An Academic Analysis of Nate Diaz's Trash Talk

Fightland Blog

By Sarah Kurchak

Photo by Cooper Neill/Zuffa LLC

Nate Diaz is sort of like the Rodney Dangerfield of the UFC in the sense that he gets no respect, and also in the sense that he often reminds the world of this fact. He’s born the brunt of pay issues and PEDs time and time again over the course of his career. According to a cryptic tweet heard round the MMA world a few days ago, he was “played” again by the UFC quite recently. He’s been slept on as a contender by fans, employers, and opponents alike. Even in victory, Conor McGregor has staunchly refused to give the man his due. And every time the two trade barbs, it’s McGregor’s erudite and whimsical Ric Flair-like monologues and one-liners that get the bulk of the attention.

Even we have been guilty of that, choosing to focus on the analysis of McGregor’s words with our Academic Analysis of his trash talk before UFC 196, and relegating Diaz to the unsung role of straight man, a simple tool to set up some of The Notorious’s most beloved quips.

In retrospect, we were being unfair and lacking in vision with that one. Not only did Diaz defeat McGregor in the Octagon, he also provided the most enduring quotes from the first round of the ongoing feud. So, now that “touch-butt in the park” and “Not surprised” have both taken very deserved places in the MMA quote canon, and Diaz is starting to unleash another series of Tracey Jordan-esque truth bombs on the world, we’d like to rectify our mistakes by taking an in-depth look at some of his best McGregor-inspired work with two of our language experts from the outside world.

The panel:

Rhiannon Don is an academic writing instructor and a person who knows virtually nothing about MMA.

Scott Sickles is a two-time Writers Guild of America Award winner, a three-time Emmy nominee, an accomplished playwright and theater producer, and, despite achieving a black belt in tae kwon do in his early adolescence, basically a big sissy.He wants you to watch General Hospital.


RD: Touch Butt in the Park is the name of my second album.

SS: When I learned that Nate Diaz beat Conor McGregor, the subject of my first literary analysis of MMA trash talk, I went back and looked at that article as well as at related reportage about the fight and the rivalry. Then I realized that to dispatch my duties here properly, the last thing I needed was context! I am here to delve into the raw, untumbled semi-precious gems that Mr. Diaz gives to the world... and hopefully avoid the end of his rather extensive reach. I mean that man can hit you from the next room! Anyway, here goes.

1. December 19, 2015. Making his case for a shot at McGregor after UFC on Fox 17:

“When we fight we're going to fight fight, for real fight. He thinks he's the ninja, I'm the ninja— Ninja Gaiden. American ninja. Real motherfucking ninja. This ninja martial artist right here—I started that shit.”

RD: Because there is nothing more American than ninjas. Nothing.

SS: Perhaps I'm being too literal but this bothers me. No, Nate, you did not "start that shit." It's as though he's saying he took the Ninja and put it into the Martial Arts. Ninja skills were already part of the martial arts for hundreds of years, beginning in earnest in 15th Century Feudal Japan with its antecedents being traced back to the 12th Century (thank you, Wikipedia!). So that phrasing is just... no.

But what bothers me even more is the use of Ninjas as example of ostentatious fighting acumen.

No, no, no!

Ninjas are stealthy. They don't announce "You are not the top ninja because I am the top ninja and as such am superior to your weak-ass ninja mojo!" The ideal ninja death match would involve two men fighting elaborately to the death in a manner so silent and invisible that no one in the room notices until one of them suddenly drops dead from the ceiling surprising everyone hobnobbing below

Instead what we get here is the result of an unholy union between an urban Sweet Valley High rip-off's cheerleader fight song and the magna series Lone Wolf and Cub, in which a wrongly disgraced samurai must now live as a wandering assassin traversing the feudal landscape with his almost-as-deadly infant son, whose baby-cart has more hidden weapons than a Scotsman on parade, as they slaughter their foes in fountains of blood.

2. March 3, 2016. From the (in)famous UFC 196 Pre-Fight press conference:

“Who do you train with? You’ve got that little goofy motherfucker with you. I have real training partners. Top 10 fighters, Top 10 boxers, Top 10 jiu-jitsu guys, Top 10 kickboxers. You’re playing touch-butt with that dork in the park with the pony tail. And I’m the one who don’t got no training partners? I don’t think so. You’ve got it all figured out when you’re fighting midgets. You’ve got shit.”

RD: The panache of this particularly passage is impressive. It’s always interesting when you’ve gotta run down a guy’s friends instead of the guy himself. This is the only passage where I feel that Diaz comes close to matching McGregor for style or substance in his trash talk.

SS: Initially, it seems that we're trapped in the martial arts equivalent of the Zagat Guide's Top-10 lists section. But then, finally, we get a little poetry. "You're playing touch-butt with that dork in the park with the pony tail" could easily have been taken right from Veep. Compare:

"You're playing touch-butt with that dork in the park with the pony tail" and

"What were you bobble heads doing while I was just getting ear fucked by father time?"

The meter is similar enough and they zing in exactly the same way.

It's a geode inside the unlikely sediment of The Wizard of Oz, one in which an even angrier Wicked Witch of the West derides both Dorothy and Glinda for associating so familiarly with Munchkins -- plump squeaky creatures who will in no way prepare them for battle against her for she has flying motherfuckin' monkeys and a goddamn army of uniformed badasses!

Now I want a Wizard of Oz/Veep crossover.

3. March 3, 2016. On the Jay & Dan show on FOX Sports:

No one knows what a gazelle is, anyway. This is America motherfucker, get it right.”

RD This cracks me up for so many inappropriate reasons. “How dare you not anticipate the ignorance of my countrymen, motherfucker.”

SS: For a man who speaks with such zest about Ninjas, he's oddly jingoistic about the gazelle.

For some reason he's reminding me of the fascist rabbit warren in WaterShip Down but I honestly can't make any substantive parallel. Or maybe he's more like one of the townies encountered by Bill Bryson and his buddy Katz in A Walk in the Woods which includes references to books with titles like Nod If You Can Hear Me: Living with a Human Vegetable.

It's an unintentionally (or is it?) funny expression that one expects to find in satire.

4. March 5, 2016. Post-fight interview on FOX Sports:

“On my worst day I’ll train for two hours, you know what i’m saying? I don’t have hobbies. I don’t have too many hobbies. I’m always working. I’m always training. I’ll have a day where I’m eating junk food and pigging out doing whatever I’m doing, partying whatever you want to call it, and I’ll wake up and I’ll train the next day. It’s been like that since i started I think I train harder than the hardest workers in the off season So I believe that, as a martial artist ,even if you can’t win a fight you should be able to not be able to die. Or lose.”

RD: Has anyone made that last bit into an inspirational poster for gyms? No? I have done it for you!

SS: This man is a chameleon. Here he suddenly becomes the MMA version of Rachel Samstat, Nora Ephron's alter-ego in her roman-à-clef novel Heartburn. (Not the movie.) Like Ephron's, Diaz's Rachel shares the the ups and downs of preparing day after day for an impending confrontation with a man who has done him wrong and must face a serious albeit uncertain comeuppance... and in the midst of that he stops to talk about food! Junk food! Pigging out! To which I ask, where are the recipes???

He's already proven he has no qualms about speaking in lists, so why stop now? What junk food? Pre-packaged or is it made for you? If so, by whom and with what? And as you're pigging out, how much?

And while Ephron was a master at turning a phrase (once referring to her husband's sexual prowess in the novel by saying, "that man could make love to a Venetian blind" which I think she meant as an assessment of his skill and not an indictment of his promiscuity but either way), even she could not twist a pretzel like "even if you can’t win a fight you should be able to not be able to die. Or lose." Though she would give you the recipe for the pretzel.

But let's look at that statement. Diaz says "even if you can’t win a fight you should be able to not be able to die." He doesn't simply say you should be able to not win and not die -- he says that even though you can be defeated, DEATH SHALL HAVE NO DOMINION OVER YOU!

However, he adds, "Or lose." Yes, that reads as "Even if you can't win the fight, it should ideally be impossible to lose it." This pie-in-the-sky sentiment makes the pipedreams of the lonely denizens of Eugene O'Neill's The Iceman Cometh seem positively practical.

In this one quote, he bobs and weaves between Nora Ephron, Dylan Thomas, and Eugene fucking O'Neill. That's AMAZING!

[It should be noted here that Heartburn also has a passing reference to dwarves.]

5. March 5. 2016. Post-fight Octagon interview:

I’m not surprised, motherfuckers.”

RD: I think Hemingway said the same thing when he got his first novel published.

SS: "So we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past"
~ F. Scott Fitzgerald, The Great Gatsby

"But the horses didn't want it— they swerved apart; the earth didn't want it, sending up rocks through which riders must pass single file; the temples, the tank, the jail, the palace, the birds, the carrion, the Guest House, that came into view as they issued from the gap and saw Mau beneath: they didn't want it, they said in their hundred voices, "No, not yet," and the sky said, "No, not there.""
~ E.M. Forster, A Passage to India

"Then he asked me would I yes to say yes my mountain flower and first I put my arms around him yes and drew him down to me so he could feel my breasts all perfume yes and his heart was going like mad and yes I said yes I will Yes"
~ James Joyce, Ulysses

“I’m not surprised, motherfuckers.”

Hey, a mic drop is a mic drop.


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