Nate Diaz (19-11) makes his eagerly anticipated return to the octagon this weekend as he takes on Anthony “Showtime” Pettis (22-8) in the UFC 241 co-main event.

The Stockton, California native has been on hiatus since falling to a decsion loss against Conor McGregor in their record breaking rematch at UFC 202 in August 2016.

The no-nonsense, trashing talking, weed smoking Nate Diaz has long been a fan favourite. His crisp boxing style mixed with slick submissions makes for exciting fights whilst his public persona has earned the respect and adoration of many fans.

He returns to the UFC after the longest of lay-offs, perhaps a bigger draw than when he left, and must be considered one of the biggest stars in MMA today.

Numbers don’t Lie

I’m sure the idea of Nate Diaz being the sports biggest star isn’t something that sits well with some fight fans. Admittedly he isn’t undefeated, he’s never been a champion, and he’s coming off a loss. Despite this, the facts point towards Nate Diaz being one of the biggest draws in MMA.

Nate Diaz has generated close to 3 million Pay-Per-View buys during his last two fights. The late notice win over Conor McGregor at UFC 196 generated in excess of 1.3 million PPV buys. The second match-up between the pair gained even more traction with a reported 1.6 million buys of their UFC 202 main event.

Three years removed from his last fight, Diaz’s PPV performances remain etched in the UFC history books holding second and third place on the all-time PPV buys list.

A career high payday last time out saw Diaz earn a $2 million purse, one of the highest in MMA history and the final figure is believed to be much more than that with PPV points.

Diaz has been unable to capitalize upon his rise into stardom as he continually battled with the UFC to get what he sees as a fair shake. Diaz told ESPN, “I think the fight wasn’t with the fighters no more. The fight was with the whole organization.”

With the fight outside the cage done, Diaz is now ready to do what he does best and step back into inside the UFC octagon.

What about my favorite fighter?

Conor McGregor fans will claim he is the biggest star in MMA and they would be right if he was actually involved in the sport. Conor McGregor has not competed in a long time and doesn’t look like he’ll be competing anytime soon. So he is removed him from all consideration at this time. McGregor is the biggest MMA star in the whisky business right now and good luck to him.

The same principle applies for other notable names such as Ronda Rousey, Brock Lesnar and Georges St Pierre. Whilst the drawing power of these fighters may well be bigger than that of Nate Diaz if they actively compete in the sport, however they are not, so they are no longer under consideration for accolades associated with the current crop of fighters.

The greatest fighter on the planet and probably ever, Jon Jones, should be the biggest star in the sport but he’s not. Big, powerful, talented he is, but likable he is not. Jones’ continued troubles outside the cage has saw fans turn off the light-heavyweight champion and understandably so. With repeated accusations of drug cheating, multiple issues with the law, and declining performances, Jones has lost a lot of appeal.

Other fighters such as Daniel Cormier, Khabib Nurmagomedov and Amanda Nunes are mega-stars in their own right. With huge marketability, lots of fans, tons of talent and good numbers, anyone of them could be considered the biggest star in the sport.

Having said that, none quite move the needle like Nate Diaz and that has become apparent throughout fight week and will most likely prove the case on fight night as he drives viewership figures to unexpected heights.

A mouth watering match-up awaits for Nate Diaz as he takes on Anthony Pettis in the UFC 241 co-main event. The perfect opportunity for Diaz to re-announce himself as not only a star of the sport, but a serious player in the 170lb division.

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The Scrap’s Jordan Ellis of Liverpool, UK is a lifelong fight fan and aspiring writer. Covering all things MMA and Boxing, you can follow him on Twitter (@JordanEllisUK) for daily fight news and content.