By Philip O’Connor
(Reuters) – The heavyweight title fight between Daniel Cormier and Stipe Miocic has top billing at UFC 241 in California on Saturday, but all eyes will be on the comeback of Nate Diaz, conqueror of Conor McGregor, after over a thousand days in the wilderness.
Always a favourite with hardcore fight fans, Diaz shot to wider fame when he humbled superstar McGregor, handing him his first UFC defeat in March 2016.
The rematch in August of the same year was an instant classic and a huge pay-per-view draw in which McGregor won a narrow decision victory.
But instead of making the most of his new-found fame, Diaz has not fought since, blaming the UFC for his three-year absence from the octagon.
“I beat the best guy, and you guys (the UFC) are just treating me like, vanished,” Diaz said in a recent interview with ESPN.
Having banked millions for the two McGregor fights, the 34-year-old claims that the UFC never offered him the right money or opponent to entice him to get back in the cage.
Diaz has kept busy by competing in triathlons and opening a business selling cannabidiol (CBD) products with his older brother and fellow UFC fighter Nick, before finally finding a worthy comeback opponent in Anthony “Showtime” Pettis.
“They (the UFC) have been trying to degrade me the whole time I’ve been out, they’re trying to put me low on the card against not very big names,” he explained at a recent open workout.
“It don’t matter. I believe I’m the main event in any even they got,” he added.
That is true of Saturday night’s card, where the heavyweight title rematch between Cormier and Miocic is barely causing a ripple on social media in comparison to the return of Diaz in a welterweight bout against Pettis in the co-main event.
“I’m here as a businessman and a natural-born killer. I’m here to get the job done, and he (Pettis) is the guy to do it on,” he said.
Like Diaz, Pettis has had some epic and bloody battles in the past, and with both men keen to fight off the front foot, the crowd at the Honda Arena in Anaheim will be expecting some fireworks.
The possibility of a trilogy fight against former two-weight champ McGregor, who hasn’t fought since losing his lightweight belt to Khabib Nurmagomedov in October last year, still looms large over Diaz’s career, but the Californian is remaining tight-lipped.
“I’m gonna fight this weekend, and time will tell on all that stuff,” he said.
(Reporting by Philip O’Connor; Editing by Amlan Chakraborty)