They put on eye-opening performances over the weekend that impressed millions of viewers on national television. So what will Nate Diaz and Johny Hendricks do to build on the momentum they created?
They'll sit and wait.
Diaz went into Saturday night's UFC on Fox 3 main event knowing that if he beat Jim Miller, he would get a shot at the lightweight championship. UFC president Dana White had assured him of that earlier in the week, and Nate kept his part of the bargain by stopping Miller with a stunning submission. As for Hendricks, his split-decision win over Josh Koscheck wasn't quite as dazzling, but at the post-fight press conference White proclaimed that Hendricks had done enough to earn a chance at the welterweight belt.
The problem ... or at least the slowdown: Lightweight champion Benson Henderson first must defend his title against the man he dethroned last December, Frankie Edgar, in a rematch that was expected to take place this summer but which Edgar indicated over the weekend is more likely to happen in September, and welterweight kingpin Georges St-Pierre is still healing a knee injury that likely will push back his defense against Carlos Condit until November.
Both Diaz and Hendricks are willing to wait. And who can blame them?
As Hendricks told me and a small group of reporters following Saturday night's press conference, "If somebody says, 'Hey, in January I'll give you $1 million, or you could fight in four months and make $35,000,' which one would you take?"
Of course, the UFC could change the situation by changing the economics. In revealing that Diaz was opting to wait on the Henderson-Edgar winner, White said he had offered Nate the option of fighting Anthony Pettis in the interim. And for Hendricks, a fight with Jake Ellenberger -- if he gets by Martin Kampmann in three weeks -- would be appealing. How much would the UFC have to offer Nate or Johny to make one of those bouts happen?
Money talks, for sure, but it's surely not the only factor. Fighters are well aware that White wants his guys to be active. The UFC poobah was openly critical of Rashad Evans a couple of years ago when the onetime light heavyweight champion was scheduled to challenge Mauricio Rua for the belt, then opted to wait for his shot at "Shogun" after the champ suffered a knee injury. The decision backfired when, just over a month before the rescheduled fight was to take place, "Suga Rashad" injured a knee himself and had to pull out, replaced by his then-teammate, Jon Jones. (Do we need to rehash the soap opera that followed?)
At Saturday night's press conference, Dana gave no indication that he disapproved of Diaz's and Hendricks' decisions to wait. But that could change. It probably will. And if it does, the fighters surely would listen. "I'm down for whatever," Diaz said during the press conference, when asked why he chose to wait on GSP or Condit. "Whatever they say, but that sounded great to me." That doesn't sound like a man who's dug in his heels.
Hendricks, too, is a flexible practitioner of the art of UFC political yoga. He talked about the honor of having a championship bout within your grasp -- "Any time you get a title shot, you always try to wait for it the best you can" -- but he tempered that talk with the phrase "if Dana will allow me to." Isn't it his own decision, not White's, whether or not to wait?
"It's got to be a mutual agreement, you know what I'm saying?" said Hendricks. "If he says, 'Well, we'd really like you to do this,' and you say, 'No,' and he says, 'Well, we'd really like you to do this,' and you say, 'No' -- I don't bite the hand that feeds me, and Dana is definitely that."
White could do worse than to let his fighters do what they want to do. He has title fights already lined up at welterweight and lightweight. And he has his subsequent championship bouts in those weight classes ready to go as well. That's assuming that nothing changes, of course, which is a foolish assumption in a combat sport. Look at what happened on Monday: The bantamweight championship bout between Dominick Cruz and Urijah Faber, scheduled for July, had to be scrapped after the champ tore up his knee in training.
So having Diaz and Hendricks on the sideline would come in handy if, say, one of the upcoming challengers, Edgar or Condit, were to be get hurt before his title fight. And if GSP isn't ready by the fall or Henderson injured himself in the gym, the UFC would have someone to throw in against Frankie or Carlos. Can I interest you in an insurance policy, Mr. White?
Even if both championship bouts do go off as planned, what's lost by having the two men who earned title shots last weekend wait their turn? It's not like they're going to be literally sitting and waiting. Both will take a little time off -- "I'm going to be a family man, spend some time with my daughter and go to Sea World," said Hendricks -- but they'll soon be back in the gym, sweating through training sessions as though the octagon door was about to open for them. That's what these guys do.
There will be some who, in pooh-poohing the decisions of Diaz and Hendricks to wait, will bring up a concern over ring rust. Johny Hendricks doesn't want to hear about it. "I don't believe in that," he said. "The only thing that you're going to feel rusty about are the punches -- how are the punches going to feel, how are the kicks going to feel, that kind of punishment. But you can replicate that as best as you can by fighting guys that really want to hurt you. I don't really believe in that ring rust stuff."
Unless Dana White tells him he should.