Thick as Thieves: Diaz and Poirier’s UFC 230 Power Play

By Jacob Debets Sep 27, 2018



Editor’s note: The views and opinions expressed below are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Sherdog.com, its affiliates and sponsors or its parent company, Evolve Media.

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At the time of writing, we are 37 days away from the Ultimate Fighting Championship’s third event at the iconic Madison Square Garden arena, and the promotion is yet to announce a main event for the occasion. After the news last week that former light heavyweight champion and New York native Jon Jones would be clear to return to the Octagon by late October, many assumed that “Bones” would be announced as the headliner for the Nov. 3 booking. So far however, all we’ve heard from UFC President Dana White are “100-percent” denials, a position that Jones’ manager Malki Kawa confirmed on Luke Thomas’ MMA Hour podcast on Monday.

Stepping into that vacuum this week were the two men slated to fight in the event’s co-headliner, No. 3-ranked lightweight Dustin Poirier and No. 10-ranked Nate Diaz. The pair of perennial contenders announced via tweets separated by only seven minutes that their scrap had not only been elevated to the main event, but would be for the inaugural 165-pound championship.

There’s a lot to unpack here, but let’s start by highlighting the fact that Poirier and Diaz seem to be in cahoots, going over the UFC’s head to make these proclamations in the hope they might actually materialize off the back of fan intrigue and a conspicuous lack of alternatives. In a sport that in many ways feeds off of mutual -- and frequently counterintuitive -- acrimony between its athletes, this is a rare occurrence that deserves to be spotlighted, if only to underscore what might be achieved by collective action on a grander scale. It also bears mentioning that the tactic of prematurely announcing a booking to put pressure on a reluctant party is one pulled straight from the UFC’s playbook, which adds a layer of irony to this whole affair.

Next we need to consider whether the decision, should the UFC capitulate to the whim of this unlikely duo, would make sense for all parties involved, which is a thornier one to consider.

On the one hand, introducing a 165-pound division is probably an inevitability given the mind-boggling depth of talent within the UFC’s 155-pound and 170-pound weight class. The two divisions together possess a staggering 181 fighters, nearly a third of the UFC’s 591-strong roster that spans 12 different weight classes, and there are no shortage of big names in addition to Diaz and Poirier that have said they would move to 165 pounds if the option became available -- amongst them Kevin Lee, Rafael dos Anjos and Donald Cerrone.

Given the UFC’s penchant for manufacturing transient interim titles for the purpose of selling pay-per-views and filling their bloated event schedule, one would also think that creating a whole new weight class, with a brand new undisputed title, would be in the promotion’s pecuniary interests. Certainly fans would look at the 165-pound titleholder at least as favorably as they did Colby Covington, who won the interim welterweight championship at UFC 225 before being unceremoniously stripped a few months later when he couldn’t make an immediate turn-around for UFC 228.

It’s finally a move supported by regulators. The Association of Boxing Commissions approved the introduction of the 165-pound weight class (“super lightweight”) alongside the 175 (“super welterweight”), 195 (“super middleweight”) and 225-pound (“cruiserweight”) divisions last July. Before that, the California State Athletic Commission identified the new divisions as an integral part of the authority’s campaign to address the phenomenon of extreme weight cutting, asserting:

“[N]ew weight classes are essential so that each individual athlete has more options to choose a class that is suitable for them”

To qualify, this isn’t an argument all four of these weight classes should be introduced overnight. The notion of creating 195- and 225-pound divisions seems particularly ill-advised given the shallowness of the UFC’s light heavyweight and heavyweight divisions. But rolling out the 165-pound weight class in a few weeks’ time, and ultimately transitioning the 170-pound weight class to 175-pounds does have a lot of advantages.

The downsides, though? They’re also varied and persuasive. The optics of rolling out a 165-pound division before you figure out what to do with welterweight is apt to make a notoriously convoluted sport that much more inaccessible to the mainstream sports fan base, and its never a great look to be handing out title shots based primarily on scheduling.

Not that the UFC cares much for meritocracy in 2018, there’s also credibility tax to be paid if Nate Diaz, who’s competed just four times in as many years and lost as many as he’s won over that period, gets the first crack at the new title. Likewise, there’s a risk that if the famously recalcitrant Stockton native wins the belt he’ll price himself out of defending it -- a move that would require the UFC to immediately put the division on ice, create another interim belt, or strip its eighth champion since William Morris Endeavour bought the company in 2016.

Ultimately, given the UFC’s tendency to react to being strong-armed by fighters with Agent Orange levels of animus, it seems unlikely that the company will reward “The Diamond” and his Californian dance partner for their subversion -- even if creating a 165-pound belt is on balance, the right call. The only thing the UFC likes more than oodles of cash is to maintain its control over fighters not named Conor McGregor, and if that means cutting off its the nose to spite the face in the form of a nonsensical 205-pound interim title bout between Yoel Romero and Alexander Gustafsson as has been rumored, then you can be damn sure that’s what we’re going to get.

But if the improbable happens, and Diaz and Poirier do end up battling it out for the super-lightweight championship on Nov. 3, it wouldn’t be the worst thing in the world. And in this sport, sometimes you have to take what you can get.

Jacob Debets is a recent law graduate who lives in Melbourne, Australia. He has been an MMA fan for more than a decade and trains in muay Thai and boxing at DMDs MMA in Brunswick. He is currently writing a book analyzing the economics and politics of the MMA industry. You can view more of his writing at jacobdebets.com.

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