As a bout against the surging Jorge Masvidal becomes more and more plausible, we take a look at what Stockton's own Nick Diaz represents to the world of MMA.
In the sporting world, audiences have always gravitated towards rebels. These are the John McEnroe’s,Dennis Rodman’s, Diego Maradona’s and Terrell Owens’ that split public opinion down the middle with a mixture of outlandish behaviour and irrefutable skill. Despite its ideological grounding in the honour systems and beliefs that many of its disciplines teach, MMA isn’t immune to the draw of the bad boy athlete either. Within the increasingly lucrative era that organizations such as the UFC and Bellator have entered into, many fighters are splitting their attention between perfecting their craft while improving their marketability through trash talk, controversial soundbites or other such gimmicky means.
Whether it’s Colby Covington, Michael “Venom” Page or Kevin Lee, numerous fighters have tried to occupy this space in light of the profitable example set by the likes of Tito Ortiz, Chael Sonnen, Michael Bisping and Conor McGregor. Yet when it comes to a bona fide outlaw that’s resonated with fans off the back of blazing his own trail through the sport, no one has connected with fans quite like Nick Diaz.
Repping the 209 area code at every opportunity, Stockton’s weed-smoking, trash-talking, nunchuck-twirling triathlete is an attraction like no other in the UFC. Interwoven into the fabric of the sport’s discourse, he’s the voice you hear proclaiming “Train by day, Joe Rogan podcast by night” each time you hit play on a new episode, the first MMA fighter to ever call out Floyd Mayweather and, sadly, a man whose career has been just as damaged by his unfiltered behaviour as it has been aided by it.
Granted, his little brother Nate has arguably gone on to usurp him in terms of success inside the octagon or notoriety among casual fans, but no other fighter could’ve stepped away from competition for four years and still have diehards clamouring for his return. Even if Instagram would suggest that he’s spent much of the last few years in Vegas and California, enjoying the spoils of his success and the vices that he'd avoided during his career.
For the uninitiated who might be wondering why this is the case, it’s because the former Strikeforce Welterweight Champion specializes in an offhand form of mythmaking that cannot be replicated or otherwise manufactured.
Committed to living life in his own image, this is no better encapsulated than when he fought Takanoromi Gomi at PRIDE 3. After he defeated the Fireball Kid with a stunning gogoplata in Round 2, the post-fight drug test determined that the levels of THC in his system were so pronounced that he must’ve been blazed during the fight.
As it that wasn’t enough to make fans wish to live vicariously through him, there’s also his habit of not leaving the trash talk at the cage door and actually cussing out his opponents midway through the bout. On one occasion, he berated the formidable Robbie Lawler from across the octagon as he zoned in on him and, eventually, put the “Ruthless” one to sleep. As recapped by UFC commentator Joe Rogan himself on his podcast, he claimed that “Robbie was dangerous, still to this day he’s a beast. Nick took that shit-talking to Defcon 5. He got into the octagon, looks over and screams “'Stockton motherfucker!' When he fights guys, he calls them bitch all the time. I think he really flusters a lot of people.”
Much like the “Me Against The World” mentality that one of he and Nate’s favourite artists maintained in his lifetime, Nick has always believed that he has to fend for himself. Often painted as the villain in UFC promotional material, this reached its apex during his deeply personal vendetta against Georges St Pierre. After hollering “Where you at Georges?” upon defeating BJ Penn and claiming that St Pierre had falsified injuries to stay out of his grasp, a media call prior to their bout at UFC 158 saw him discuss the differences in how he is perceived to the heroism that was assigned to the Welterweight Champion. Known for his refusal to cower in a fight, Diaz also derided GSP’s wrestling-oriented style that he saw as negating the kind of action that audiences crave:
Georges St. Pierre - Steve Russell/Toronto Star via Getty Images
"People want to see real boxing, real traditional jiu-jitsu mixed up," he proclaimed. "They don't want to see five minutes of holding. I think people should be point deducted for it or running away. You should have to punch me out to beat me. Maybe one day. I hope so, if I had that much money, I'd be pampered the fuck up. Mother fucker I'm not stupid. I can tell what's what."
From there, matters would only escalate, with Nick decrying not just Georges’ pre-fight rhetoric but the UFC’s PR spin on the fight.
In the years that have passed since GSP’s unanimous decision victory over the Stockton scrapper, he expressed dismay over seeing "a guy like him waste his best years" before suggesting that Diaz would’ve overcame another former UFC champ in Tyron Woodley. But in Diaz’s case, he’s continued to tear down not only GSP but any fighter that he sees as falling foul of his own code of ethics.
In a recurring gripe, he has admonished the entire UFC roster for steroid use on numerous occasions. Beginning two years after his fight with GSP when he claimed they weren’t amply tested and that the French-Canadian missed weight by three pounds, Nick’s position as a self-appointed PED whistle-blower would intensify in the fall out of his next bout.
Following his marquee bout against the Middleweight GOAT Anderson Silva at UFC 183— which spawned one of the funniest moments in the sport’s history when Stockton’s finest lay down mid-fight— Diaz was handed a five year suspension by the Nevada State Athletic Commission after testing positive for weed. In the case of "The Spider," the decorated Brazilian fighter was found guilty of taking drostanolone and androsterone but only received a paltry one-year ban as a result.
Nicki Diaz and Anderson Silva at UFC 183 - Steve Marcus/Getty Images
Speaking at an NSAC hearing on the matter, Diaz didn’t refrain from letting the press know that he felt there was a conspiracy at work:
"It’s ridiculous. I never did steroids in my life. I know all the fighters and they’re all on steroids. All you motherfuckers are on steroids. I’m the only person, for the most part, that ain’t."
In keeping with tradition, this crusade is one that his brother has since waged in his absence with a similar volume of profanity. In another moment of ideological symmetry between the two, Nick is no stranger to airing his grievances about fighter pay. Despite being labelled an “uneducated fool” by GSP in the run up to their bout, one thing Nick certainly knows is his worth. Following his run-in with then UFC matchmaker Joe Silva over his next fight in 2010, 2014 saw the more wizened Diaz brother dig his heels in to try and get what he felt he was due.
"All I said was, what am I getting paid? And [Dana White] said, let me check your contract. And the last text I got from him was what I would be fighting for... I'm not considering even for a second fighting any of those guys for less than $500,000. There's no way."
Sure enough, that’s exactly what he pocketed for his fight with Anderson Silva before the NSAC’s intervention reduced it to $133,000.
Although the sanction against him was reduced to a less egregious 18 months, Nick has yet to stride back into battle, with his former Skrap Pack teammate and close personal friend Gilbert Melendez even suggesting that he’d rode off into the sunset in February of this year. Or at least that was until Jorge Masvidal defeated his brother for the so-called “BMF” title. In the wake of the dynamic Floridian defeating Nate by a doctor’s stoppage, the road to a potential comeback from Nick is more illuminated with ever.
Nate Diaz versus Jorge Masvidal at UFC 244 - Steven Ryan/Getty Images
In an Interview with Ariel Helwani in the aftermath of this month’s fight at Madison Square Garden, Nick proved that his evocative way with words remains completely intact as he took issue with what he saw as the infamous Gamebred Fighter’s provocations:
"You want to talk about baptising my younger brother?" Nick said. "So, you're already in a f***** position if you fight with me."
Anxious to get the fight scheduled, Nick then called upon an old adversary in the UFC President, with Arlington, Texas already earmarked as the venue:
"You know, it's on you Dana. It's on you, UFC. It's in your hands now. Cowboy Stadium."
Despite many pondering whether Diaz is serious after such a long layoff, history has taught us that Diaz isn’t prone to using his words frivolously. While recent comments from Diaz’s manager Kevin Mubenga suggest that Diaz is actively prepping for the biggest payday of his life.
"Not only does he believe he will break the UFC live gate record," Mubenga told ESPN, "but he is also very confident that he will break the boxing attendance record set by Canelo Alvarez vs. Liam Smith [51,420]."
Although Dana White claimed that he “can’t see” Nick competing in the Octagon again at the UFC 244 post-fight presser, things can still change in an instant where there’s money to be made. After all, Masvidal vs. Nick was actually earmarked for March of this year as his return bout, with Dana commenting in late 2018 that "As far as I know, that fight is on. Unless something happened since Tuesday, which is very possible, it’s on."
By January 31st 2015, it will be half a decade since Nick Diaz last entered the octagon to the roar of a rabid UFC crowd. And yet, his status as the sport’s most anarchic figure remains firmly intact. Now that Masvidal has explicitly stated that he’d grant Nick the chance to succeed where his brother had fallen short, it could be time for the UFC to heed the writing on the wall and allow both themselves and the polarizing fighter to reap the rewards of a redemption story in waiting.