The Recurring Saga and Continuing Fictions of Nick Diaz

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The Recurring Saga and Continuing Fictions of Nick Diaz
Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

If fight fans have their way, Nick Diaz will come out of retirement to face Michael Bisping in a middleweight fight sometime in the near future. Just pondering the level of pre-fight trash talk and posturing both would employ makes it almost a lock for a fan-favorite bout.

But that is usually a given whenever Diaz is involved; the man has never met a fight or an opponent he couldn’t dislike on principal.

Diaz is in the prime of his career if he returns; at 30 years of age, there are still many lucrative fights on his horizon. Bouts against Bisping, Matt Brown, Martin Kampmann, Ronaldo “Jacare” Souza, Rory MacDonald and others could be promoted to co-main event status easily.

His style of fighting is explosive and rewarding for fans who love fighters who consistently go for the finish. In fact, it’s hard to imagine Diaz being anything other than aggressive, especially on his feet.

But after being defeated by Carlos Condit and Georges St-Pierre, he’s been in a self-imposed exile from a sport that is willing to pay him good money to come back. Once upon a time, Diaz was all about getting equal opportunity for media exposure and the money that comes with it. After his fantastic fight with Takanori Gomi in 2007, Diaz spoke openly on being excluded from the media spotlight (h/t sherdog.com).

You should be able to market me or sell me by now or put me on a f*#king magazine by now or something because I don’t get no play; I haven’t been in one f*#king magazine, ever. Robbie Lawler still gets put in magazines; what about a motherf*#ker that can box people up and choke some body with a gogo? I’m choking people with gogo’s and throwing hooks to the head no body else is doing that. It’s like, you know, I’m trying to get paid here, I’m trying to have people see me.

Eric Bolte-USA TODAY Sports

In his most recent fight against St-Pierre, Diaz made a disclosed $200,000.00—not exactly the earnings of the top draws, but certainly nothing to dismiss, either. That figure doesn’t include any discretionary bonuses he may have been paid, nor monies from sponsors who would love to see their name featured on his apparel.

The money is there, just waiting to be collected, yet Diaz remains retired, waiting for a fight that would generate the kind of attention he believes he is due.

In a recent Google Hangout chat, Dana White addressed the issue of Nick Diaz as best as he understood it.

Nick’s obviously still on the roster. He’s still an active fighter here in the UFC, but as far as I know, he’s just not interested in fighting right now. When Nick finally fought Georges St-Pierre, Nick Diaz made some money. So Nick Diaz has some kickback money. He can probably take as long as he wants to fight again. You’re fighting to make a living, you’re fighting to pay your bills, you’re fighting to get things that you want out of life. And with the money Nick Diaz made in his last fight, I’m sure he’s got everything he wants right now.

Diaz is perplexing from a fan standpoint. On one hand, he’s easily one of the most exciting fighters to watch that the sport has ever seen. He has flaws from a technical perspective, but he never lets any of that stop him from brawling at the drop of a hat; in fact, it makes his fights more compelling to watch.

On the other hand, he hasn’t been fighting with the kind of regularity that could see his stock grow much larger than it is right now. The UFC has a tremendous platform with Fox; fighting three times a year would see his name on the lips of many casual fans who may not know who he is.

But if they got to see Diaz in a bout with Brown, for instance—that would make sure his name was remembered, and that is worth more money, right now.

So why isn’t he fighting?

Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports
Diaz in the kind of fight he loves: a stand-up brawl with BJ Penn

In part, it seems to be an issue with the state of the game today. Diaz dislikes fighting against opponents who implement a heavy wrestling game; given his love of stand-up brawling (and the success he enjoys in those brawls) it is easy to see why.

But this is, and always will be, mixed martial arts; fighters with a strong wrestling core are always going to be involved and theirs is a presence in the sport that is apt to grow, not diminish, as the sport continues to expand.

So if he’s waiting for the sport to somehow change in a way favorable to his style of fighting, odds are that is not going to happen.

His teammate, Gilbert Melendez, recently spoke about Diaz and the topic of his return to combative sport (h/t David Doyle of MMAFighting.com).

I don’t think he has the desire to be a stepping stone or he doesn’t want to play that role. Sometimes you have to come back up the ladder in your career and I don’t think he wants to do that. I think he wants to fight top-level competition. He doesn’t need to fight just to take it.

This, of course, is not all that surprising. Diaz is one of those rare men who could probably confound that conventional wisdom that says you can never have enough money. For Diaz, what he made from the GSP fight may be more than enough for some time.

Yet fighters need to fight, much like a fish needs to swim and a bird needs to fly. Diaz can busy himself in any number of ways during retirement, but the cage is always going to be in the corner of his eye, glimmering like a coin.

He may very well feel like he has already done all the toiling he needs to do in the earlier stages of his career, when he waged so many wars and became a champion. That is all well and good because he did toil and he did wage wars—far more than most other fighters out there.

Unfortunately for Diaz, fighting top level competition—the big names in the big fights—isn’t a banquet table he can frequent anytime he likes just because he’s proven to use a sharp knife and a fierce fork. It may not seem fair that other fighters have risen higher by doing less, but sitting on the sidelines is slighting no one but himself, and his fans—both current and future.

Eric Bolte-USA TODAY Sports

Fighters like Diaz are such a rare breed, and in truth the combative sports need them. When Diaz fights, you know that if he is matched with an opponent of equal conviction, you have a bona fide Fight of the Year candidate, for as long as it lasts.

Even with no title belts on the line, Diaz could be headlining free cards on Fox. Putting him in five-round battles with men like Brown and Kampmann would go a long way toward giving the public what they want to see, which is what this is all about.

But Diaz must put himself out there in order to see that happen. God knows the fans want it, that much is sure. His detractors may feign indifference, but they represent only one portion of the public.

There is another group that is waiting to be wowed, and Diaz is one half of the equation necessary to do that. Polarizing figures have always been marketable, but given his style of fighting—well, some things just sell themselves.

Sadly, we may not get to see Diaz fight again on such a big stage. We can talk all we wish about Diaz not being able to stay away from the fight game, but he is his own man, beholden to none.

It’s a recurring saga with him; will he find the appropriate incentive to step back into the cage again, or will he content himself with the quiet life?

Most people don’t think a promotion like the UFC should pander to the whims of a man so unpredictable. They say the sport is bigger than any one man, and they are right.

But in the debate, the fight itself get’s lost; it’s the fight that all promotions should serve, and in doing so they see the sport served in return.

This isn’t in a question about the virtue of the fight game anymore; we know that some fights are for the sake of divisional ramifications and some are just for the fireworks. Both have their place, and like him or not, Diaz is one of those rare fighters who can fulfill either need on any given night.

Kelvin Kuo-USA TODAY Sports

Yet to be honest, right now, his best role is that of an action hero in a sport that needs that very thing. Giving him big money paydays to go along with big name fights wouldn’t be done to spite the sport, but to serve it.

Right now, there is still a huge fan base waiting to be tapped. People who have never really paid attention to MMA ended up tuning in to the Jon Jones vs. Alexander Gustafsson replay on Fox Sports 1; maybe it was by accident or maybe it was a curiosity, but with that large a viewing audience, new people were exposed to that kind of dramatic contest.

If they liked what they saw, they are going to want more of that kind of bout and fighters like Nick Diaz can give them what they want. More over, if paired up with any number of aggressive fighters, he can deliver it consistently.

During his time in Strikeforce, Diaz had a string of exciting fights with the likes of Marius Zaromskis, KJ Noons, Evangelista Santos and Paul Daley. Before that, he had crowds on their feet for his fights with Frank Shamrock and Takanori Gomi, and the Gomi bout is one of the greatest fights in MMA history.

Diaz is a man with many faults, but whenever he steps into the cage, his motivations are pure and he has the courage of his convictions; he’s there to fight, plain and simple.

For Diaz, the fight has always mattered above all else, which is exactly as it should be.

So, if he wants bigger fights and more money from the UFC—well, as the adage goes, you have to spend money to make money, and the time to spend it is now.

As for Diaz; it would seem that the time to end the fiction is at hand. If he really wants to be known and get paid along the way, he needs to make a decision. Waiting around for a change in the game simply means he’s getting older, watching while other fighters earn the recognition he’s long claimed was his due, above anyone else.

He may never win a UFC title with so many wrestlers around, but he could still make a great deal of money and win the hearts of the fans, much like Arturo Gatti did. There are still a great many wars out there for Diaz; all that remains to be seen is if he wants to fight them.

It would be a shame if he did not, because so very few can do it as honestly and consistently as he can.

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