for Poirier. It is two action fighters who would surely draw blood; the need for judges' scorecards seems unlikely. Lots of strengths, few discernible weaknesses, great talent, great showmanship. The UFC's decision to stage this fight in the heart of midtown Manhattan tells you all you need to know about the esteem in which it holds this matchup.

So, why bury this intensely appealing matchup under the green wave of McGregor and his triumphant return against Nurmagomedov? 

Sure, Conor-Khabib is the bigger matchup. It might be the biggest matchup in UFC history. But imagine eating a hot fudge sundae, only for the waiter to come over and drop a massive bone-in ribeye on it. I love a good bone-in ribeye, but can't I finish my alone time with the sundae first?

The UFC did more than hurt a few feelings here. It buried its own fight to no discernible end. It's as if the promotional brain-trust was so excited to see McGregor's signature on its documents that it couldn't summon the wherewithal to do anything except blurt out the announcement the moment the cameras started rolling. 

Does the UFC have a right to be excited? Yes. But it had a right to be excited about Poirier-Diaz, too. So did everybody else.

As it is, it looks like we'll have to muddle through our collective case of tunnel vision together. At least we have each other.

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