Conor McGregor and Nate Diaz, with no titles at stake, are almost assuredly going into the record books as the biggest money series of fights in UFC history.
Their first fight at UFC 196 did 1.6 million buys, the company's all-time record, even topping UFC 100 in 2009. While it's still too early to get any kind of numbers from Saturday's show, the 5 million Google searches did well over double anything else, sports or otherwise, in the U.S. this past weekend, and that's on the final weekend of the Olympics. There have been a few UFC shows that have done numbers in that category. Some, including the first Diaz vs. McGregor fight, did even higher. But all of them at that level were in the 1 million or more buys category. If UFC 202 breaks 1 million, it would be the first time any match in UFC hit that figure twice. And the record will get even stronger since no matter what either man does in the short-term, there's a good chance of a third big fight sometime in 2017.
The live gate was $7,692,010, the fifth-largest in company history. While down from $10,746,248, the all-time U.S. record, set at the same T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas for UFC 200, coming back so quickly to the same market with such a high ticket price show is difficult. There were plenty of tickets available for Saturday's show, and over the last week, there was late discounting. But the UFC has never even approached anything close to $18.5 million in two shows so close together, let alone in the same arena.
Between what the fight drew and the quality of the fight, and that both men are split with one victory apiece, a third fight seems to be something everyone would want, in due time.
Dana White has indicated it wouldn't be right away, nor should it be. McGregor either has to defend the featherweight title against Jose Aldo, or relinquish the title. McGregor has steadfastly claimed he didn't want to vacate the title. And even if the much larger version of McGregor that showed up Saturday can't hit 145, the win and his notoriety could lead to a title shot at lightweight, with Eddie Alvarez, who has been taunting McGregor clearly hoping for it to happen.
Saturday's decision was close, but seemingly less controversial than many close calls on fights of this caliber. As a general rule most reporters agreed with the judges that McGregor won the first, second and fourth round. The only question was whether round three was a 10-8 round or not. A 10-8 round usually comes down to either total domination, which it was not, or being on the verge of finishing, which depends on how you interpret how close Diaz was to ending it when the horn sounded.
I had it 10-8, but that was a minority viewpoint, feeling that McGregor was in serious trouble and it was on the verge of being stopped as the round ended. In all, 14 of the 19 media scores, or 74 percent of media scores at MMADecisions.com, had it 48-47 for McGregor, just as judges Derek Cleary and Jeff Mullin had it. Glenn Trowbridge gave Diaz a 10-8 third to have a 47-47 draw on his card. Four of the media scores listed agreed with Trowbridge, and only one scored the fight for Diaz.
While one could argue the second round for Diaz, as he had a 37-34 edge in strikes during the round, McGregor got two knockdowns early in the round. McGregor was also in control most of the round, until seemingly hitting a cardio wall late and Diaz coming on strong in the final minute..
Stats showed how close a fight it was. McGregor ended with a 166-164 edge in significant strikes, and there was only one successful takedown, by Diaz, in round five. McGregor landed more strikes in three of the five rounds, and scored three knockdowns, but Diaz came the closest to finishing .
The fight was all anyone could ask for and as perfect a fight to build for a rematch as possible. McGregor won, making them even. But Diaz won his first by submission rather than close decision. If the third fight is at 155, instead of 170, like McGregor said he would push for, the Diaz weight advantage would be mitigated. It would likely be better for McGregor and his cardio to fight at the lighter weight. The one thing both fights seemed to show is that if McGregor isn't tired, he is the better all-around striker, but that of the two, McGregor will get tired first. And that either way, the fight will be a war until its conclusion.
Let's look at how Fortunes Changed for Five stars of Saturday's show:
CONOR MCGREGOR - The self-professed King of UFC, and very legitimate box office king, moved to 20-3. The win gave him an endless number of long and short-term options. His drawing power probably would have been hurt by a second loss, particularly if it was a clean finish.
The Aldo fight has a story. Things happen in MMA and we never did see how that fight would go because it ended in 13 seconds. Aldo, one of the most technically sound fighters the sport has ever seen, rebounded with a strong win over Frankie Edgar. If McGregor can beat Aldo again, or even if he loses, he's got the Diaz fight for 2017. If he wins, he's got the quest to become the first UFC fighter ever to win titles in two weight classes at the same time, the original story for the Rafael dos Anjos fight that never happened, and morphed into the Diaz rivalry.
NATE DIAZ - While Diaz and McGregor share traits of fighting to the bitter end, as Saturday showed, they couldn't be more different as people. McGregor is on a quest for money, fame, championships and the spotlight. Diaz seemingly cares little about fame, championships or spotlight. He's probably made enough this year to set him up for life, so unless he starts living like McGregor, money isn't going to be an immediate worry.
He's made it clear he'll only fight when big money is at stake. And for him, with the loss and with so many contenders at lightweight, his natural class, there is not likely to be a championship fight in his short-term future. And even if he had won, he made it clear that he didn't care about championships. If he's looking at multimillion dollar paydays, there isn't anyone in a non-title situation right where such a purse would seem to make sense. He's indicated as much, when talking like he's probably not fighting unless it's No. 3 with McGregor.
ANTHONY JOHNSON - Johnson (22-5) scored his own 13-second knockout over Glover Teixeira. It's quite the story of how Johnson, who cut massive amounts of weight to fight at welterweight early in his career, and never got close to a championship shot, has moved up two weight classes and been as much of a destroyer as anyone in the promotion.
Johnson is 10-1 as a light heavyweight with nine knockouts. The lone loss was to champion Daniel Cormier, who he knocked down immediately, but got outwrestled after that and was submitted in their May 23, 2015 fight.
A rematch is now almost a lock. What's interesting about Johnson is that in combat sports, where fans love knockouts, Johnson is probably the hardest puncher in his weight class, and arguably at this point the best knockout artist in the UFC. But because he doesn't do the attention getting talking, he has still not become a big box office star. He is the closest thing MMA right now has to Mike Tyson. If he can beat Cormier, and Jon Jones is reinstated, one wonders at that point he'll capture the public's imagination.
DONALD CERRONE - Cerrone (31-7, 1 no-contest), has never looked better since moving from lightweight to welterweight. The move was risky, because Cerrone is physically smaller than most welterweights. And as good as he's looked, he's still not proven himself against the division's elite, champion Tyron Woodley, Robbie Lawler, Stephen Thompson, Rory MacDonald, Carlos Condit or Demian Maia.
Cerrone after the fight pushed to get a title shot at lightweight, against Alvarez. Cerrone beat Alvarez via decision on Sept. 27, 2014, in Alvarez's UFC debut.
Dana White seemed negative on it, preferring Cerrone to stay at welterweight. Lightweight is already filled with contenders right now with Khabib Nurmagomedov, Tony Ferguson, dos Anjos, Edson Barboza as well as the potential of McGregor.
If he stays at welterweight, Cerrone's next opponent should either be former champion Robbie Lawler, as that's a big-time fight matching two men with a history of great fights, or the winner of this coming Saturday's Condit vs. Maia fight.
CODY GARBRANDT - The perfect storm is when a top contender goes out, wins in devastating fashion, and the champion is right there to have a verbal confrontation with him. Johnson's win over Teixeira had the first part, but Johnson had far too much respect for Cormier to have the second part.
Stemming from an incident earlier in the day, Dominick Cruz, doing commentary was right there after Garbrandt (10-0, nine wins coming by knockout) knocked out Takeya Mizugaki in 48 seconds. The two went back-and-forth with Garbrandt saying he's break Cruz's jaw.
It's got the story. Cruz has constantly goaded Garbrandt's camp as "Team Alpha Fail," given how their top fighters constantly reach the top ladder of contention, and lose in championship encounters. Cruz just beat Garbrandt's coach, Urijah Faber, and former teammate T.J. Dillashaw. With John Dodson and John Lineker set on Oct. 1, Garbrandt is the clear choice for the next title challenger. .