This month in MMA: Nate Diaz's status hangs over UFC

The UFC’s news conference promoting their fall slate of fights on Aug. 3 in downtown Los Angeles left an immediate impression … and a storyline to follow for the rest of the month.

The elusive Nate Diaz has returned after his two years away, scheduled to meet fellow lightweight Dustin Poirier in a highly anticipated bout at UFC 230 at Madison Square Garden on Nov. 3. In true Diaz brothers style, the younger brother of Nick Diaz showed up late and exited early.

It’s not hard to understand why Diaz walked out. UFC president Dana White rushed through the event to get to his big surprise announcement at the end: Khabib Nurmagomedov’s UFC 229 bout with Conor McGregor in Las Vegas.

Diaz, whose last bout was a decision loss to McGregor at UFC 202, was understandably peeved being upstaged in his big moment, particularly given that neither Nurmagomedov nor McGregor were in the building. Diaz walked off the stage during the announcement, and then tweeted a profane statement implying he’s not going to show up for the date.

So the million-dollar question on what otherwise promises to be a relatively quiet rest of the month: Will the fight stay on UFC 230 as scheduled? Diaz gets pay-per-view points in his contract, meaning the more people who buy the fight, the more money he makes. Had he been on the show with Nurmagomedov-McGregor, which some believe will be the biggest PPV event in UFC history, Diaz would have received a monster payday. Instead, he’s on the card at MSG, and as of now, there’s no fight on the radar that would even come close to matching the star power of the lightweight bout.

Maybe Diaz is serious about not wanting to stay on the card. Maybe he’s bluffing. Maybe it was just a momentary burst of frustration. Either way, the intrigue will fill the void like only a Diaz can.

Will Nate Diaz fight Dustin Poirier at UFC 230? (AP)
Will Nate Diaz fight Dustin Poirier at UFC 230? (AP)

Men’s match of the month: Justin Gaethje vs. James Vick, UFC Lincoln, Lincoln, Nebraska, Aug. 25.

First, let’s stop to acknowledge the obvious: Because we run This Month in MMA on the first Monday of the month, August’s biggest event, Saturday’s UFC 227, has already come and gone. But the best of the rest is still a fight that is well worth your time. Gaethje, the former World Series of Fighting lightweight champion out of Phoenix, has fought three times in the UFC, and all three bouts have been Fight of the Year contenders. But after beating Michael Johnson in his UFC debut, he’s lost the past two, against Eddie Alvarez and Poirier. So the questions are out there on how long Geathje can maintain his hard-charging, no-defense style. Vick, meanwhile, has compiled a 14-1 record and has also developed a reputation for exciting fights, minus Gaethje’s fanfare. This fight has all the ingredients for a barnburner.

Women’s match of the month: Kayla Harrison vs. Jozette Cotton, PFL 6, Atlantic City, New Jersey, Aug. 16.

Ronda Rousey rode an Olympic judo bronze medal to superstardom. Henry Cejudo just won a UFC flyweight title after a gold medal Olympic wrestling career. So how far can Kayla Harrison go in the sport? The Boston native won two Olympic wrestling golds in judo, and made an impressive MMA debut in June by defeating Brittney Elkin via armbar in short order. The only significant hurdle is that Harrison fights at lightweight, an almost nonexistent weight class in women’s MMA. Still, watching someone with this potential growth makes her fights must-watch, regardless of who is on the other side of the cage. PFL had to put out a public call to find her next opponent, and found one in Omaha’s Jozette Cotton, who boasts an 8-1 record and goes by the nickname “The No. 1 Headbusta.”

Under the radar: Dana White’s Tuesday Night Contender Series season finale, Aug. 7.

In its second season, “Contender Series” has become about as much of an underground critical success as a show from a $4 billion corporate entity can possibly be. Shot at the UFC Training Center in Las Vegas, prospects compete in front of UFC brass, with the most impressive winners of the evening earning UFC contracts. The stakes are real, as up-and-coming fighters seize their big moment. The fights are almost always exciting as the competitors look to impress the sport’s biggest promoter. And the product itself is a smartly run two-hour blur of sharp commentary and nonstop action, a vast improvement on the slog of FOX’s endless Fight Night cards. Tuesday’s card features controversial former NFL player Greg Hardy, who was signed to a developmental deal after his most recent Contender Series bout, returning to action against 3-0 Tebaris Gordon.

Keep an eye on: Angela Hill. The strawweight competitor nicknamed “Overkill” has made a name for herself as a quirky presence on social media. But she’s also on the cusp of a breakout. The San Diego-based competitor is a former Invicta FC champion who has won two of her past three fights in the UFC. A win over a very tough Cortney Casey on the UFC Lincoln main card would give her momentum in what’s proven to be the UFC’s deepest women’s weight class.

This month in MMA history

Aug 18. 2012: Rousey’s final pre-UFC fight wasn’t a success at the gate. Her bout with Sarah Kaufman at the former San Diego Sports Arena drew just 3,502. But this turned into a landmark evening anyway. The media picked up on Rousey’s charisma and, with Hollywood being as much about illusion of star power as reality, turned the bout into a big deal on a national level. With White in attendance, Rousey rolled over Kaufman in 54 seconds to retain her Strikeforce bantamweight title. Just as important, a bout between Miesha Tate and Julie Kedzie, which was inexplicably placed on the undercard, was a thrilling fight of the year contender. Tate’s third-round finish helped convince UFC brass of the depth of women’s MMA talent and just six months later, Rousey and Liz Carmouche competed in the first women’s bout in UFC history.

Aug. 7, 2009: Fresh off the record-breaking success of UFC 100, the UFC put on another blockbuster show with UFC 101 in Philadelphia. The main event was B.J. Penn’s fourth-round submission of Kenny Florian in a lightweight title defense. But the most memorable fight of the night was the co-feature, as middleweight champion Anderson Silva met former light heavyweight champion Forrest Griffin. Silva, who had essentially run out of challengers in what was at the time a weak division, went up in weight and didn’t miss a beat. Silva knocked out Griffin at 3:23 of the opening round with something as close to Bruce Lee’s “one-inch punch” in a real fight, famously sending Griffin running to the back of the arena after the bout ended.

Aug. 28, 2005: PRIDE Final Conflict in Osaka marked the night Mauricio “Shogun” Rua became a legend. Just 23 at the time, the future UFC light heavyweight champion made his mark with a pair of knockouts on the night, taking out Alistair Overeem (6:42) in the semifinals and Ricardo Arona in the finals (2:54). Also on the card, Fedor Emelianenko successfully defended his PRIDE heavyweight belt with a victory over Mirko Cro Cop in a unanimous decision.

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