LAS VEGAS — The return of Nick Diaz is sophisticated.
I have been speaking to skilled fighters since 2009, however I’ve by no means had an interview go the way in which my dialog with Diaz went this week. Diaz, 38, returns from a six-year absence on Saturday, in opposition to Robbie Lawler at UFC 266. He has finished little or no media within the buildup to this occasion — and one can see why, given the interview he did grant to ESPN.
Simply 4 days away from the struggle, Diaz somberly admitted he really doesn’t want to do it. He mentioned he tried to get away from combating over the past six years, however it inevitably pulled him again as a result of it is the one factor he can do for himself and people round him. When requested if there was even a single facet of this comeback he might take pleasure in, he immediately responded, “No. Nothing.”
Diaz says he feels this fashion earlier than each struggle. He says he by no means feels assured, nor does he stay up for a struggle in the way in which we’re used to listening to so many fighters describe. A typical phrase in MMA is, “Camp is the work, the struggle is the enjoyable half.” None of it’s enjoyable for Diaz, and it by no means has been. He is felt this fashion his complete profession.
There is a totally different weight to all of this now although, in comparison with earlier in Diaz’s profession. And lots of people are feeling that weight behind the scenes, in addition to these watching it unfold from the skin.
On one hand, Diaz returning to MMA is trigger for celebration. He was suspended from the sport for 18 months in 2015, after testing optimistic for traces of marijuana. In hindsight, that suspension — which was initially for 5 years however lowered on attraction — was unfair. UFC athletes aren’t examined for marijuana in 2021, and earlier this 12 months USADA “essentially” removed marijuana use as a punishable offense. UFC senior vp of athlete well being and efficiency Jeff Novitzky acknowledged that its use “would not have any impact on their means to struggle.”
This sport owes one thing to Diaz. He is a pioneer of MMA, and a cult favourite with its followers. Folks love him. He is had a tortured relationship with combating, and in sharing that, he seems extra human, extra relatable. There are two title fights headlining UFC 266, however the primary draw for Saturday’s occasion is certainly Diaz.
Since Nick Diaz’s suspension for marijuana in 2016, the UFC has drastically modified their coverage on the drug.
Even Lawler, who has purpose to not be pleased with Diaz after Diaz requested a weight change to their bout this week, speaks glowingly of him.
“I’ve lots of respect for Nick and every little thing he is achieved, and who he’s,” Lawler mentioned. “He sort of marches to the beat of his personal drum, which I frickin’ respect. He would not take crap. He’s who he’s, and I’ve respect for that.”
However alternatively, nobody can watch the candid interview Diaz gave Wednesday evening and never marvel if this comeback is a good suggestion. Throughout his six years away, Diaz didn’t seem like somebody who missed combating. In reality, he seemed content material in merely being left alone.
In a meandering interview with ESPN in 2019, Diaz was requested if he wished to renew his combating profession. “Completely not,” he responded. He was eligible to return to the game a lot earlier than now, however by no means did.
Layered on high of all of that is the success of Diaz’s youthful brother, Nate. During the last 5 years, Nate Diaz has turn into one of many sport’s largest stars and one in every of its highest paid. In fact, Nick is comfortable for his youthful brother, however it begs the query of whether or not there’s nonetheless time for him to money in too. After years of the grind, Nate acquired the game to pay him again, in a manner it has but to take action for Nick. When Nate fought Conor McGregor at UFC 202, his disclosed purse for that event was $2 million. Nick’s high disclosed purse, his struggle in opposition to Anderson Silva at UFC 183, was 1 / 4 of that.
So right here Diaz is, headed right into a struggle he would not need. He says the very last thing that goes by means of his thoughts as he walks to the Octagon is, “Why am I doing this?” And that feeling can be two-fold on Saturday, following this prolonged break from MMA.
Ought to Diaz even be combating? With a single take a look at Diaz’s life — the emergence from the streets of Stockton, the success of his personal MMA academy, the celebrity and admiration from UFC success — it is simple to see all the nice combating has finished. However then listening to him speak about it makes it appear to be he ought to by no means do it once more.
You could be enthusiastic about Nick Diaz’s return. You possibly can need to see him struggle Lawler this weekend, and even need to see him struggle past that. You possibly can need him to gather a handful of paydays and finally stroll away from this sport with monetary safety to fall again on.
However when you perceive a number of the torment he goes by means of, it is not possible to really feel 100% nice about it. And that is why this comeback, and Nick Diaz, is so sophisticated.