I first became very aware of Nick Diaz when he knocked the taste out of Robbie Lawler's mouth. Diaz exhibited A torrent of mid-match trash talk, taunting and counter boxing so fluid and quick, I am still in awe of it today. Not only did he upset the bookmakers and shock the UFC, but he derailed Robbie's career forever forth. He stole the soul of Ruthless in the cage... but Robbie wouldn't know it for years afterward.
It was the first perfect debut for a style which would since be referred to as "The Stockton Slap." Blending a combination of speed and volume, its a style that no one has been able to emulate, and few have been able to stymie. This style, too, has split the community in half. Some dismiss it. Some deify it.
He followed it up with a controversial split decision loss to Karo Parisyan, but rebounded with back to back KO wins over Drew Ficket and Koji Oishi.
The Oishi fight, in my mind, stands out as one of the oddest matches in history. Diaz's opponents before the match and even to this day, have better success (?) covering up and weaving to avoid punches. Oishi tried to counter punch these shots out of the air. Nick Diaz simply grinned at this and proceeded to mangle Oishi throughout the round before he finally crumpled, a broken man. He would not return to the UFC.
He ran into a wall of wrestlers, losing decisions to each before being initially released by the UFC. This was the first time that Diaz looked to be anything less than perfect in many of his matches. A glaring hole in the armor of an otherwise outstanding talent.
After another win, he was called back and destroyed Josh Neer and Gleison Tibau. He left the UFC at this point for greener pastures, racking up a 13-1-1 record outside of Zuffa before being taken back into the fold.
Notable in each of these matches is that he still had not faced any fighters with a legitimate threat of taking him down. Whether this was creative matchmaking on the part of the promoters, Diaz's own wishes or simply coincidence is up for debate.
What is unknown is how Nick Diaz the character began to emerge. While he was never shy about throwing a finger or making his views well known, he began to become increasingly brash. Lashing out at anyone he felt showed him disrespect, or was undeserving of their pay/placement/popularity. He was quickly dubbed as a 'punk,' and someone bad for the sport.
But sources who had met Diaz in person were adamant that he was a very nice, calm, young man who took martial arts very seriously and showed extreme loyalty to his team and his fans.
The two matches against Frank Shamrock and Hayato "Mach" Sakurai in particular struck me as showing Diaz's dichotomy. While the Mach match was one with relatively little trash talk from Diaz, he went in like a man possessed and finished the notoriously tough Japanese standout. After the match, a very humble Diaz complimented his opponent and thanked both Dream and the Japanese fans for allowing him to compete.
Following what can only be seen as a deluge of trash talk between the camps, Diaz broke down Frank Shamrock on the feet and finished him with body blows. An impressive feat regardless of the age and size difference. Afterwards, Frank was complimentary of Diaz, and Diaz actually returned the sentiment.
In both instances, I was floored.
Diaz, this man known equally for his unusual boxing and titanium reenforced chin as his "In your face" "Don't give a damn" demeanor had seemingly broken character. He honored his fallen opponents and showed a layer beneath his angry, resentful exterior.
After returning to the UFC, Nick put a beating on BJ Penn that hasn't been seen since GSP forced him to quit on his stool. Possibly worse than GSP's beating, as BJ looked beaten up worse than he had ever been in his career. Following this career-defining performance Nick Diaz fired off his 'normal' tirade, calling out Georges and effectively inserting himself back into the Title Shot he had previously earned and lost.
Now the MMA community finds itself in a debate over whether or not Diaz's mouth, and not his skills earned him this title shot.
Those who decry him will be the first to point out his weaknesses, shown early in his career have never been seen to be fixed. His skills, while undeniable seem to be an afterthought to those who say he didn't earn his shot properly. They'll point to the fact that he "ducked" Jay Heiron, a clear number one contender in the company. They'll say that he left Strikeforce to avoid Tyrone Woodley. Two excellent wrestlers who had legit cases to face Diaz.
His supporters will point to the long line of finishes against opponents thought to have his number. They'll point to his aptitude on the ground and the strikers he polished off without breaking a sweat on his scar-tissue riddled brow.
It's a tale of two Diaz', and after UFC 143 when he faces Georges St. Pierre for the Welterweight Title, we will see whether we were all effectively trolled or if Nick Diaz is for real.
So, I ask is Nick Diaz simply one of the greatest actors in the history of MMA? Are his brash antics nothing more than to gain attention? Or is he really the angry, bitter kid from Stockton with a chip on his shoulder?