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Ranking the Best Opponents for Nate Diaz's Last UFC Fight

Scott Harris@ScottHarrisMMAMMA Lead WriterMay 13, 2022

GLENDALE, ARIZONA - JUNE 12: Nate Diaz prepares to fight Leon Edwards of Jamaica during their UFC 263 welterweight match at Gila River Arena on June 12, 2021 in Glendale, Arizona.
Christian Petersen/Getty Images

We know Nate Diaz has one fight left on his UFC contract.

And that's about all we know.

Will the UFC re-sign him? Will he head to Bellator or the Professional Fighters League? Will he try boxing? Or will Diaz, as he's threatened to and plausibly could do, simply fight one more time and take his millions and ride into the California sunset? 

As of now, it seems he's interested in moving on from a UFC partnership he believes has kept him inactive in part because he always asks for big money—it's a famillar UFC tactic. And if Diaz's negotiating mindset was unclear before Thursday, he helpfully tweeted a picture of himself triumphantly urinating on the grounds of UFC headquarters. The UFC is not going to like that.

Nathan Diaz @NateDiaz209

Taking a piss on the ufc pi I could do this cause I get paid more than all uguys and they won’t cut me https://t.co/doiOxUOh4y

Urination aside, what does the future hold here? Who might Diaz fight next? Don't forget that he is 37 years old now, and truth be told he wasn't a world-beater even in his prime. Diaz's popularity with fans was never about championships, but rather his inimitable charisma in and out of the cage. So the sweet spot is finding a good—but not too good—opponent with comparable name value.

So let's see what we can figure out, shall we? Here are five fighters who have been bandied about as potential dance partners. They're listed from least to most likely.

     

5. Stephen Thompson

In that endlessly friendly way of his, Thompson recently called Diaz out on Twitter, saying the matchup would be a "good striking battle." (Thompson also called out Diaz's older brother Nick, but that bout seems extremely unlikely given that Nick has competed exactly once in the past seven years and tapped to strikes in his bout last year with Robbie Lawler.)

Stephen “Wonderboy” Thompson @WonderboyMMA

I’m down to fight @nickdiaz209 or @NateDiaz209 ! I have nothing but respect for both of those guys and I’m ready to go. Who wouldn’t love good striking battle?! #respect #readytogo

Thompson has an unassailable kickboxing pedigree, not to mention 11 wins under the UFC banner. The bout would take place at 170 pounds, with welterweight appearing to be Diaz's preferred class as opposed to 15 pounds less at lightweight. But Thompson can be conservative in his approach and may not give fans the bite-down-on-the-mouthpiece moments they relish, especially when Diaz is involved.

Consider this Plan E for Nate.

    

4. Dustin Poirier

Both competitors actually agreed to this fight until, according to Diaz, the UFC put the kibosh on the matchup.

Speaking on the Weighing In podcast (h/t Chisanga Malata of The Sun), former ref and current MMA pundit John McCarthy opined that "the UFC does not want to allow [Diaz] to fight a big-name guy for the last fight on his contract."

Regardless of reasons, it will be a bummer if this one doesn't come to fruition. Both men like to mix it up—Poirier on the inside and Diaz more from range. Even more importantly, both have the star power to make this a surefire pay-per-view A-side, which isn't necessarily the case with some of these other names.

This one has a wait-and-see feel to it. If Poirier can't find a good opponent down at lightweight, he has made it clear he'll jump up to 170 pounds, where Diaz could well be waiting.

     

3. Michael Chandler

This is the fight Diaz seems to want. And Chandler seems game to give it to him.

Nathan Diaz @NateDiaz209

UFC got me on ice for a year now chandlers obviously ready to fight send a contract it’s time https://t.co/YJBWEu790F

Michael Chandler @MikeChandlerMMA

I’m there. Quick turn around. Spin your head on its axis. @natediaz209 https://t.co/43AJiZtmlx

However, Chandler also seems game to face Conor McGregor, and vice versa. In his post-fight interview last weekend (h/t Bloody Elbow), Chandler said he'd like to face Charles Oliveira for the lightweight strap, but "if they give this [lightweight] title shot to someone else, I got one dude on my mind. Conor McGregor, you gotta come back and fight somebody!" 

McGregor responded on Twitter that a bout with Chandler would be "a nice knock" while leaving himself some wiggle room by noting, "I'm definitely game to fight [Chandler] at some stage in my career."

Chandler has plenty of momentum after rearranging Tony Ferguson's face at UFC 274 with the nastiest front-kick knockout the UFC has seen since Anderson Silva felled Vitor Belfort back in 2011. The former Bellator champ makes no secret of the fact that he wants big fights and is ready and willing to put on exciting scraps.

Although both Diaz and Chandler have decent ground games, this one would likely play out on the feet. Diaz can't match Chandler's power but still may be able to outbox him. Win or lose, this is the kind of Fight of the Night candidate that could send Diaz off with a bang.

You know, if the UFC wants to do that. If it doesn't, Diaz is on the outside looking in.

          

2. Khamzat Chimaev

MMA Twitter recently performed a little detective work. In a video interview with UFC President Dana White, a matchmaking chart visible in the background included Diaz vs. Chimaev penciled in for July 2.

Ilies Mkt @IliesMkt

Khamzat Chimaev vs Nate Diaz le 2 juillet ??? 📸 @thepivot https://t.co/ynzhjOr4lY

White subsequently played it down, noting that some of the matchups on the board are "placeholders" and not necessarily official. Diaz himself has also indicated in the past that he isn't interested in facing Chimaev.

On May 8, Diaz has also cited a Chimaev injury as a reason for not facing the 28-year-old. It's an interesting thing to say, as Chimaev only received a 30-day medical suspension after his UFC 273 defeat of Gilbert Burns on April 9 and no other injury has been made public. 

For his part, Chimaev recently claimed that Diaz turned down a fight with him "10 times."

Chimaev, one of the hottest fighters in the UFC, has the wrestling, dynamism and sheer power to rag-doll Diaz around the cage. He'd be a heavy favorite over Diaz, and both men surely know that. This could put a damper on not just the fight itself but the intrigue leading up to it. Who wants to watch their hero get led to slaughter?

That said, as noted, UFC brass has been known to make unfavorable matchups for fighters with the temerity to stand up to them, especially if said fighters are no longer going to be with the promotion anymore. If you're the UFC, why not take some bloom off the Diaz rose if he's set to jump to a competing show?

There is the small matter of fact that this bout would not carry the same pre-fight buzz, particularly among casual fans, that others might. Chimaev is pretty good on the mic, but he's not a huge name, at least not quite yet. This would be a touch anticlimactic for a fanbase looking for one last fireworks display from Diaz.

      

1. Conor McGregor

John Locher/Associated Press

This is your leader in the clubhouse, even if McGregor appears tempted to move on to other pastures. But he knows full well that none of those pastures are as money-green as a rubber match with Diaz at 170 pounds.

McGregor can probably call his shot for his return opponent after breaking his leg last year in a bout with Poirier. It appears he could jump the contender line at lightweight. Given that Charles Oliveira was stripped of this belt after missing weight at UFC 274—but then did a number on Justin Gaethje in the main event, after which he called out McGregor and no one else—a matchup with the Irishman this summer would have the twist of both men vying for a vacant title. There's also the issue of McGregor's aforementioned dalliance with Chandler.

As for McGregor-Diaz, it can't be overstated: This fight would make everyone involved a lot of money. Adding intrigue is a feeling that Diaz wants to fight now, rather than wait for McGregor to return.

"Many people think Diaz wants to fight McGregor, and it's just not true," said ESPN reporter Brett Okamoto

We'll see. With all that money on the line, with the built-in storyline of a trilogy fight and both men wanting to fight at 170 pounds instead of 155, this may be too hard to resist. Oliveira has plenty of other suitors in the deep lightweight division, including the streaking and dangerous Islam Makhachev. Oliveira understandably wants the McGregor payday, but it feels like a square peg in a round hole for now. 

While the UFC surely enjoys sticking it to fighters who stick it to them, money still talks. With McGregor coming back from a serious injury after a yearlong layoff and being 1-3 in his past four dating back to 2018, it's an open question as to how sharp he'll be in his return. Better to give him a winnable fight with Diaz than throw him directly into deep waters.

The UFC can, and I'm betting will, let these two guys sell 2 million pay-per-views rather than cut off its nose to spite its face by feeding Diaz to Chimaev.

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