Last Saturday night at UFC on FOX 3, both Nate Diaz and Johny Hendricks won fights which put them in line to challenge for championships in their respective divisions. This sounds like a good thing, until you examine what exactly it really earned them, and that's a very long wait.
Each division has its own issues. At lightweight, Diaz's division, he must wait for the still-budding rivalry between current champ Ben Henderson and former champ Frank Edgar to be settled before he earns his date. And due to an Edgar injury, that fight has yet to be scheduled, though according to numerous sources, it's likely to happen sometime in September. Still, that means that if the winner has a quick turnaround, Diaz isn't likely to fight until early 2013.
For welterweight Hendricks, the wait could be even longer. Current champion Georges St-Pierre is still rehabbing his surgically repaired right knee, and when he returns, interim champion Carlos Condit is queued up. That's bad news enough news for Hendricks, but the worse news is that the fight's not likely to happen until November. That means that Hendricks could be looking at a wait of nearly one year before he gets to cash in his chip.
Both fighters said they were willing to sit on the sidelines for their chance at gold, though Diaz was slightly less forceful about his decision, ultimately saying, "I'm down for whatever."
Based upon the potential rewards, Hendricks seemed more sure about what he would do.
"If someone said, `Hey, in January, I'll give you a million dollars, or you could fight in four months and make $35,000,' which one would you take?" he said. "Anytime you get a title shot, you try to wait for it the best you can."
Yet, waiting isn't always so easy for fighters, who generally thrive on repetition and fighting on a regular schedule.
Taking a lengthy absence will certainly mark a major departure for Diaz, who since making his UFC debut in June 2007, has been the promotion's most active fighter, with 16 fights during that time. (The next closest are a group of several with 13.)
While Diaz is due for a break, and certainly deserving of one, he also seems to have hit his best career stretch, with three dominant wins in a row. While he would be risking his place in line by competing, he might be risking his momentum by sitting on the sidelines.
That didn't seem to be a concern for either him or Hendricks, who in defeating Josh Koscheck, beat a second straight top five divisional opponent. According to Hendricks (13-1), he'd use the opportunity as a chance for improvement.
"I'll get better," he said. "I'll go in there and work everyday as best as I could, and the best I can at any situation I don't feel comfortable with."
None of this takes into account how little it makes sense for the UFC to anoint a next contender so far out. While the philosophy was likely to showcase these potential challengers on network TV (and ultimately make them a paying customer when the title fight moves to pay-per-view), how many breeze-by fans will remember Diaz or Hendricks eight or nine months from now?
So what does all of this mean? Don't be surprised if one or both of these men fight at least one more time. After all, a lot has to go right to get their fights in a reasonable amount of time. The winner of the impending divisional championship fights must emerge unscathed, be willing to turn around and start a new camp quickly, etc. On top of it all, with so many events the UFC has to fill, can matchmaker Joe Silva afford to have several stars sitting on the sidelines at once? Probably not.
Sometime between now and then, UFC president Dana White will need one of them. Another contender will get hurt and drop out of a match, and they'll get a call about filling in. As much as they want to fight for a championship, sometimes, other considerations get in the way. As Hendricks noted, he can only hold on to a future promise so long if the person that made it doesn't seem quite as bound to it as he does.
"I don't bite the hand that feeds me," he said.