All show: Nate Diaz will fight Conor McGregor in UFC 202. Photo: Ethan MillerThere is a fine, fine line between sport and entertainment. In fact, it could be argued the two concepts are so intrinsically linked that one could not exist without the other.
But perhaps the biggest culprit of sport’s dependence on entertainment is the fight game.
Boxing, and now mixed martial arts with the rise of the UFC, have glorified in the subtle mix between sport and show.
Think back to the Don King mega-bouts that still live in folklore today: the Thrilla in Manila, the Rumble in the Jungle. These fights matched the best of the best in the ring, linked hand-in-hand with the promotion of a major Hollywood studio production.
And while Muhammad Ali may have set an unreachable bar for press conferences, those that follow in his footsteps have continued the tradition of trash talking their opponents to entice fans to buy tickets, or watch on pay-per-view, in the hopes of lining their wallets in this most brutal of professions.
And who can blame them for that?
The problem is when the event no longer becomes about the sport, but rather is only about the show. And herein lies the fundamental problem with the UFC’s much-billed rematch between Conor McGregor and Nate Diaz.
Back in March, Diaz shocked the fighting world when he dealt the brash Irishman his first loss in the Octagon. McGregor – who was lined up to fight lightweight champion Rafael dos Anjos before he succumbed to injury 11 days out – was paired against Diaz, who took the fight on eight days’ notice.
Back then, it made sense for the fight to go ahead. There had been much promotion around McGregor’s move up in weight divisions (he was the featherweight champion) after his spectacular knockout of decade-long champion Jose Aldo, and with UFC196 ready to go, a stand-in fighter was desperately needed to save the day.
Diaz did just that, but then went off-script when he won by submission in the second round.
A rematch was talked up immediately after that non-title fight and, despite a McGregor feud with UFC president Dana White escalating, the bout was locked in for UFC202.
Now, McGregor is facing Diaz again, but this time, there is very little logic behind the fight.
They are not fighting for a title. They are not fighting to earn the right to a title fight. If anything, they are just fighting.
The McGregor-Diaz II fight hurdles over that thin line separating the sport from entertainment, and is now just the latter.
If McGregor wins, then what? Has he proven himself at welterweight so he is worthy of a title bout?
You would argue that he hasn’t. He has fought a good fighter (who is traditionally a lightweight), but he is not fighting a champion or former champion. He has only proven he can win a fight in the division.
The growing feeling is this is the UFC’s attempt at a do-over. McGregor, one of their most marketable athletes, needs to regain his attraction and pull by besting his new nemesis. There is no consideration what will happen should he lose.
Meanwhile, Diaz only has a pay cheque to gain. He has already beaten the Irishman. And despite suffering an early round of shots, he was comfortable in that fight. What more can he prove?
If he wins, it doesn’t represent anything in the wider context of the lightweight or welterweight divisions and, if he loses, it hurts any future prospects at a title fight in his division.
There is enough anger – feigned or genuine – between the pair that this should be a good fight. But it is just that, a fight.
It would seem the UFC are choosing the show over the sporting relevance.
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