The Diaz brothers, long a thorn in UFC president Dana White’s side, may finally be riding off into the sunset—for good this time.
And if you ask me, that’s OK.
It’s not that I don’t want to see them fight. I do. Much like every other mixed martial arts fan on the planet, I think there’s just something about the Diaz brothers that reaches down deep into our collective souls. They are exhilarating to watch in the Octagon, but they are also can’t miss outside of it.
UFC press conferences always go off without a hitch. When a Diaz is involved, a foreboding feeling circulates around the room. You aren’t quite sure what will happen. You aren’t quite sure if anything will happen at all. You only know that there is a chance something will happen, and you want to be there in case it does.
One of them will say something that makes everybody in the room laugh a nervous laugh.
One of them will make his pre-fight staredown more intense than it needs to be simply because they are wired differently and everything must be done with a heightened level of intensity.
Or one of them simply won’t show up. You just never know.
This is the charm of the Diaz brothers. It is one of the things that endears them to spectators and makes them ultra-popular, if only to a small subset of an already niche community.
But it is also the thing that leaves them on the precipice of walking away for no good reason at all from the best chance they will ever have to earn money in the prime of their athletic careers. Whether it is hard-headedness or an overinflated sense of their own value brought about by the whispers of those closest to them, their current standoff with the UFC won’t end well for them.
Nick has been out of the UFC since March 2013, when he “retired” after losing to Georges St-Pierre. He’s made noises off and on about returning to the Octagon but only for a championship fight. That’s not going to happen, of course. And then he made vague demands of needing $500,000 per fight for a return. That won’t happen either.
Nate’s problems with the UFC are more recent but no less serious. After a big victory over Jim Miller in May 2012, Diaz the younger signed a contract extension with the promotion. But after inking the new deal, Diaz went 1-2 in his next three fights. Diaz beat Gray Maynard in his last fight and then decided he wanted a new contract before agreeing to a new fight. He’s been on the sidelines ever since.
That’s not how things work, of course. Nate Diaz is well within his rights to try and renegotiate his contract at any time. On the flip side, the UFC is well within its own rights to look at Diaz’s recent record and determine that he’s not worthy of a contract renegotiation.
I use this analogy with folks who try to argue the idea that Diaz is totally within his rights here: What if I slacked off work for two-thirds of the year and then had a spectacular final few months to close out 2014? How do you think my bosses would respond to a demand for a new contract?
Here’s how they would respond: They would laugh at me. And rightly so.
White isn’t laughing at Diaz publicly, but it is clear he won’t be wavering from his position. Because despite what hardcore fans believe, the UFC needs Nate a whole lot less than it needs them. He is popular to an extent, but he is not a proven television or pay-per-view draw.
If either Diaz were a star on the level of Georges St-Pierre or Brock Lesnar, you can bet your bottom dollar White would’ve already hopped on his private jet and made the quick flight to Stockton to get a deal done. The fact that White is so nonchalant about letting both Diaz brothers sit on the sidelines should tell you all you need to know about their value to the company. White told MMA Junkie:
The thing that’s sad about it: I like them. And I used to have a really good relationship with Nate, but fighting or any other sport, it isn’t a profession. It isn’t a job. It’s an opportunity. It’s an opportunity to make money. It’s an opportunity to achieve great things in a short window of time.
If they want to sit out their window of time, for the rest of their career, that’s up to them.
We see this tactic utilized all the time in other sports. If a star football player is not happy with his contract, he can opt to skip training camp and stay away from the team until his issues are resolved to his liking.
The difference between the Diaz brothers and those from other sports who attempt the same negotiation tactic is this: Teams are harmed by the absence of their star players. It affects their season as a whole.
The UFC isn’t affected in this manner. Having the Diaz brothers around is a nice bonus, but the promotion’s bottom line won’t be affected by their absence.
And White cannot release Nate from his contract, no matter how many times Diaz pleads his case on social media. He may not be the UFC’s biggest asset, but he would certainly be a big signing for Bellator. The idea of allowing someone like Diaz to walk over to the competition, free and clear of any contractual obligations, is ludicrous.
And it would set a terrible precedent for the UFC. Unhappy with your contract? Mad about this or that or something else? Just complain loudly enough, and the UFC will let you out of the binding agreement you signed not that long ago when you were happy.
That will never happen. It can’t happen, and those of sound mind would never expect such a thing.
The UFC has elected to take a hard-line stance, as evidenced by its ludicrous decision to remove Nate from its official rankings last week for “inactivity.” That excuse will never hold water, not when Dominick Cruz is still available to be ranked despite not fighting since 2011.
It was a clear message to Diaz and his camp: You are expendable. You’ll do what we want, or you’ll waste away your best years sitting on the sideline while others pass you by. We aren’t going to budge, and you aren’t going to get what you want.
If Nick is truly retired, then I am happy for him. Fighting other men for money has always seemed like a struggle for him, as though it goes against his nature.
But Nate is a different story. I believe he still has a lot to offer, and I despise the idea of him sitting on the sidelines because of a dispute that can easily be resolved. He’s not going to get the new contract he wants without winning one or two fights, and I hope he realizes it sooner than later.
I hope he accepts and wins the next fight the UFC offers. And I hope he goes on to earn a living that is close to his own personal valuation because mixed martial arts is boring without at least one Diaz around to keep us on our toes.
But if he doesn’t come to that realization on his own, the UFC is perfectly within its rights to keep him on the sidelines. Nate deserves more money than he’s getting; all fighters do. But he wasn’t required to sign his contract in 2012, back when he had the momentum of three consecutive wins and an upcoming title shot. He had leverage.
Now, he has no leverage. All he has is a career that he is willingly wasting. It’s unfortunate, and I hope it doesn’t last. But I also can’t blame the UFC for making a sound business decision.