The Stigma That Follows the UFC's Diaz Brothers

Matthew Ryder@@matthewjryderFeatured ColumnistFebruary 29, 2012

Thugs. Gangsters. Animals. Lunatics.

All words used to describe the Diaz brothers, Nick and Nate, two of MMA’s most fascinating figures.

Warriors. Exciting. Intriguing. Talented.

All words used to describe that same pair, who have been on either side of the ledger in some of the best fights the sport has ever seen.

And so it goes for the Diaz boys, the finest scrappers to ever come from Stockton, Calif. They’re a double-edged sword, a mix of fury and focus, blessed with the gift to create incredible carnage both inside the cage and out.

That’s the stigma they’ve created for themselves. The majority of people know only what they see on television, and what they see on television is a pair of guys who say things they shouldn’t say, do things they shouldn’t do and don’t seem too concerned about what people think of them.

It’s the most polarizing act in the sport.

Diaz fans love their anti-establishment, give-your-boss-the-finger stylings. They march to the beat of their own drum and don’t apologize for it. It’s an approach most people only dream of—the ability to get up from their desk and walk out on their job when slighted, or tell a professor where to go after getting a mark they don’t agree with.

Those who dislike the brothers target the same brash approach as a problem. They’re not good role models, they swear too much, they take the fight too seriously and they’re both obviously too unstable to be out in public—much less in the public eye—as pro athletes.

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Take it for what it is. It isn’t going to change.

However, as the sport grows and the camera-averse brothers begin to open up a little more, people are realizing there’s more than meets the eye. Teammates rave about their leadership and loyalty—particularly of Nick, who has seen his star rise to unprecedented heights in the past year.

They’re seen more often in their natural environment, doing triathlons and training for fun instead of in fight mode while cutting weight and being generally mad at the world. It’s given a whole new dimension to the understanding people have of them. In their own way, they’re actually likeable.

These two have grown up on the streets of one of America’s toughest cities, which has sharpened them into the streetwise brawlers people now see. They’ve also tempered that wild side with a lifetime dedicated to martial arts, the respect and honour of which may very well be what put them in a cage instead of a jail cell.

It’s truly an incredible thing to see.

Nate has less of a reputation for craziness than his older brother, though he shares the family gameness. If you sign to fight him, he’s coming to fight you, too. It’s not a game, it’s not a joke—you signed up to do him harm; he wants to harm you first.

Aside from that, you can more or less rely on him to do his press obligations, not cause too much of a scene at weigh-ins and public relations events and maybe even shake the other guy’s hand when it’s all over.

Nick, however, is a whole other ballgame. He’s skittish in front of a camera, hates being questioned about the fight game and generally has the feel of an animal backed into a corner as his fight draws near. Don’t ask him to shake hands and kiss babies, don’t think he’s going to take pictures with his opponent, and don’t plan on him showing up for PR unless you damn near drag him there yourself.

At any other time, he’s a thoughtful (if not articulate) man who chooses his words carefully, but pulls no punches. His approach to life is the same as his approach to the fight: Leave it all out there and let people think what they will.

The stigma this has created is remarkable. Five years ago, when it was a lot harder to find stories and videos on them outside of the arena, most would have told you they were a plague to the sport and should be locked up. In more recent years, words like “misunderstood” and “unique” seem to be used to describe them more often than “thugs” or “maniacs.”

Regardless of where the truth lies, there are two things that are guaranteed: Anything close to a fight probably isn’t an accurate depiction of the Diaz brothers, and even if it is, they outright don’t care what you think anyway.

The stigma surrounding them has long been negative. With each intriguing interview and incredible performance in the cage, though, that’s changing.

That’s great news for MMA.