UFC 263: Leon Edwards won the fight; Nathan Diaz won the night

Edwards victorious in thriller vs. Diaz (0:30)

Leon Edwards dominates the early rounds, and Nate Diaz attempts to rally with a big punch late, but Edwards ultimately comes away with the win. (0:30)

Poor Leon Edwards.

You see, the record books will forever state Edwards beat Nate Diaz on Saturday night via unanimous decision. The highlight reels will reveal Edwards dominated Diaz for the majority of their 25-minute fight. Edwards cut up Diaz. He made Diaz bleed. He roughed Diaz up.

That's all very accurate, by the way.

In doing so, Edwards extended his unbeaten streak to 10. He seemingly punched his ticket to a title shot.

And yet, in the court of public opinion, which often counts for more in the fight game, it feels like Diaz won that UFC 263 fight in Glendale, Arizona.

Why? Because after getting beat up for 24 minutes, Diaz rocked Edwards with a left. Diaz pointed at Edwards, he mocked him, he rocked him some more -- but then Diaz ran out of time.

Another minute and Diaz could have potentially finished Edwards. Had Diaz done so, it would have been one of the wildest things this sport has ever witnessed. It would have vaulted Diaz, the icon, the superstar, the needle mover, into another stratosphere. But alas, he ran out of time.

Still, it was Diaz who was celebrating after the judges' scorecards were read. It was Diaz who received the standing ovation and cheers from the crowd. It was Diaz who was the talk of social media afterward.

It was a cruel twist of fate for Edwards, who has no issues winning fights but many issues connecting with fans. He needed a strong finish on Saturday night, and unfortunately, he didn't get it.

But for the UFC, this was kind of perfect:

Diaz holds onto his star power and leaves us wanting more. He remains must-see TV.

Edwards earns his title shot -- because make no mistake about it, Edwards should fight for the belt next. (And Diaz doesn't need a title shot; he's bigger than that.)


Truth be told, I wondered if a stoppage of Diaz could have leapfrogged Edwards over Colby Covington, who appears next for welterweight champion Kamaru Usman, though that fight isn't signed yet.

But I think Diaz's late flurry canceled those plans.

So, after Usman fights Covington, Edwards will either face Usman -- the last man to defeat Edwards, way back in 2015 -- or Covington, who has been talking smack about Edwards for the past couple of years. It doesn't matter who is next, though. All that matters is that Edwards finally gets what he deserves, which is a title shot, despite how Saturday's fight ended.

Edwards just beat up one of the most popular and talented fighters in UFC history. He thoroughly dominated Diaz for the vast majority of five rounds. Edwards should have fought for the belt already. He also owes Diaz a thank-you.

You see, Diaz didn't have to pick Edwards as his next foe. And, yeah, you had better believe Diaz picked Edwards, not the other way around.

Diaz was impressed with Edwards' winning streak and skill set. Diaz wanted the toughest guy in the division, not the biggest name. Just the toughest with the longest winning streak. How many other fighters would do that? Very, very few.

In a day and age when fighters are squatting on their rankings spot while attempting to perfectly craft their trajectory to a title shot, Diaz is a reminder of how this sport and promotion used to operate: the best fighting the best; the toughest fighting the toughest. Rankings be damned.

Diaz could have fought anyone -- a top-15 fighter or an unranked fighter -- in his return. He still would have been the most popular fighter on the UFC 263 card, and he still would have been featured on the pay-per-view.

And yet, he went this route. And as a result, he helped propel Edwards to the spot he needs to be to earn a title shot next. To steal a wrestling phrase, Diaz helped put Edwards over.

Of course, that wasn't Diaz's intention. He obviously wanted to win the fight. But that final minute is precisely why people will continue to love him despite losing four of five rounds to Edwards.

In a nutshell, those final seconds are all you need to see to understand why, despite his somewhat pedestrian 21-13 record, Diaz will remain a superstar in this sport from now until the day he finally hangs up his gloves for good, whenever that time might come.

Edwards needed that W more than Diaz. He got it. Good on him.

But Diaz won the fans over. Again. Like only he can.