Nick Diaz is as controversial as they come. He skips press conferences, gets into gang-style brawls the moment he feels slightly disrespected and has no issues in speaking his mind at any point in time.
The only attribute that matches the brashness of Diaz is his well-rounded talent inside the cage. Leaving Strikeforce with their welterweight championship and a 10-fight winning streak, the Cesar Gracie student then outclassed UFC legend BJ Penn in his organizational return.
When an injury to Georges St-Pierre delayed Diaz's title shot for a second time, a bout with Carlos Condit for the interim championship was booked for UFC 142. Although Diaz lost the decision, fan debate over scoring criteria led to a second meeting for the two.
After a post-fight urinalysis came back positive for marijuana metabolites, the rematch was scrapped and Diaz was slapped with a one-year suspension, as well as a fine of nearly $80,000.
With the Stockton bad boy eligible to return in February, the UFC should already be looking into an opponent for as early as Superbowl weekend.
Here are six options for Nick Diaz to face immediately upon his return.
Diaz deserves to be facing title contenders or former champions. Former middleweight challenger Demian Maia called out Diaz and appears to be only a fight or two away from competing for gold in his second division after making big waves in his new weight class.
Prior to stepping into the cage with Maia, welterweight notables Rick Story and Dong Hyun Kim had only been stopped one time in their previous 37 fights. That quickly changed when the Brazilian jiu-jitsu specialist dropped down to 170 pounds.
Maia brutally choked out Story in only 2:30 of the first round, while Kim was too injured to continue after 47 seconds of combat.
Despite the well-documented jiu-jitsu of Diaz, there is no welterweight on the same grappling level as Maia. The Abu Dhabi standout has not had any trouble dragging any welterweights to the ground, regardless of their judo or wrestling backgrounds.
Diaz would maintain a considerable advantage in the standup department, although I'm not certain that he can stay off of his back for the entire contest.
Although he has defeated notable middleweights Robbie Lawler, Frank Shamrock and Scott Smith, Diaz has no history of competing at 185 pounds.
If Nick wants Silva, he has got to earn that right. There are several fighters in the UFC middleweight division who already feel that they should be next in line for The Spider. One of those men is Ultimate Fighter winner Michael Bisping.
Bisping has an excellent UFC record of 13-4, and he feels that his UFC 152 victory over Brian Stann warrants his long-desired crack at the middleweight championship.
The long-standing issue with Bisping getting a fight for the belt has been his track record against elite competition. Holding a record of 1-2 against opponents ranked in the Top 10, a win over Diaz would get "The Count" over that hump that he has struggled with for so long.
Who holds the advantages in this fight? Both men throw a high volume of strikes, which leads to an accumulation of damage that cannot be ignored. Each man has more wins by TKO than any other method, and neither has been submitted in their careers.
This fight makes sense in terms of both rankings and history. With the winner of Martin Kampmann vs. Johny Hendricks getting the next crack at the UFC welterweight championship, Jake Ellenberger and Diaz are sitting on the outside of the title picture and looking in.
In terms of history, Ellenberger is the man who viciously and unceremoniously knocked Jake Shields out of the title picture at 170 pounds. As a fellow Gracie student, Diaz may want to grab some revenge for his fallen brother.
This matchup is one of opposites. In the standup, Diaz throws quick combinations that accumulate damage, while Ellenberger is the type to throw power shots at opportune moments. In the clinch, Jake will look for slams, throws or knees, while Diaz is a fan of dirty boxing. If it goes to the ground, Diaz will look for submissions, while The Juggernaut is the type to utilize ground and pound.
In mid-2011, Jon Fitch expressed discontent with the fact that he has had to work hard and win several fights in hopes of getting a shot at the UFC welterweight championship, but Diaz was offered one in his first fight back with the organization.
"I'm irritated. I'm pissed off. I wanna hurt some people. I wanna finish a lot of people and I wanna do it in style," Fitch exclaimed. "I'm tired of being skipped over and I'm tired of being ignored and it's time for me to make some noise."
When asked about a potential matchup with the Stockton native, Fitch wasted little time in responding. "We're gonna fight. Me and Nick Diaz will fight."
Fitch fought through adversity to overcome a deep rear-naked choke attempt from Erick Silva at UFC 153. That show of heart was enough to survive until his opponent exhausted himself, and Fitch would earn the victory.
That win was the first in more than two years, and it showed us why the AKA fighter has long been considered a member of the welterweight elite. A bout with Diaz is exactly the kind of fight that he wants, and this time around, he just might get it.
At UFC 154, the championship unification fight between St-Pierre and Carlos Condit is not the only welterweight fight that has title implications. In the evening's co-main event, contenders Hendricks and Kampmann will meet in a fight that serves as a title eliminator.
Hendricks is riding the momentum of wins over contenders Josh Koscheck and Fitch. Those victories spearhead an 8-1 run since joining the UFC. The only loss of his career came at the hands of Story nearly two years ago.
Kampmann has won five of his last seven fights, and both of the losses during that time came in controversial fashion. How many of you really think Kampmann deserved a loss against either Jake Shields or Diego Sanchez? Throw in his victories over Story, Thiago Alves and Ellenberger and you've got the recipe for a legitimate title contender.
The winner of this fight gets a title shot, however, the loser will still likely remain in the division's top 5, unless the bout is a total blowout. As long as the fight is competitive, the loser could face Diaz when his suspension is lifted.
Diaz vs. St-Pierre or Diaz vs. Condit II.
Both of these highly anticipated fights were originally scheduled to take place in 2012. The injury to St. Pierre would cancel the former, while Diaz's suspension caused the unraveling of the latter.
The triangle between these men is well documented, but here is a quick recap for anyone who missed out.
At UFC 137, Diaz was scheduled to meet St-Pierre, and Condit would fight Penn. Diaz no-showed a pair of press conferences and was pulled from the title fight. Condit was named his replacement and Diaz got the less-glorious matchup with Penn. St-Pierre got hurt, so Diaz vs. Penn headlined the card.
Condit was announced as the next title contender upon St-Pierre's return, but between the dominant performance put on by Diaz, and his incessant trash talking of the champion and his testicular fortitude, the bout was changed to St-Pierre vs. Diaz at UFC 142.
St-Pierre was hurt again, so UFC 142 became Diaz vs. Condit for the interim title. Condit won the bout by using an evasive style of counter-attack. Diaz would retire after the decision, feeling that he had been jipped by a faulty system. There was much debate among fans as to a need for changing of scoring criteria, as Diaz did push the action and control the center of the cage throughout the five-round affair.
Condit vs. Diaz II was booked, but fell through when Diaz was suspended. Instead of fighting a new opponent, Condit elected to sit on the sidelines and wait for a unification fight with St-Pierre.
Did I miss anything?
Regardless of who wins this fight, Diaz should fight the loser. A win elevates him to a title fight against the other guy he was supposed to fight, and he currently isn't deserving of a title shot after coming off of a loss. If you find yourself thinking otherwise, it's likely that you can't wait to see Chael Sonnen fight for the belt at light heavyweight.