Nick Diaz told TMZ that he wants to fight Kamaru Usman for the welterweight title sometime before the end of the year. The initial reaction was that it was crazy and could never happen and was just a case of Nick being Nick.
The UFC doesn’t have a perfect record, but it’s the best there is in combat sports at protecting the integrity of its championships. Look at the vast majority of title fights the UFC has put on in the Dana White Era in the past 21 years and there is a consistency and a logic to how the promotion has made its title matches.
Fighters must win against an increasingly higher and more skilled level of opposition to get a title fight. You don’t just get to jump the line.
White won’t even allow Henry Cejudo, one of the greatest fighters in mixed martial arts history and a UFC champion at flyweight and bantamweight, to end his retirement and fight for the featherweight title in his return.
It would give Cejudo the opportunity to become the first three-division champion in UFC history and would be a massive story. That would also lead to big pay-per-view sales.
But White has said that if Cejudo wants to come back, it won’t be in a featherweight title fight. He said if Cejudo wins a bantamweight belt again, he could then go up to featherweight and try for the title there.
In denying Cejudo an immediate featherweight title shot, White is following the established procedures that have been in place since the Zuffa purchase of the UFC in 2001.
This, though, is a procedure the company has most often followed. It’s not a constitutional amendment. It’s White’s company and they're his titles. He can do with them as he wishes.
That being said, the notion of Nick Diaz fighting Usman for the title makes little sense. Diaz returned from a six-year retirement at UFC 266 on Sept. 25 to fight Robbie Lawler in a middleweight bout. Lawler won the bout by TKO in the third round.
Diaz hasn’t actually fought at welterweight since he lost to Georges St-Pierre in a title fight at UFC 158 in the infamous “wolf tickets” show in Montreal. He hasn’t won a welterweight fight since defeating B.J. Penn at UFC 137 on Oct. 29, 2011.
None of that bothers Diaz, though, who told TMZ he’s not interested in going through the ranks to earn a title shot.
“I’m working [on a return for] the end of the year right now,” Diaz said to TMZ. “ … If I’m going to fight, I want to fight for the title.”
Usman has dominated the welterweight division and has won 19 fights in a row, dating back to 2013. He’s won 15 consecutive UFC fights and has gone 6-0 in welterweight title fights.
There are several contenders near the top of the division who are deserving of a title shot, most notably Leon Edwards, who has won nine in a row since losing to Usman in 2015.
Khamzat Chimaev has taken the UFC by storm and is ranked third, one spot behind Edwards. Belal Muhammad is ranked fifth after defeating Demian Maia, Stephen Thompson and Vicente Luque in his last three outings.
All of those guys, as well as No. 1 Colby Covington, who lost two fights to Usman, Gilbert Burns and even Luque, deserve a title fight ahead of Diaz.
But — and there’s always a but — none of them have Diaz’s cachet. When his return to competition was announced last year, it was one of the biggest UFC stories of the year. The fan reaction was over the top.
It was supposed to be a welterweight fight, but Diaz then asked for it to be changed to a middleweight fight on Tuesday of fight week. Lawler, ever the professional, agreed to in some respects save the show.
The card was topped by title fights between featherweight champion Alexander Volkanovski and Brian Ortega, and a women’s flyweight title fight between champion Valentina Shevchenko and Lauren Murphy. The “real” main event, though, was Diaz versus Lawler. That’s the one that sparked so many of the pay-per-view buys.
“If I’m going to fight, I want to fight for the title,” Diaz said. “ … Just skip all the mess. I don’t need to go in there and get my ass whooped by one of the young guys, anyway — and it’s not that I won’t win. It’s just not motivating to fight somebody that’s — I want to fight for the title. I’m 38 years old.”
Usman would beat Diaz, probably in the first round. He’d likely take him down and finish him with ground-and-pound. Usman is 4-0 against the UFC’s top five. Chimaev is gaining the kind of cult hero status that Diaz has enjoyed for years, but Usman would be favored against him by a strong number.
An Usman-Diaz fight would not come without risk, and there would be plenty of criticism that it denigrated the title’s value by giving a guy a title shot who hadn’t won a fight in 11 years and who hadn’t fought in the division in nine.
But it would be huge. They could sell pay-per-views to the pre-fight news conferences and it would wind up selling more than some of the PPV fight cards they’ve offered.
Usman would win emphatically, but that’s pretty much what happens now no matter who he’s against.
It would be unconventional. I’m not recommending it, per se, but let’s just say this: If Dana White were ever inclined to break his procedures and make an out-of-the-box title fight, I wouldn’t complain if this were it.