LAS VEGAS—Nate Diaz sits on a small stage on the Mandalay Bay Events Center concourse. He has arrived late—stop me if you've heard this before, but the brothers Diaz are known to be late (or not show up at all) from time to time—but he is here, three days ahead of his headlining fight against Gray Maynard on Saturday's The Ultimate Fighter 18 Finale. He offers handshakes to those of us in the media who are crowding around the stage, and then he sits down with a sigh.
Diaz is fine with being in the main event. It's not his first time in the spotlight. But truth be told, he'd be a lot happier fighting on the preliminary card of the UFC on Fox 9 event that takes place in Sacramento in a few weeks.
"It's closer to home," Diaz says. "But I'll take what I can get. Vegas ain't that far from home. It's cool."
Diaz doesn't care so much about fighting Maynard. Unlike his opponent—who still harbors an obsession over unfinished business with Frankie Edgar and relishes the idea of coming out ahead of Diaz in their trilogy—Diaz doesn't feel like he needs to settle a score. He has a win over Maynard, and Maynard has a win over him, and if things stayed that way for all of eternity, Diaz wouldn't lose any sleep.
"I didn't need this to seal the deal. It didn't keep me up at night," Diaz says. "But he's been around a long time, and I can respect that. There's a bunch of guys out there, and I'm happier to fight Gray Maynard. He's a worthy opponent. I'd rather fight him than some joker trying to make a name for himself."
Diaz doesn't like to lose. His brother Nick threw in the towel in Nate's last fight, a TKO loss to Josh Thomson in April. Diaz says that he felt like he was still in the fight but concedes that he probably would have thrown in the towel on himself, too.
He also notes that Junior dos Santos probably would have been saved some punishment if his team had thrown in the towel during his lopsided loss to Cain Velasquez in October.
Yeah, Diaz has ended up on the wrong side of the win/loss column a few times. He's lost two in a row, actually, and that angers him. Because for Diaz—who is beloved by fans for the entertainment value he brings to the Octagon and everything surrounding a fight week—the most important thing is winning.
"I think I've lost some fights in this UFC, but nobody's defeated me," Diaz says. "Trust me, when I lose, I be going crazy as a motherf*****. I'm training to win. I'm fighting to win. Some people say, 'Oh, it's for the fans.' That's all bulls***. We're all here to win fights. Whatever I got to do to make that happen, I'm going to do."
I ask Diaz, who is known for his tense, mean-mugging staredowns, if he feels like he fights better when he can work up a certain amount of anger at his opponent. Is he more effective if he's holding a grudge?
"No, I fight better when someone actually wants to fight me. If it gets worked up, that kinda happens organically. Whatever happens, happens. I don't get worked up. I see people talking about me coming in and trying to get in someone's head. I'm like, whatever," Diaz says. "People here are all trained fighters. Trained athletes. I can respect that. But whatever happens, if people get mad or if I get mad, that's just off the spur of the moment. I don't plan that s*** out."
"Stuff. I don't plan that stuff out," he says with a laugh.
This—the idea of Diaz correcting himself when he says something that perhaps he shouldn't say in public—is a new one. Does it stem from his UFC-mandated suspension earlier this year for using a homophobic slur on Twitter?
Whatever the reason, it feels weird. But then again, I feel like we often group Nate in with Nick. They are a unit and rightly so, but the truth is that they are both different than the versions of themselves they allow the public to see. Both of them have answered "yes sir" when I've asked questions of them in the past, which sucks for me because I'm not that old and they are not that young.
But again, that's the thing about the Diaz brothers. What you see is often what you get, but it's not the only thing they have to offer. Diaz is aware of how he's portrayed in the media and what other fighters say about him. He's read everything Maynard has said about him so far, and he doesn't feel as though Maynard is trying to get in his head or work him up.
"I've listened to everything he's got to say," Diaz says. "And I will continue listening."
Ten minutes earlier he was smiling and joking with the journalists gathered around his stage; standing in front of Maynard, he's like a coiled viper. The muscles in his forearms are tensed. Veins in his neck are popping out. His hands seem to be fighting a battle with themselves, never able to decide whether they should close into a fist or remain open.
This is what is so interesting about the Diaz brothers.
They are the product of a tough upbringing, and they bring a lot of that childhood into the Octagon. They can't leave it outside because it's part of who they are. They can learn to modify their nature for the public—as witnessed earlier when Diaz made multiple attempts to correct curse words he'd already uttered—but they can never become that picture-perfect athlete who's put up on a pedestal whenever the UFC needs someone to point to and say, "Hey, look how fine and upstanding these gentlemen are."
Nate and Nick are fighters, and that's all they want to be. And come Saturday night, Diaz will step in the Octagon, and he won't be thinking about finishing a trilogy ahead of Maynard. He won't be thinking about the two consecutive losses he's suffered and how his back might just be against the wall.
He'll be thinking about two things: punching Maynard in the face and getting the win. Because at the end of the day, nothing else matters.