Ariel Helwani's MMA thoughts: How Nate Diaz could win without even fighting at UFC 249

A huge payday would come Nate Diaz's way should he face Conor McGregor in a trilogy fight. Josh Hedges/Zuffa LLC via Getty Images

This is a special week.

Why's that, you ask? Well, because this marks a year since I have been doing this random thoughts column for ESPN.com.

The column has evolved over time, but I'm going back to how it started. Random thoughts. Lord knows I have plenty.

And away we go ...

1. If Tony Ferguson vs. Justin Gaethje actually happens on May 9, I feel like Nathan Diaz will be the big winner. How so? Well, let's say Ferguson beats Gaethje. That should guarantee a Ferguson-Khabib Nurmagomedov fight in the fall, right? It would also knock Gaethje out of a top rankings spot. Who was Gaethje supposed to fight in July? Conor McGregor. No chance they do that fight if Gaethje is coming off a loss, right? OK, what if Gaethje wins, you ask? Then he fights Nurmagomedov, right? Again, freeing up McGregor. Now, in this scenario they could do Ferguson vs. McGregor, but I also feel like either May 9 scenario opens the door to make the trilogy fight between Diaz and McGregor. So, if May 9 actually happens, don't be surprised if Diaz emerges as a player in the McGregor sweepstakes.

2. I wonder if Amanda Nunes withdrawing from her May 9 fight against Felicia Spencer will be a sign of things to come in this sense: The top draws -- the champions -- always have way more to lose than the contenders in this game. If things aren't perfect, it's a lot more alarming for them than for someone who is chasing the belt. In other words, Nunes would have had a ton more to lose on May 9 than Spencer, so it's no surprise she pulled out first. Will other champions/top draws follow suit if things feel off? I wouldn't bet against it.

3. That said, I really hope Nunes' next fight is against Spencer, whenever that time comes. I think Spencer can give her a tough fight, especially if they go to the ground.

4. Henry Cejudo deserved all the criticism in the world when he campaigned for the Jose Aldo fight, but I don't think he deserves much criticism for the Dominick Cruz fight. Why? Well, for starters, Aldo can't enter the country. Next, Petr Yan can't enter the country. Then, Aljamain Sterling is still not 100% following wrist surgery, and Cory Sandhagen has already said it's too hard to fully prepare for a fight these days, although he told USA Today he would step in if Cruz dropped out for whatever reason. There are no other options out there, and Cruz is the biggest fight possible, even if everyone were available. Don't forget, without Dominick Cruz there is no bantamweight division. Put some respect on his name.

5. I'm still not completely sold on the idea that Fight Island will happen, but I will say that after speaking to several fighters who were on the Dana White-hosted conference calls this week, the impression they got is that Fight Island is very real. According to them, White reiterated several times that it would be a thing, and soon. We shall see.

6. I want to give a lot of credit to Lyman Good. It's never easy being the first to speak about anything personal, but he was the first active UFC fighter to reveal he had the coronavirus. That takes a lot of guts. I wonder if others will follow suit. Nevertheless, I'm very glad to hear he and his loved ones are doing well and have since tested negative.


Lyman Good reveals he tested positive for coronavirus

Lyman Good explains the timeline that led to him testing positive for the coronavirus and pulling out his scheduled fight for April 18.

7. Sorry to hear the PFL was forced to suspend its entire season, though I think it ultimately made the right call. It will be interesting to see if it is able to hold one-off events later in the year, and if so, does the PFL just put together the most fun fights possible? I would suggest doing that. Heck, put together a card with four fights and sprinkle in some classic WSOF fights on the broadcast. A lot of fans haven't seen those yet. Give us some Justin Gaethje, Marlon Moraes and Anthony Johnson action. Who says no?

8. Speaking of the PFL, I commend it for paying the fighters a monthly stipend, but I am reserving full judgment until we find out how much it is actually paying. A lot of these fighters will now be forced to sit on the sidelines for over a year. A lot of them signed with the PFL in hopes of winning the million-dollar purse. Will the stipend come anywhere near the money they would have made if they fought multiple times this year? And if not, is there a case to be made for letting them out of their deals in 2020, only to be back under contract in 2021? This will be interesting to monitor.

9. I am happy that the UFC renamed its May 9 event UFC 249 and not UFC 250. I always thought it was weird that it just skipped over UFC 151 and 177 back in the day. This makes me feel good.

10. The Virginia commission denied Ion Cutelaba's appeal of his controversial TKO loss to Magomed Ankalaev in February. I thought the stoppage was early, but I am not surprised at all the appeal was denied. It's virtually impossible to get one of those calls overturned, even if the calls are egregious. I wish that wasn't the case.

11. Speaking of Cutelaba, his team tells me he is now in quarantine in his home country of Moldova for another week after he decided to fly from there to Las Vegas for the April 18 card that never happened. I really feel for him and Jessica Andrade, who left Brazil without knowing where the card was going to take place, only to be forced to return home once the event was canceled. No word on how much they will be compensated for their troubles.

12. I'm told the fighters who were slated to compete on the ill-fated London card on March 21 received no more than $20,000. As you can imagine, some of the higher earners aren't too pleased with that amount, while others were happy to get something for nothing.

13. The more time passes, the more I think it would be a really bad idea to not book Jon Jones vs. Dominick Reyes 2 right away. Yes, I know Jan Blachowicz looked great against Corey Anderson, but does anyone really think the Blachowicz fight is bigger financially and more intriguing than the Reyes fight? I sure don't.

14. I initially thought it wasn't a great idea for Tony Ferguson to make weight last week for a fight that wasn't happening, but I've changed my mind. Remember, Ferguson is a different kind of cat. He thrives under circumstances like this. He can't just take his foot off the gas. Also, let's not pretend fighters haven't made weight twice in a month. Heck, Chris Leben once fought twice in the span of two weeks. At least Ferguson didn't get punched after making weight last Friday. So, it was a chore, no doubt, but now he's back to normal and gears up for May 9. I don't think there are more than five fighters on the roster who would do this, but that's what makes him so unique. Do you, Tony.


Ferguson cuts weight despite fight cancellation

Tony Ferguson cuts and appears to make weight a day before he was scheduled to fight in the main event of UFC 249.

15. It was fun reminiscing with Strikeforce alum (and former champion) Daniel Cormier about the glory days of the promotion on Monday's episode of DC & Helwani. Can't believe it's been nine years since it was sold to Zuffa. I fear newer fans will never know just how special this promotion was and the amazing stars it built in a short amount of time. Some of my favorite events that I ever covered back in the day were those Bay Area Strikeforce shows, and so, with that in mind, here are my top 10 Strikeforce fights that you should watch right now (spoiler-free):

1. Frank Shamrock vs. Cesar Gracie, March 2006 -- the first Strikeforce MMA main event. Gotta watch this one for the sake of history.

2. Nick Diaz vs. Paul Daley, April 2011 -- Arguably the greatest first round in MMA history.

3. Frank Shamrock vs. Phil Baroni, June 2007 -- One of the first fights to use YouTube as a sole means of promotion. Legendary stuff. Watch the buildup, too. Really fun.

4. Cung Le vs. Frank Shamrock, March 2008 -- Massive fight for the promotion. Two Bay Area legends fighting for the middleweight title.

5. All three Josh Thomson vs. Gilbert Melendez fights -- I know this is three fights, not one, but trust me, just watch them all.

6. Both Cung Le vs. Scott Smith fights -- Wild affairs, both a lot of fun.

7. Robbie Lawler vs. Melvin Manhoef, January 2010 -- One of the craziest finishes I've ever seen.

8. Nick Diaz vs. Frank Shamrock, April 2011 -- A passing-of-the-torch fight, if there ever was one. Watch the postfight exchange, too. Great stuff from both men.

9. Fabricio Werdum vs. Fedor Emelianenko, June 2010 -- One of the biggest upsets in MMA history.

10. Ronda Rousey vs. Miesha Tate, March 2012 -- The night a star was born.

So many more to choose from, but I'll go with those 10. I feel bad leaving out some great ones like Tate vs. Julie Kedzie, Luke Rockhold vs. Jacare Souza, Cormier vs. Josh Barnett, but alas ... Go watch those and report back to me. Great memories.

16. Congratulations to Court McGee on being sober for 14 years. He is a true inspiration and a reminder to never give up.

17. Massive respect to Invicta FC's Jordan Kaaze, a registered nurse in Wisconsin, who decided to move to New York to help fight the battle against COVID-19.

Hope everyone out there is safe and healthy. Have a great rest of your week.