In any world that could reasonably be called just or decent, two years would never go by between Nick Diaz fights. Signatures would be gathered, declarations would be broadcast, rallies would be organized, and executive orders would be signed before something as absurd as that were allowed to happen, before a man both born to fight and blessed with the ability to fight so beautifully would be permitted to spend so much time away from a cage or a ring. But here we are, in our unjust, indecent little world, 25 months since Nick Diaz last stepped into the Octagon, and all we have to sustain us, still, is a little bit of Saturday night trash-talking broadcast on a celebrity-gossip Web site. And as entertaining as Nick Diaz is with a microphone in his face, it’s not enough anymore.
On Saturday night TMZ caught Diaz on the escalator outside the T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas, site of UFC 209, and asked him what he thought of the night’s main event, a bland five-round affair between Stephen “Wonderboy” Thompson and Tyron Woodley, the champion of the welterweight division, Diaz’s once and (hopefully) future home. Like nearly everyone else who saw that fight, Diaz was unimpressed, calling it “boring,” claiming he heard nothing but boos while it was going on, and laughing off Woodley’s claims to being the best welterweight in MMA history.
No surprise there. Even dyed-in-the-wool Woodley and Thompson fans couldn’t find much to love in such an uneventful fight, and Diaz, more than perhaps anyone in the world, judges a fight’s value on how much action there was, how much malice was displayed, and how much violence emanated from the ring. In his world one doesn’t get points for being cautious in the name of strategy. And by those criteria, and knowing Diaz’s history of dismissing anyone he might one day fight (and really anyone in the UFC who isn’t either his teammate or his brother), his response was predictable.
But the resident TMZ ambush artist had the good sense not to stop with that evening’s events but to ask Diaz, who has been available to fight since August 1, when his suspension by the Nevada Athletic Commission for a failed post-fight drug test in January 2015 ended, who he’d liked to fight when, and if, he returns to the UFC. Woodley? Diaz’s newly resurrected rival Georges St-Pierre? Diaz was, as always, one step ahead and slightly to the left of everyone else.
“I talked to Michael Bisping already in New York about doing this fight,” Diaz said about the UFC middleweight champion, who, we’d found out just days earlier, will be fighting GSP when the former welterweight champion makes his own Octagon comeback after a three-year hiatus. “There’s more money for him if he takes the fight with me. We were talking about a catch-weight fight … It would be a non-title fight, so after I whoop his ass he still keeps the belt. So that’s more money. Then you go fight GSP. Same with George. I’m doing more numbers than he is so you’re going to make more money fighting me.”
This was vintage Nick Diaz: arrogant, brash, dismissive of the fighting and business acumen of his rivals and the promotional wherewithal of the UFC, confident of his position as a money-making draw while downplaying that of all other fighters (Bisping and GSP being two of the UFC’s most consistent and profitable draws), and at the same time slightly paranoid and self-pitying, as if the world had once again conspired against him and his strongest and noblest desires.
All of which would have been enough for devoted Diaz fans, say, six months or a year ago, when all it took was a few words from the man’s mouth to stir the pot and juice our imaginations and convince us the fighter we loved most would soon be returning to reclaim his rightful place astride the world.
But now, more than two years since he last fought, and more than six months since the world and its rules cleared him to return, the delightful, paranoid ravings of Nick Diaz are starting to ring hollow. One can only hear him call out and criticize half the UFC roster so many times before realizing all those words and threats and guarantees might not ever add up to an actual Octagon appearance. With Nick’s little brother playing a similar game and Conor McGregor busy chasing Floyd Mayweather around the block and Chael Sonnen gone to seed in Bellator, the cynical MMA fan can’t help despairing that a golden era of MMA personalities has passed and that all we’ve been left with is incomparable fighters redefining athletic possibility and artistic potential and constantly re-creating the sport we love best through sheer will, dedication, and invention. Which, let’s face it, isn’t enough.
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