Opinion: Is Nate Diaz a big enough PPV draw to headline UFC 230?

With UFC 230 now less than six weeks away and fans still awaiting an announcement regarding a main event, speculation is rife regarding who could potentially meet the high expectations of headlining a UFC event at Madison Square Garden, New York.

One option which appears to be gaining traction on social media is the idea of having current co-main event, Dustin Poirier vs. Nate Diaz, elevated to main event status, with Poirier even suggesting creating a 165lb division and having them fight for the (currently non existent) title.

The trouble is, while both are undeniably talented fighters, neither really have the public profile one would expect a NYC UFC PPV headliner to have – the last two events in New York were headlined by Conor McGregor vs. Eddie Alvarez and Michael Bisping vs. Georges St Pierre respectively.

That said, there are a number of people who would disagree with my previous statement and who would argue that Diaz is a big enough star to anchor what is traditionally one of the UFC’s biggest cards of the year. For one reason or another the Diaz brothers have built a serious, core group of ride or die style fans (say something remotely critical of a Diaz on one of the many MMA Facebook groups – I dare you) and they would absolutely have us believe that Diaz is the man for the job at UFC 230.

So, in a bid to settle this once and for all, lets take a walk back through the Stockton natives career and see if the numbers back up the rhetoric.

Over the course of his 23 fight UFC career (14-9-0 over that time), Diaz has twice appeared in a PPV main event. Considering these two appearances hold the number one and number two spot as the most viewed PPV’s in UFC history, if you look at them in isolation it would appear logical to say that Diaz really moves the needle.

They are indisputably big numbers, the biggest in the history of the promotion, however, context is key to understanding anything. In this case, we can’t ignore the fact that Diaz’s opponent on both of these occasions was Conor McGregor.

Conor-McGregor-Nate-Diaz-748003

The mercurial Irishman has a proven history of delivering for the promotion when it comes to PPV buys, having been one half of all but one of the UFC’s top five selling events of all time, the lone exception being UFC 100: Lesnar vs Mir.

Prior to his first bout with McGregor, Diaz appeared in six consecutive non PPV cards, putting together a record of 3-3-0 during that spell. Just one of those fights was a main event as the 33-year-old faced Grey Maynard at the TUF 18 Finale. As far as ratings go, the TUF 18 Finale certainly out performed the events which followed, delivering 130,000 more viewers than the TUF 19 Finale and 240,000 more than TUF 20 Finale but fell short of reaching the numbers achieved by the TUF 17 event.

Realistically, The Ultimate Fighter Finale viewer numbers were clearly on the decline at this point with viewing figures for each event falling short of the preceding one. With that in mind it’s tricky to use this particular fight as a gauge for Diaz’s potential to draw viewers.

Admittedly his pair of contests with McGregor elevated the popular Stockton native into mainstream consciousness but considering the effect the Irishman has on PPV numbers, it seems logical to assume the majority of “casual” fans (I’m really sorry, I truly hate using that word) were tuning in to watch McGregor rather than Diaz.

It’s true that their second fight delivered 300,000 more buys than the first, but how much of that can be attributed to Diaz’s popularity vs the desire to see if McGregor could bounce back from his shock defeat in their first meeting?

Perhaps it’s worth examining some of Diaz’s main event appearances on “UFC on FOX” cards to see how their ratings compare with other events?

HendersonDiaz_2422277b

Diaz’s second ever UFC main event appearance, an unsuccessful title challenge against reigning lightweight champ Benson Henderson, is the third highest rated UFC on FOX event of all time. That’s a serious number of viewers, only surpassed by a heavyweight title tilt between Cain Velasquez and Junior Dos Santos at UFC on FOX 1 (yes, that was honestly a UFC on FOX fight…) and a light heavyweight title fight between Rashad Evans and Phil Davis at UFC on FOX 2.

So where is all of this going? Despite it being six years since Diaz headlined a FOX/FS1 card, I believe it’s safe to draw the conclusion that he is a big enough name to be a draw should he find himself in a cable main event again. The question is, does the same conclusion apply to a Pay Per View event?

I don’t believe it does.

Fighters who deliver big numbers on PPV cards tend to be those with proven track records of delivering over time. Yes, Diaz was half of the top two PPV events in UFC history but based on the information available, I believe those numbers would have been the same with almost any other fighter facing McGregor. There is very little evidence to suggest that it was Diaz who truly moved the needle on either of those events.

With the clock ticking and time running out for the UFC to unveil it’s planned main event for UFC 230, I honestly don’t expect the end result to be Poirier vs Diaz headlining the card. On the other hand, if the two lightweights do end up in the coveted main event spot at Madison Square Garden, we will finally get a definitive answer on whether Diaz has the ability to pull in a PPV audience.

Do you believe Diaz is a legitimate PPV draw? Let me know what you think either in the comments or on Twitter @tommymull_mma.

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