A substitute fight for Conor McGregor on Saturday night just might be bigger than the one with his original opponent.
As a bonus, McGregor's refashioned main event against Nate Diaz just might make Holly Holm a bigger star in the process.
McGregor, the UFC featherweight champion, was scheduled to go up in weight and challenge lightweight champion Rafael dos Anjos in the main event of UFC 196 in Las Vegas, with Holm's UFC women's bantamweight title defense against Miesha Tate as the co-feature bout.
Two weeks before the fight, dos Anjos pulled out with a broken foot. When Diaz, who hails from Stockton, Calif., offered to take dos Anjos' place, McGregor (19-2) obliged.
"Dos Anjos pulled out with a bruised foot," the Dublin native said. "If I went into a doctor with his little foot bruise, the doctor would have slapped me and told me to get out. But whatever you want to say about Nate Diaz, the man is always down for a fight and I respect him for it."
While McGregor's attempt to become the first simultaneous multiple-weight-class champion would have drawn interest on its potential historic merit, dos Anjos isn't a breakthrough star with the masses. Diaz (18-10), and his older brother Nick, are beloved by fight fans as antiheroes who use vulgar language, never back down from a fight and often find themselves locking horns with their promoters and athletic commissions.
The combination of McGregor's charisma and Diaz's bad-boy persona has sparked interest in a way the double-title-fight couldn't. At a raucous press conference in front of a turnaway crowd at a UFC-branded gym in Torrance, Calif., last week, McGregor and Diaz traded expletives and accusations. Diaz repeatedly accused McGregor of using steroids (McGregor has never failed a drug test) and McGregor called Diaz "A little cholo gangster from the hood."
As for the fight itself, the fact the bout is being contested at welterweight -- a concession to Diaz, who usually fights at lightweight, taking the bout on short notice -- could heavily influence how this battle of strikers plays out. McGregor is jumping two weight classes, putting him at a size and reach disadvantage. Diaz's conditioning may be suspect given the lack of preparation time.
The UFC's head honchos hope that pairing Holm with McGregor on this card will help break Holm from the pack as simple "the fighter who defeated Ronda Rousey" and make the Albuquerque, N.M., native an attraction in her own right.
After Holm's memorable head-kick knockout of the previously undefeated Rousey in November, conventional wisdom had it Holm should hold out for a rematch with the former champion, which likely would have done blockbuster business.
Holm didn't want to sit out too long and it appears Rousey, who hosted "Saturday Night Live," was on the cover of the Sports Illustrated swimsuit issue and has movie projects on deck, is in no rush to fight soon.
So the next best thing was to give Holm the rub of appearing on the same card as McGregor, who is unquestionably the UFC's biggest star in Rousey's absence. In Tate, Holm will meet a fighter with a devout fan following who has won four consecutive bouts, losing to Rousey in a UFC 168 title challenge.
Tate (17-5), a former Strikeforce champion from Tacoma, Wash., is known as an ultra-tough fighter with real power. So even though Holm is a three-time former world boxing champion, Tate's best path to victory may be a willingness to eat a couple shots in order to counter with a big one.
Either way, should Holm (10-0) follow her memorable victory over Rousey with a an impressive win over the popular Tate, the idea is she'll have enough momentum to headline big events on her own, whether or not Rousey is her dance partner.
For her part, Holm said she's not letting such considerations enter her mind. It's simply about proving last time out wasn't a fluke.
"I don't want to be a one-hit wonder," Holm said. "I don't want it to be one performance. I want to show I'm here for a reason. For me, I want to keep going, keep getting better."