Nick Diaz: Can He Become More Than a UFC Cult Hero?

Matthew Ryder@@matthewjryderFeatured ColumnistSeptember 1, 2014

Nick Diaz, left, cheers on his brother Nate Diaz during a UFC lightweight mixed martial arts fight between Nate Diaz and Josh Thomson in San Jose, Calif., Saturday, April 20, 2013. Thomson won by technical knock out in the second round. (AP Photo/Jeff Chiu)
Jeff Chiu/Associated Press

Nick Diaz has done a lot in his career.

He's fought for a UFC title on a couple of occasions.

He's held welterweight gold in another.

He once found a way to distill violence on the scale of a global conflict into the most chaotic five minutes the sport has ever seen.

He's retired. A couple of times.

He's smoked lots (and lots) of marijuana, usually at inopportune times but almost invariably without regret.

For a guy who just turned 31, he's really put together quite a run for himself.

And that's why people love him. He's a warrior, a crusader for anti-establishment integrity, a walking middle finger erected at The Man and any of the suits who would dare side with him.

It's that attitude that made people take note when he was a kid in the UFC causing mayhem, that made people keep tabs on him long after he'd left and that made people wait with bated breath for his return from the exile he'd placed upon himself since early 2013.

Now he's back.

Well, not now, but basically now.

The bout agreements are signed, the date is set, and Diaz is coming back to an Octagon near you. He's heading to middleweight to begin carving a new path for himself, and it starts when he stands across the cage from the legendary Anderson Silva at UFC 183 in January.

The excitement that produced when it was announced earlier in the summer was palpable, and it's only going to grow more fevered as the fight approaches.

The fascinating philosophies of Diaz, the notable quirks of Silva and the inevitable violence the two men will produce as opponents should send MMA into a frenzy by the time the cage door shuts that night.

But the question remains: Can Diaz ever be anything more than that? Can he ever transcend the label of cult hero and become a perennial contender, or even a UFC champion?

The fact of the matter is that Diaz largely talked his way into contention through 2012 and 2013, trashing Georges St-Pierre enough that the Canadian had to fight him or never hear the end of it. When that happened, Diaz was badly outclassed.

Previously he'd ridden the momentum of a title reign in Strikeforce and a battering of the diminishing BJ Penn to a crack at interim gold against Carlos Condit. Again he lost, though more contentiously, but he simply kept talking until the St-Pierre fight was booked anyway.

Now, wisely taking note of the total lack of stars or even remotely interesting personalities in the UFC, Diaz has parlayed his post-GSP retirement into a new contract, a bigger payday and the biggest non-title fight the UFC has put together in years.

Maybe ever.

With a win over Silva, Diaz will immediately be in the mix of contenders at middleweight and, truthfully, probably welterweight if he decides to drop back down to his natural class.

That said, he doesn't seem interested in anything beyond, to borrow a phrase, "snappin' necks and cashin' checks." He's not keen on committing to much besides getting that bread.

So what does that mean? Lots of stuff, honestly. If one were inclined, he could sit down and write a book on Diaz, his unique savvy and the successes and failures he's wrought. He's simply that compelling, both as an individual and as an agent of chaos.

For the purposes of the present day, though? It means that, likely of his own volition, Diaz won't be a title contender again. He won't run roughshod over two divisions. He won't hold gold in both at the same time or even independently.

He simply doesn't care to, not unless stepping into contendership or title challenges runs parallel to his ultimate goal of getting paid.

It's not about whether or not Diaz can be more than a cult hero; he obviously has the talent to elevate himself to the highest peaks.

It's that he won't be more than a cult hero, because he has his own agenda and his own ambitions, and they'll take precedent over a shiny gold belt and a pat on the back from Dana White 100 times out of 100.

So expect no less, and love him for it. It's that trueness to himself that put him in this position, and it's that trueness that's going to keep him there.

January 31 can't come fast enough.


Follow me on Twitter @matthewjryder!


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