While Ronda Rousey was in Brazil planting Bethe Correia's face into a canvas last Saturday night, a couple of her sometime training partners were swinging on a rival of their own a few time zones away. The gist of it is that UFC lightweights Nate Diaz and Khabib Nurmagomedov—each in attendance at World Series of Fighting 22 in Las Vegas to support teammates fighting on the card—started jawing at each other in the crowd at The Axis Arena before the main event. There are conflicting accounts of who threw the first punch, but a video from MMA Interviews showed there definitely was a scuffle between the two fighters and their camps, and suspended UFC welterweight Nick Diaz definitely jumped in and threw a beer:
Security guards—who, for an hourly rate, bring the appearance of uniformed order—helped break things up. But the skirmish started again outside The Axis, and this time, without any beers handy, someone threw a folding chair instead:
According to WSOF vice president Ali Abdel-Aziz, the latest infraction means the Diaz brothers aren't going to be welcome at WSOF events anytime soon. Nurmagomedov tweeted his innocence.
Meanwhile, Nate Diaz responded in a way that would have only been more Diaz-ish had he flicked two middle fingers at the camera:
If the main event was a lesson in why Rousimar Palhares can be an asshole whether he's torqueing your knee or sticking his thumbs in your eyes, for me, the extracurricular brawl that preceded it was a case study in how the Diaz brothers have become exempt from conventional wisdom. Getting into unsanctioned fights after, say, your early 20s (and certainly after your age starts with a three) usually means you need to take a hard, honest look at your life. And if you're a professional MMA fighter, it means you'll raise the ire of your audience. Imagine for a minute that Nurmagomedov's antagonists at WSOF 22 were literally any other pair of MMA fighters, maybe some of his other social media sparring partners, like Donald Cerrone or Anthony Pettis. Imagine the righteous indignation that would follow, about how MMA fighters need to keep their hands to themselves until they've signed a contract and how fans should demand more from their de facto role models.
Yet when I found out that the Diaz brothers had been in a scuffle outside the cage, my first instinct was to laugh and shrug, and I know I'm not alone. Still, I can't fully explain that cognitive dissonance, the fact that I don't care when they violate standards that in theory should apply to everyone. It's been a little more than five years since the Diaz brothers last showed up to lend their support to Jake Shields and got into a scuffle along the way, it's been close to a decade since Nick and Joe Riggs got into it in a hospital after going three rounds at UFC 57, and the lack of surprise that accompanies precedent certainly helps write off this latest transgression. I'm sure I'd have different feelings about what happened Saturday night if an old lady in her seat caught a haymaker, and it's always easier to watch street fights with bemusement when you aren't the one getting swung on.
But maybe I'm so ready to look at the Diaz’ with different eyes because they're guided by the honesty of impulse. Where too many fighters have become experts in the art of biting their tongues, they remain dependable sources of chaos, whether it's blowing off interviews or testing positive for weed or publically moaning about their pay while fighting other UFC fighters in public for free. Maybe that's why Abdel-Aziz banned the brothers from his events in one breath and suggested a UFC match-up between Nurmagomedov and the lighter Diaz in the next: our built-in expectations for the Diaz brothers include saying things we wouldn't say and doing things we wouldn’t do.
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