UFC 230 was supposed to be it.
It was supposed to be the return of Nate Diaz, of MMA's people's champion.
The man who throttled Conor McGregor on a week's notice after years as an underground hero, who set pay-per-view records and exploded into the public conscious to the point of being almost inescapable back in 2016.
New York was ready. The people were ready. The sport was ready.
Except Diaz wasn't ready.
He was booked to fight Dustin Poirier, his first bout in over two years, but Poirier pulled out with an injury a few weeks before they were slated to meet. Diaz, instead of taking on another comer, washed his hands of the event and stated the overt delusion that he'd wait for a title shot.
So, now we're here.
No Diaz, and no end in sight for his self-imposed hiatus. Even Dana White has thrown his hands up in frustration, stating that he has no interest in booking another Diaz fight right now because the headaches aren't worth it.
Think about that: The UFC President, who loves money more than anything in the world and has based his whole career on generating it by selling fights and fighters to the masses, couldn't be bothered collecting Diaz-related cheques because it's just too antagonizing.
If the boss is that tired of it, one can't help but wonder if the fans might not be in a similar headspace.
Circumstantially, it seems like more fans are filling social media and comment sections with discord when it comes to Diaz. Where he was once cheered on for his realness and willingness to march to his own beat, now it seems like people are growing weary of the shtick and just want to see him back in the cage.
Prospective opponents no longer see him as the big fish they did a couple of years back, either. Poirier accused him of over-negotiating their 230 bout, while McGregor has increasingly downplayed a lucrative trilogy bout between them.
There was also the nonsensical push for a 165-pound title fight that Diaz made in the lead-up to the cancelled Poirier bout. For years, both Diaz and his brother Nick had cast aspersions on the significance of a world title or the notion of becoming a UFC champion, but here was Diaz pushing for the promotion to create a belt just for him.
It's all stuff that supports the idea that Diaz has changed, and the things that made him one of MMA's most popular fighters are being seen less frequently. If one believes that to be the case, then one also believes his position as the people's champion might be lost as well.
As an example, consider the main individual who has usurped Diaz's position—both at UFC 230 and with the people who love MMA—Derrick Lewis.
Lewis has built a strong following on social media, has been highly active (he's fought six times since Diaz last appeared), and has earned a title shot and a prominent media presence in the lead-up to the event.
And people love the guy.
They love his realness, they love his exciting fights, they love that he's out there doing it all his way and that he's successful as a result.
It all would have applied to Diaz when he was on his way up and when he was at the top of his game. It all would have applied to Diaz when he was the people's champion.
It doesn't apply anymore.