As most of the news coming from the UFC lightweight division revolving around Conor McGregor’s speculated return, Kevin Lee’s call out of Nate Diaz was a welcome diversion. Lee is coming off a back and forth (but expected) loss to Tony Ferguson for the belt while Nate has been content to engage fans from afar while demanding more money from the UFC for his return. Putting aside the question of whether Lee has enough star power to justify the UFC paying Nate what he’s been asking, there’s a lot to love about this match up.
Lee had immense hype going into his title bout against Tony Ferguson. Despite being only 25 years old, Lee had an impressive 9-2 record in the UFC. He was riding a five fight win streak and finished his last four opponents. But many people including us here at TBL pointed out that Tony Ferguson was arguably the best lightweight alive and Lee would fade in later rounds.
Sure enough, Lee tired and Ferguson submitted him in the third.
Even with the ridiculous depth of the lightweight division, going from Michael Chiesa to Tony Ferguson was an enormous jump. Nate is still a very dangerous fighter and beating him will build Lee back up.
It’s astonishing how diametrically opposed Lee and Nate are.
Lee is compact by new lightweight standards while Nate is very tall. The “Motor City Phenom” packs muscle while the pride of Stockton has the lean frame of an endurance athlete. Lee’s offense relies heavily on his wrestling while Nate is very much a balanced attacker. The young gun plows through opponents in the opening rounds while the veteran erodes them slowly.
A fight between them will run to one extreme or the other. Either Lee exploits Nate’s subpar wrestling and blasts or Nate outlasts him and picks him apart with his boxing before submitting him a la Ferguson.
If your only experience with Nate is the McGregor fights, you may not realize how upstart of a challenge Lee has made.
By the time Lee made his professional debut, Nate had already been fighting in the UFC for half a decade. Not in MMA, mind you, but in the UFC alone. He fought for table scraps, purposefully denied proper pay by Dana White and cast as the villain for complaining. What newer fans mistake for an outlandish cash grab is Nate’s attempt to make up for being gouged many times before. Both Diaz brothers express how they were essentially forced into the fight business due to poverty. Nick himself has shown remorse over institutionalizing Nate to the brutal sport.
And now a loud mouth coming off a loss is going to call him out?
This is all speculation of course. Nate may have blown up in popularity but he doesn’t have the kind of bargaining power of McGregor. Then again, Lee is the kind of wrestler that the UFC brass want to keep as far from McGregor as possible. This could be the fight to make from all angles, so long as the price is right.
Let’s hope the UFC ponies up.