Nate Diaz and the Quandary of Being Just Good Enough Not to Be Needed

Nate Diaz is exciting.

Nate Diaz is entertaining.

Nate Diaz is beloved.

Those are almost mathematically proven truths in the UFC, premises on which any argument relevant to the promotion or the sport could be strongly made.

Here's another: Nate Diaz is not needed.

Fans, media and even other fighters might not love that fact. They might not enjoy coming to grips with the reality that Diaz could be gone from the UFC tomorrow and it wouldn't really change anything, but it is indeed a reality.

The promotion proved as much in handling Diaz's recent game of contractual chicken, one where he swore he'd never fight for them again without a substantial pay raise.

There's no evidence that raise ever came, yet Diaz is ready to return to action if Dana White is to be believed. That's a tenuous proposition, admittedly, given White's history of advertising Diaz in positions he hasn't agreed to or lambasting him for things he may or may not have actually said.

Let's take it at face value, though. If the UFC says it and no one is out there to correct it or temper it with an alternate take, we basically have to.

That's a harsh truth of the game, one that's been founded on three letters and a bullheaded commitment to putting those letters above all else. Yes, as far as White and the Fertittas are concerned, U-F-C is the star and the guys in the cage are the supporting cast.

Diaz is part of that cast, and that cast is interchangeable. He's as expendable as Jon Fitch or Jake Shields were before him, even if the promotion enjoys his antics and style more than they did the others.

Sure, there are fighters that could push the envelope and get paid. Some, like Gilbert Melendez, have. The UFC could never do without Jon Jones or Ronda Rousey at this point. It's having a hard time doing without Georges St-Pierre and Anderson Silva.

The problem is that Diaz is a step below those individuals in terms of stardom or success, or both, and that makes him a prime guy to be made an example of.

Don't like your contract? Sit out forever, we don't care. We're the UFC and we're bigger than one fighter, we don't need you.

Who makes sense for Nate Diaz's return fight?

That's the answer Diaz is getting, because he's not a champion and he's not enough of a draw to cost the UFC money by making a stand. It's not the answer that a proper superstar would get (though White would likely never admit that in public), but those fighters live on different terms.

Therein lies the quandary for Diaz: He's only good enough to not be needed. For all the bluster his protest caused, nothing really changed in the UFC. They waited him out, but they easily could have released him to Bellator or WSOF and not much would have been different.

People might have said they'd never watch again, comment sections and messageboards might have blown up for a day or two, but at the end of the day people would have kept on buying pay-per-views and tuning into FOX the same as always.

In some ways that's truly horrible. Even if Diaz signed the deal himself, one can't help but feel some sympathy for a guy trying to break a little off and being completely stomped on by a corporate giant for his efforts.

But that's the nature of the beast. That's the way the UFC has built its business, and its the game every fighter plays when he signs with them. Your brand can be whatever it becomes, but more than likely it's not going to be a brand that the UFC can't live without.

That generally means you're a guy who's exciting, entertaining and beloved, something of a star in your own corner of the sports world, who has to do it exactly like the rest of us: get up and go to work, even if you don't really want to.

It's the quandary of being just good enough to not be needed, and it's exactly why Nate Diaz will be back in the cage before you know it without a thing to show for his absence.

Follow me on Twitter @matthewjryder!

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