All the Cage: Will Nick Diaz or Brock Lesnar really return to the Octagon?

Kevin Iole
·Combat columnist
·5 mins read
A weekly look at MMA’s hottest topics.
A weekly look at MMA’s hottest topics.

He hasn’t fought in nearly six years and he hasn’t won in nearly nine, but that never stops the internet from going crazy when rumors of Nick Diaz’s return to competition arise.

This time, they’re not even rumors. Diaz’s manager, Kevin Mubenga, told ESPN on Sunday that Diaz is planning to return to the UFC.

You can’t get a better source unless it was Diaz himself making the announcement.

But will he actually return? Both Nick and younger brother Nate are difficult to figure, and their decision-making process is vastly different than the rest.

If Nick Diaz returned as a welterweight, it could be a get-rich quick scheme for him, because there are a number of compelling fights for him at 170 pounds.

Imagine how many pay-per-views a card headlined by Nick Diaz against Conor McGregor would sell? And a bout between Diaz and Jorge Masvidal would be nearly as big. Diaz would do great business with Colby Covington, as well.

A title fight against champion Kamaru Usman would be huge, and while bouts with Gilbert Burns and Leon Edwards wouldn’t be as sexy, they’d still be compelling matches that would bring out the hardcore fan base en masse.

If he fought at 185 pounds, a Diaz-Darren Till fight would be exceptional, as would a bout against either champion Israel Adesanya or Paulo Costa. Those two will meet for the middleweight title on Sept. 26 in the main event of UFC 253.

Nick Diaz against just about anyone at this point would be a compelling bout, but don’t get too excited.

Nick Diaz hasn't fought since Jan. 31, 2015. (Photo by Jeff Bottari/Zuffa LLC via Getty Images)
Nick Diaz hasn't fought since Jan. 31, 2015. (Photo by Jeff Bottari/Zuffa LLC via Getty Images)

It still seems to be a long shot. We’ve been down this road with Diaz before, and he has chosen not to fight just when it seemed his return was imminent. He’s 37 now, which while not old is certainly trending in that direction.

And while Diaz is notoriously fit, getting into fighting shape after being away so long is difficult.

He is in the USADA testing poll, and was tested twice in 2016 and in 2020, and tested three times in 2018 and 2019. According to the USADA/UFC athlete test history database, Diaz was not tested in 2017.

So drug-testing wouldn’t be an impediment to his return like it would be if another former UFC star, heavyweight Brock Lesnar, wanted to come back. Lesnar announced his MMA retirement and has been out of the pool since 2016, so he’d have to re-enter it and be tested for six months before he’s permitted to fight again.

The question is whether Diaz wants to do it. He’s an enigma even to those who know him best. Trying to guess what he wants to do is fool’s play.

Let’s hope he comes back. He’s always entertaining and he’s an elite fighter. There are plenty of compelling matchups for him.

Just don’t build your hopes around his return and you’ll be fine.

Whither Lesnar?

Lesnar’s contract with the WWE has expired, which has reignited rumors of a return to the UFC. He’s used the threat of going to the UFC as leverage in talks with the WWE in the past.

Don’t expect Lesnar to compete in the UFC, or anywhere else in MMA for that matter. He’s 43 now and would be a few months shy of his 44th birthday if he went through the six month testing process to return to the UFC.

He could sign with, say, Bellator, to do that, but how compelling would a bout with Bellator heavyweight champion Ryan Bader be to him at this point after Bader was knocked out at light heavyweight last month by Vadim Nemkov?

The UFC would welcome him back, but Dana White isn’t going to allow Lesnar to use him as leverage again. If Lesnar said he wanted to fight in the UFC, White would get him a fight, but that’s a longer shot than the Pittsburgh Pirates winning the World Series in 2020.

Best versus best

UFC 253 on Sept. 26, expected to be on Fight Island in Abu Dhabi, is headlined by middleweight champion Israel Adesanya against No. 2 contender Paulo Costa. UFC 253 on Oct. 24, also expected to be in Abu Dhabi, pits lightweight champion Khabib Nurmagomedov versus interim champion Justin Gaethje.

And though it has not officially been announced, UFC 256 in December is expected to be headlined by welterweight champion Kamaru Usman against No. 1 contender Gilbert Burns.

These bouts continue a remarkable streak for the UFC in its pay-per-view headliners. Starting with UFC 250 in June, the UFC has with one exception had its PPV cards headlined by the best available matchup.

And even UFC 251 was supposed to face the champion versus the No. 1 contender. But when Burns tested positive for COVID-19 and was out of the card, the UFC replaced him against Usman with Masvidal, which was an even more popular bout.

UFC 252 had champion Stipe Miocic against No. 1 Daniel Cormier.

Those headliners are the reasons the PPV sales are trending up.

He said it

“This is absolutely the very best I’ve ever been.” — 40-year-old heavyweight Alistair Overeem after his fifth-round stoppage Saturday of Augusto Sakai

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