The UFC will be making its third annual trip to the iconic Madison Square Garden on November 3 for UFC 230. In the promotion’s past two visits to the arena, fans have been treated to cards with three title fights topped off by captivating main events.
The UFC’s inaugural venture to MSG in 2016 saw Conor McGregor become the promotion’s first concurrent two-weight world champion when he fought Eddie Alvarez. It was a champion vs. champion fight, as then-featherweight champion McGregor defeated then-lightweight champion Alvarez. One year later, the UFC brought the goods to New York City again. Georges St-Pierre, a legend of the sport and the former UFC welterweight champion, returned to fight the witty and brash middleweight champion Michael Bisping in the main event.
Fast-forward to 2018, and the UFC had clear trouble finding a main event for this year’s Madison Square Garden showcase. September rolled around. Then October. Tickets for the event went on sale. And the promotion still hadn’t named its headlining act—the fight the UFC heavily advertises to garner interest from fans to buy not only tickets, but pay-per-views.
All of the promotion’s champions were either booked with other fights, had recently fought, or were dealing with an injury. People were thinking the UFC may have no choice but to book a non-title fight for the main event. A look at the card the UFC had already put together for the event showed a lot of good fights, but none that could carry an event at one of the world’s most renowned venues. None except one.
Poirier vs. Diaz
Nate Diaz, one of the only two men to defeat McGregor in the UFC, was announced to make his long-awaited return at UFC 230 against the exciting Dustin Poirier.
Diaz gained a massive following after his two 2016 Fight of the Year contenders against McGregor. He has a combined 3.5 million followers on Twitter and Instagram. As of October 8, his two fights with McGregor hold first and second place among all-time UFC PPV buys. Fans and media alike have been clamoring for his return to action since his August 2016 decision loss to McGregor. They’re getting it, and it’s against Poirier, who’s been on a red-hot tear.
“The Diamond” is 8-1 (1 no-contest) in his last 10 fights, and has finished the likes of former World Series of Fighting lightweight champion Justin Gaethje, and former UFC lightweight champions Eddie Alvarez and Anthony Pettis.
From the moment the bout was announced, it was clear that we were looking at a potential Fight of the Year. The only negative thing about it was that since it wouldn’t be for the lightweight title, nor was it the main event, it would only be three rounds as opposed to five. After all, who doesn’t want to see two more rounds of that fight? It would take a truly special fight to one-up it as the UFC 230 main event.
Poirier and Diaz Ask for Main Event Slot
But as time passed and no main event was announced, Diaz and Poirier began to call for their fight to be bumped up to the main event. And fans were virtually unanimously on board, even if it was not for a title.
— The Diamond (@DustinPoirier) September 26, 2018
I’m Happy to announce that I’m bringing a new weight devision to the Ufc
I’ll be fighting the main event November 3rd in nyc against Dustin Poirier for the first ever 165lb belt superfighter devision
I’m happy to be apart of history @ufc @danawhite
— Nathan Diaz (@NateDiaz209) September 26, 2018
— The Diamond (@DustinPoirier) September 26, 2018
There’s just one issue: the weight class doesn’t exist. Critics of weight-cutting have been calling for the adoption of 165 lb. and 175 lb. weight classes (with the dissolution of 170) in order to create safer weight cuts where fighters could compete at a more natural weight class.
And everyone was fully behind the idea that Diaz and Poirier should be the ones to christen the new division. After all, Diaz is a popular figure and Poirier is an exciting fighter. A title fight between them to introduce a new weight class would be unforgettable. It should have happened. But it didn’t as ESPN reported UFC President Dana White denied Diaz and Poirier’s claims of a new weight class, and that he was still looking for a main event for UFC 230.
Shevchenko vs. Eubanks
Soon after, the UFC announced that Valentina Shevchenko would fight Sijara Eubanks for the vacant women’s flyweight title. ESPN reported it as the UFC 230 main event. Shevchenko was already slated to fight former UFC strawweight champion Joanna Jedrzejczyk for the flyweight crown in December. But the UFC felt the absolute need to bring a title fight to Madison Square Garden—even if it’s an inferior fight to Poirier vs. Diaz.
Shevchenko has had a ton of UFC success, only losing to UFC bantamweight champion Amanda Nunes up a weight class. However, Eubanks is a 3-2 fighter and relatively unknown. In a weight class still in its infancy, Eubanks has emerged as one of the top contenders, holding the No. 4 rank. The fight makes enough sense.
But here’s where the UFC erred. Shevchenko is popular among fans and seen as the best flyweight on the planet. But Eubanks is known only to hardcore fans and is currently an impossible sell to prospective pay-per-view buyers as a headlining act. Especially at Madison Square Garden, where the UFC charges more for tickets than other shows. That said, some of the personal attacks on Eubanks have been disgusting. Anger at her is misdirected when the UFC is responsible for this decision. After all, why would Eubanks say “no, I’m good,” to an opportunity to be the main event at Madison Square Garden?
Super lightweight division?
Whether the UFC makes Poirier vs. Diaz a title fight at 165 or not, the promotion is shooting itself in its prospective foot by not bumping it up to the main event. On paper, it’s a more competitive fight than the women’s title fight, where fans are predicting Shevchenko to destroy Eubanks. The paying fans see one bout as a Fight of the Year contender, and the other as a squash match.
Diaz and Poirier have each been toiling away in the UFC for years waiting for this type of opportunity, and fans are sinking their teeth into the hype. It would be a disservice to them to headline a fight that likely will struggle to break 200,000 pay-per-view buys; a paltry number for a Madison Square Garden card.
In fact, financially speaking, a Poirier vs. Diaz headliner would be more beneficial for all involved. Shevchenko and Eubanks included. Even if both fights remain on the card, the amount of pay-per-view buys and ticket gate will hinge on whoever’s names are attached to the headlining act—the way in which the UFC will market the whole event.
If the UFC were to boost Poirier vs. Diaz to the main event, it would mean more money for its bottom line. And if all four fighters were to receive pay-per-view points (dependent on the amount of PPV sold), Poirier, Diaz, Shevchenko and Eubanks could all walk out of Madison Square Garden with more money in their pockets if the UFC properly markets Poirier vs. Diaz. The fans would be satisfied. The cruel Internet backlash against Eubanks would subside. Everyone wins. Now, it’s time for the UFC to realize that and give us the main event we all want.
Breaking–Cormier vs. Lewis in the works?
ESPN’s Okamoto reported that the UFC has opened talks around Daniel Cormier vs. Derrick Lewis for the UFC heavyweight title. This fight would be a great main event, as Cormier is one of the UFC’s stars at this point.
The double-champ is one of few figures big enough to headline over Poirier vs. Diaz, but this fight appears far from being a done deal, yet. With what we have to work with on this card, Poirier vs. Diaz is the rightful main event.
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