Ariel Helwani: The Draw Is Bigger Than The Belt

Conor McGregor had to wait five months for revenge, but on Saturday, he got it, beating Nate Diaz by majority decision at UFC 202 in Las Vegas.

Not a unanimous decision. A split decision.

So, did the judges get it right?

“Yeah, absolutely,” MMAFighting.com UFC reporter Ariel Helwani said on CBS Sports Radio’s Tiki and Tierney. “I had a score of 48-47 for Conor. I had him winning the first, second and fourth rounds. Most of my colleagues agreed. Anyone who says that Conor ran from the fight or fought an ugly fight, with all due respect, just doesn’t know what they’re watching. There were times in the third round where it looked like he was on the ropes, so to speak, and it looked like he was very close to being finished. In my opinion, Conor showed us what he is truly all about. People who have been following him for quite some time, believing in him, believing that he’s more than just hype and talk – really, what he produced on Saturday backed all of that up. There’s nothing left to be said as far as criticism, in my opinion, about Conor McGregor. He showed that – on Saturday night, at least – he’s the better fighter.”

McGregor, who tapped out against Diaz in the second round at UFC 196 in March, went the distance on Saturday, slugging it out with Diaz for five highly entertaining rounds. Diaz said he relied too much on his wrestling skills during the fight, but Helwani disagreed.

“I thought he should have relied more on his wrestling,” he said. “The one place in the game where he has a clear advantage over Conor is on the ground, and I thought he didn’t go to that tool box enough. I think he could have won the fight had he done that.”

If you’re hoping for a rubber match between McGregor and Diaz, well, don’t hold your breath. Dana White has already said there will not be a trilogy in this saga, which, from a monetary standpoint, doesn’t make much sense.

Then again, maybe it does. As Helwani pointed out, there has been back-and-forth tension between McGregor and the UFC and between Diaz and the UFC.

“There is a power struggle going on,” Helwani said, “and what makes this rivalry so interesting is these two have been working in unison unintentionally – it’s not like they call each other on the phone and plan things out. They have been working better together than no two fighters in UFC history to make more money than any other two fighters in UFC history for one particular fight and to also prove to UFC that, ‘Look, we’re the stars. We’re the show. We’re the draw.’ Remember: There was no belt at stake. There was no No. 1 contender status at stake. And yet, look what they generated.”

McGregor received a $3 million payday, while Diaz took home $2 million.

“They proved on Saturday and back in March that when the fighters have momentum and power and all this buzz on their side that they can be bigger than the show, and the UFC sometimes feels a little bit uncomfortable with that,” Helwani said. “I think that was Dana’s way of saying, ‘Hey, we’re taking back some of this control.’ The last thing Conor McGregor said at the press conference Saturday was I believe that expletive is going to hit the fan, and that he walked off. That’s pretty telling stuff.”

In UFC, the belt used to be all that mattered. That, however, is no longer the case.

“We’re seeing a shift these days,” Helwani said. “It used to be the belt, but over the last year or so – and in large part due to this particular rivalry where no belt has been at stake – we’re starting to see that the draw is bigger than the belt itself. So yeah, the belt can get you some power and it’s sort of your golden ticket to start calling some shots, but if you’re a huge draw like Nate Diaz is and you’ve never been a champion, it has now been proven that the draw is bigger than the belt. Of course, if you’re the draw and have the belt, well, then that’s a great concoction. But in the past, the belt has been the sort of crown that a fighter wants to get so that he can start calling shots. But Conor and Nate have proven that you don’t necessarily need that belt anymore to start calling shots.”

Looking at the women’s side, the UFC would love for Ronda Rousey to fight at Madison Square Garden on Nov. 12, but it might not happen.

“They want her to fight on that date, but it might be a little too soon,” Helwani said. “She had a knee scope in early June, and to be honest, I don’t think she’s 100 percent recovered from that loss to Holly Holm. I know what you’re going to say: ‘Wow, that was in November. How has she not recovered?’ But mentally, emotionally and physically, I still think she’s recovering. And I think that while that is the ideal scenario for them and I do think that she is going to come back at some point, Nov. 12 – which is now less than three months away – might be a little too soon for her.”

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