The Cult of Nick Diaz: Why Some Fans Are Obsessed with the UFC Star

Jonathan SnowdenCombat Sports Senior WriterMarch 17, 2014

USA Today

Sometimes you miss something without even consciously knowing it was gone. It's a nagging feeling, one that tickles the back of your brain. You sense something isn't right but can't always put your finger on exactly what's been absent from your life, what's made your dark, endless, dreary existence just a smidgen worse than it's always been.

Don't worry, though. If you're a mixed martial arts fan I've pinpointed it for you. What's been missing is an edge. For such a controversial sport, it seems, MMA is awfully staid and traditional. Fighters hug it out, compliment each other for their performance and offer endless platitudes about the "grind" and the value of hard work.

Frankly it can be boring as hell.

MMA needs a spark. It needs its Chael Sonnens, inexplicably confident and voluble in the face of stark reality. It needs its Jon Jones, flashy, cocky and inexpressibly amazing.

And it needs a dose of punk rock, a dangerous vibe that reminds us that this all started with Helio Gracie street fights and Jeremy Horn choking some dude in a warehouse in front of 17 violence-mad lunatics.

This sport needs Nick Diaz.

It's Diaz we've been missing, a presence unlike any other in all of combat sports. It's what you've yearned for, that absence made so stark by his sudden reappearance on the scene, yelling at Johny Hendricks during the UFC 171 weigh-ins, soaking in the adoration of the crowd, bringing the kind of swag the UFC media room hasn't seen since the height of Ryan Loco's run.

There's no denying it whether you love him or love to pretend you hate him. Nick Diaz is a dose of fun all too often missing in a sport so desperate to be more than it is, keen on pretending it's more than just people letting it all go in a steel cage, civilization and brain cells be damned.

It's been over a year since we last saw UFC bad boy Nick Diaz grace the Octagon with his unique brand of all-encompassing violence. That's 12 months with no imminent brawls, 12 months without press conference drama and, most importantly, 12 months without the swarming, volume punching he's made his trademark.

Yet while Diaz was missing he was never truly gone. He's built a cult following unlike any we've seen in mixed martial arts history, and they never let him fall into obscurity. While Nick himself seemed content just living on that big Georges St-Pierre payday, his fans never stopped advocating. 

Made in his image, his complete and utter lack of self-awareness rubbing off on them like an Internet-only virus, they seem to have no idea where he truly stands in the sport. Reading conversations online, especially on Twitter, it would never occur to you that Diaz actually lost his last two fights, that he hasn't beaten anyone of significance since 2011.

It doesn't seemingly occur to him. Here he is telling Fox Sports that he should be plucked down straight into the title picture. His argument, broken down to its most basic message, is that he's Nick Diaz. What else matters?

"I don't have to take a warm-up fight," he said. "Why would I take a warm-up fight? To help somebody out? To bring them to my level? I've already been through all that and you still didn't see me take an ass whipping. I don't care, I'm talking about a title fight matchup. Bottom line, I'm the only draw here. Bottom line."

Were this sport, and not glorious spectacle, we'd be talking about Diaz fighting Jake Ellenberger or another mid-tier welterweight. Diaz and his fans, results be damned, don't see him in that echelon. They live in a world of Anderson Silva superfights and immediate title shots, a world where Carlos Condit and GSP were too scared to fight the mighty Nick and where no one who steps in like a man has any real shot at victory.

It's a madness that spreads easily. Even I'm not immune. Such is the pure force of their ardor—you can sink under their spell if you just relax and let the insanity flow all around you.

Maybe Condit did run? Maybe St-Pierre's refusal to stand and trade does mask a coward's soul? Maybe Diaz does deserve a title shot? 

At the very least it would be fun. Remember fun? Chuck Liddell's gonzo celebrations, B.J. Penn gorging on his opponent's blood and the smarmy smirk that made Tito Ortiz so utterly punchable? Diaz has that, the "it" factor that helps you forget that he's never proven himself to be a top-level UFC fighter, that his success has been mostly illusory, that he talks a better game than he fights.

Suddenly, none of that matters. Because, at its heart, MMA isn't about finding the best fighter in the world. It's about finding the best stories, about a fearsome and unthinkably grueling contest between two athletes we care about.

People care about Nick Diaz in a way they'll never care about Tyron Woodley or Hector Lombard. With all due respect to those gentleman that can only mean one thing—bring on the title shot. Bring on Hendricks. Don't be scared, homie.