My name is Scott. I'm a big fan. Big fan. I wonder how many times you hear that in a day, especially in the days leading up to Saturday's UFC 266. Once you touch down in Las Vegas, the gravitational center of the fighting world, I bet the attention and the adoration are constant.
What's the thing your fans ask you about the most? The title bout with Carlos Condit? Your rivalry with Georges St-Pierre? Your gogoplata-ing of Takanori Gomi in Pride 33 that became a no-contest after you popped for weed? The Nashville Brawl? That time you laid down in the cage during your fight with Anderson Silva?
Or maybe it was one of those famous Nick Diaz soundbites. You're always brutally unfiltered in comments about your opponents, the UFC, yourself or whatever else is up for discussion. You're genuinely funny, even when I can't tell if it's intentional or not.
Those are all great memories, but on Saturday, we learned that nostalgia isn't enough. In the hard, cold reality of the present, you suffered perhaps the worst loss of your career to Robbie Lawler, a man you knocked out in 2004 back at UFC 47. This time he got the TKO, but the ending came in a very unorthodox fashion, even for you. And this time, it wasn't cute.
In the opening minute of the fourth round, Lawler dropped you on your backside with a check right hook. For a moment, it looked as if you were going to lie back in the universal symbol for Lawler to join you on the ground. As you are a high-level jiu-jitsu player, Lawler wisely declined, instead backing up and waving his hands in the universal symbol for you to stand up so the brawl could continue.
Instead, you said something to the ref, and the ref waved off the bout. Just like that, it was over by TKO (retirement) at 44 seconds of the third round. Your nose was bleeding, but not egregiously. There was no apparent injury, either during or after the fight-ending sequence. You didn't tap or try to get up. You said something to the ref, and it was over.
"I'm glad at least I put on a show," you, looking sheepish, told ESPN broadcaster Daniel Cormier in the cage after the fight. "I guess I had it coming," you added, in an apparent reference to the original bout. Cormier, who like the rest of the ESPN broadcast team is openly allergic to criticism or controversy, did not ask you about the fight‘s final moments.
Your behavior during fight week and before raised eyebrows. Your fight-week request to contest the bout up at middleweight and your slurring, rambling interviews all were concerning, as you were seemingly unable to keep a thought in your head for much longer than a few fleeting moments. More specifically, you repeatedly said point-blank this week that you didn't want to fight and that you're not sure how or why the fight was ever made.
Put everything together—the fight, your stated reluctance to be in there, and, oh, the six-plus-year layoff that preceded your bout Saturday—and a fresh new message emerges on the proverbial wall. You've heard the roar of the crowd one last time and cashed one last paycheck. Save yourself and your brain and your dignity and ride into the Stockton sunset as one of this sport's true inimitables.
It's not something I relish writing, but I relish it a lot more than watching you stumble through another fight night or news cycle.
Even despite all this, you looked pretty good—dare I mess up the premise of this article by calling it classic Diaz?—for significant swaths of the fight. You'd only been knocked out twice before Saturday, and as you survived an early Lawler barrage it seemed your chin was intact. Then came those famous one-two combos. You peppered Lawler with jabs and uppercuts, and while you've never been a power puncher, the volume piled up. Your hands are like bloodhounds, always sniffing out the openings. Your hand speed wasn't great, but it didn't seem to matter as your fists hit home. According to official stats, you connected on 150 of a whopping 339 strikes. You threw 176 in the first round alone—almost more than women's flyweight champ Valentina Shevchenko in her entire fight.
Now don't get it twisted: Lawler probably won both rounds, but you made it competitive, maybe even close.
The crowd had spent much of the fight chanting your name, and they were doing so early in the third when that check right hook from Lawler dropped you like a bag of dirt. And then it ended. It was just that abrupt.
Afterward, you attempted with little success to explain the loss to Cormier.
"I had a lot of stress coming into this one," you said. "I've been off a long time. Yeah, I don't have no excuses—I've been off a long time. I don't know how this fight got set up. I had a switch-up in my whole, uh, you know, management set-up. It was just a bum rap. But no excuses. I had it coming, and he was in great shape."
The closest you came to addressing the stoppage on your own was a note that "I knew I was leaking here, so I didn't want to make too much of a mess."
It's your right not to continue—frankly, I wish more fighters took advantage of that option. But yours just seemed so sudden and sad, especially based on what you'd been saying this week.
Let's also not forget the strong effort from your opponent. At age 39, Lawler is actually a year older than you and came in on a four-fight losing skid. After the fight, he gave you respect befitting a legend. He also referred to a weapon he had landed a few times in the fight that seemed to take a lot of starch out of your sails: a sneakily vicious digging body shot.
"I expected him to bring it to me, push the pace and try to break me, and I was right there with him," Lawler told Cormier. "But it was a fun fight. … I've always had respect for Diaz. He brings it every time he steps in the ring. … I caught him with a couple good body shots, but he was doing a lot of work, trying to roll. He did a great job—I was just relentless tonight."
Even more relentless is Father Time—it's a cliche because it's true—and he's a lot closer than he may appear in your rearview mirror. You can't hide your 38 years, your 38-fight career, or the deeply ingrained rust that comes from an extended shelf time that saw you compete only six times in the last 10 years.
It seems you can hear Father Time talking his talk. On Saturday, you saw him walk his walk. Now it's time to follow in his footsteps.