We don’t need to pretend that every fight has significance past the final result. Sometimes, the result is enough. Sometimes, it has to be. Take for instance, Saturday’s Ultimate Fighter 18 Finale main event pitting lightweights Nate Diaz and Gray Maynard. Is this fight important at the top reaches of the current divisional hierarchy? If we are being honest we must admit that no, it is not. And that is not to say that both fighters don’t have importance and value, it’s more a reflection of their recent pasts and the men standing ahead of them.
After all, this fight was never intended to be a main event. That was supposed to be the flyweight championship rematch between Demetrious Johnson and Joseph Benavidez, until a hole on the upcoming UFC On FOX 9 card pulled them away. Just like that, Maynard-Diaz II (or III, depending on your viewpoint of "official" fights), became a headliner.
Make no mistake, it’s hardly meaningless. In the current UFC rankings, Maynard is entrenched at No. 5 while Diaz is three spots behind at No. 8. But given the current landscape of the division, neither is likely to rocket up the charts with a win, not with champ Anthony Pettis sidelined by injury, contenders Benson Henderson (No. 1) and Josh Thomson (No. 4) preparing to throw down, T.J. Grant (No. 3) on the comeback trail, and Gilbert Melendez (No. 2) fresh off a win in a fight many are calling one of the best ever.
Saturday’s fight between them is more about, well, a fight, and closure.
There is just too many obstacles between the Diaz-Maynard winner and 12 pounds of gold.
Saturday’s fight between them is more about, well, a fight, and closure. The two first met on the semifinals of season five of The Ultimate Fighter, where Diaz won by second-round submission before going on to win the overall crown. They rematched three years later, with Maynard in the midst of his title push, and this time, he won in a contested split-decision.
That was the fight, you may recall, that made Diaz decide to move up to the welterweight division. After losing, he said he was simply fed up with cutting weight and fighting with little energy — something which came as a shocking admission after a fight in which heâd thrown 259 strikes. But the results could not be denied; he’d lost three of four and even though two of them had been disputed, he’d had enough.
That experiment lasted four fights — he went 2-2 — and he’s since been back in the place he began.
At only 28 years old, time isn’t exactly slipping away from Diaz just yet, but for the first time in his career, he’s mired in a two-fight losing streak in which there was no controversy, no explaining away what happened. First, he lost a lopsided decision to Henderson in a title match, and then, in April, he suffered the first knockout loss of his career, at the hands (and feet) of Thomson.
Maynard and Diaz have met before. Here, the two throw down at UFC Fight Night 20 in 2010.
Losing to two contenders is hardly a cardinal sin, but it’s also impossible to look past when taking in the wider picture.
Maynard is similarly stuck between a rock and a hard place. Now 34, he’s still widely respected, but factually, there’s the glaring reality that he’s won only a single fight since the start of 2011. An injury cost him another fight that could have modestly added to that total, but there’s no denying that he needs a win, and kind of desperately.
And so here we are, two proud warriors facing off with no real route towards the ultimate goal. Right now, the pathway is blocked, but like the middle laps of an auto race; it’s about positioning yourself for what comes next.
In a way, even Diaz can admit that, even if he wants to expedite the timeline.
Saturday night’s win is going to have to be its own reward.
"I beat him, I hunt down Pettis’ and Thomson’s ass, and take them out. I’ll be back fighting for a title real quick," he said during a recent UFC.com interview.
That sounds simple enough even though it makes plenty of assumptions. Maynard, too, has spoken of getting back into the title picture. Of course they have. That has to be the ultimate end game unless you are willing to admit you are no longer in your prime, and when you’re ranked as high as these two are, that would make no sense.
Instead, they are simply trapped behind a group with slightly more sheen on their stars, and there isn’t much they can do to change that. So Saturday night’s win is going to have to be its own reward. The winner isn’t likely heading too much further north, so sometimes, the result has to be enough.