Chael Sonnen thinks UFC should stop waiting to book Nate Diaz: ‘I think you turn him loose’

Esther Lin, MMA Fighting

Nate Diaz has been pushing the UFC almost nonstop to book the final fight on his contract. Chael Sonnen sees no reason to hold him back.

The three-time UFC title challenger and media savant used Diaz’s two-time opponent, Conor McGregor, as a prime example of why it’s not a great idea to wait for the perfect time or the perfect matchup to get a star back in the octagon.

“If we made any mistake as a community, 2020, which seems like yesterday, but we had Conor McGregor, the sport’s biggest star, who was raring to go, to the point that on Jan. [18], they created an event, and event that didn’t even exist – they sold it out in less than 48 hours [for McGregor] to take on [Donald] ‘Cowboy’ Cerrone,” Sonnen said Wednesday on The MMA Hour. “This was a massive star, and to preserve the idea that we might get Conor vs. Khabib [Nurmagomedov] 2, we put him on ice, and Conor was ready to go. I think it was a big mistake, and we should have learned from it, and I’m seeing the same thing happening with Diaz. I know there’s more to the story and there’s contracts, but when you have this massive star who’s ready to go, I think you turn him loose.”

As Sonnen acknowledged, there’s definitely more to the story. Diaz has indicated he wants to move on to the next chapter in his combat sports career. That could mean a boxing match with YouTuber turned boxer Jake Paul, or another MMA promotion. The UFC, meanwhile, wants to re-sign Diaz to a new contract and may be holding up negotiations until that bit of business gets done.

Then there’s the possibility of a meeting between Diaz and McGregor, a trilogy that’s seemed like an inevitability at some point in the future. McGregor, however, remains on the mend from a broken leg suffered in his most recent fight, putting the timeline for the fight in flux.

So far, it’s all amounted to a standoff between Diaz and the UFC that’s produced little movement over than a bunch of public complaints from the fighter (and a possible booking against star Khamzat Chimaev at UFC 276 if the promotion’s booking calendars are to be believed).

If Diaz ultimately wants a boxing match with Paul, it’s highly unlikely to happen with the UFC’s participation; UFC President Dana White has publicly feuded with Paul and former UFC exec turned Paul partner Nakisa Bidarian, and the UFC boss has been bearish on more crossover boxing matches featuring UFC fighters in the ring. In other words, Sonnen says, Diaz may need to take care of business with the UFC before he starts planning his next step.

“I get where [Diaz vs. Paul] would work and where that would be wonderful, but is that actually something that behind the scenes Jake Paul has said, ‘Yes, get free and we’re going to box each other?’” Sonnen said. “Is that a sure thing? Because I feel like Francis [Ngannou] started to dip his toe into something with [Tyson] Fury here, too, and it’s like, Francis, is that a lock? Are you positive you’ve got a bird in the hand, here?”

In the case of Ngannou, the answer is almost certainly going to be yes. The UFC heavyweight champion has said his contract will expire by the end of this year whether or not he fights, and he’ll be a free agent. Diaz’s deal might not be as flexible, which means that, for the mean time, he needs to work with the UFC. Sonnen suggests the Stockton, Calif., does just that – and the UFC does likewise.

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