ANAHEIM, Calif. — UFC president Dana White couldn’t help but admit he was wrong.
The evidence inside Honda Center on Saturday night was overwhelming.
Back in 2014, White famously proclaimed Nate Diaz’s name didn’t impact ratings and box office numbers in the way his brother Nick’s did and that he just wasn’t a big star on his own.
But UFC 241 set a California record for biggest live gate at a mixed martial arts event and the UFC’s internal analytics are trending toward a massive pay-per-view rating.
There was no doubt based on audience reaction inside the building and online discussion who was drawing that interest despite the card being headlined by possibly the two best heavyweights in the organization’s history, Daniel Cormier and Stipe Miocic.
“It’s pretty tough to deny,” White said of Nate Diaz’s impact at the post-event news conference. “Yeah, he’s a needle-mover now.”
Diaz returned from a three-year layoff to score a unanimous-decision victory over former lightweight champion Anthony Pettis in a welterweight bout on Saturday, showing very few signs of rust in a vintage Diaz performance.
Armed with the impressive victory and the mea culpa from White, Diaz could have used the stage to lash out about the prior slight.
Instead, he took the highest of roads, if you look past the well-placed expletives.
“He knew then, too,” Diaz said. “But that’s not a good business move to tell me I’m the (expletive), because then I’m going to be like, ‘Give me the (expletive) money. Give me some ‘I’m the (expletive) money.’ You feel me?
“He had to do what he had to do, so I ain’t mad at him later for that. But it’s cool that he’s acknowledging the fact.”
Now that everyone’s on the same page regarding Diaz’s marketability, the question becomes how he wants to capitalize on it.
The 34-year-old says he never really went away from the sport, he was just waiting for fights that interest him and he had enough money to be patient after the two huge paychecks he got for fighting Conor McGregor twice. Diaz often analogizes his thought process in picking fights to how he and his friends used to approach playing the “Street Fighter” video game when they would sit around and choose matchups simply by who were the baddest characters available with the coolest finishing moves.
Diaz insists he has little interest in fighting either welterweight champ Kamaru Usman or lightweight champ Khabib Nurmagomedov because they don’t fit that criteria, so he has anointed himself as champion of a new class.
“This is the fight game,” Diaz said. “Quit acting like this is a professional sport. (Take) whatever they want to give me? No, I’m going to take what’s mine. That’s what I’m talking about, the baddest (expletive) title. I need that belt made as soon as possible.
“You have to recognize who is the best in the game, and it’s not who they say it is. It’s who I’m saying it is. It’s the guy who has been winning forever and still on the top of the game. Who’s the real badass dude in the 170 division? They’re trying to pump up this dude (Ben Askren), and (Jorge) Masvidal goes in there and knocks his (expletive) out, and he’s been here since I started fighting in 2004, I think. That’s the guy to fight. We’re fighting for the baddest (expletive) in the game belt, and that’s mine. I’d like to defend it against him, so if you want to be the baddest (expletive), that’s how we’re going to do it.”
White thinks that matchup makes a lot of sense.
“Who wouldn’t want to see that fight?” he said.
Much of whether it gets made or not could also depend on whether McGregor chooses to come back and if Diaz is the fight he wants. Diaz has no plans to wait three years again for his next fight, but certainly won’t accept an offer that doesn’t get him excited.
“If everything works out right how it’s supposed to work out, I’ll fight next month,” he said. “If nobody wants to get this done how it’s supposed to be done and do it right, and treat it like it should be treated, I ain’t even going to be in no rush.
“It’s not going to be me who’s going to be doing the sitting out. It’s something that’s going to be holding me out, or people not jumping on there trying to get it done.”
The needle has officially moved. Diaz wants to make sure the compensation follows.
Attendance: 17,304 (sellout)
Gate: $3,237,032 (New California record gate for mixed martial arts)
Fight of the Night: Paulo Costa vs. Yoel Romero
Performances of the Night: Khama Worthy and Stipe Miocic