Descending into the rabbit hole that is Nick Diaz.
Last week's all-time terrific conference call featuring Diaz and UFC welterweight champion Georges St-Pierre ahead of Saturday's title fight in Montreal was revealing in many ways.
It opened a window, at least one I hadn't had a chance to peer into before.
I had no sense prior to Diaz’s back-and-forth with St-Pierre that the man coveted anything more than good times with his friends, the space to live as he pleased, the chance to be a martial artist, and the opportunity to fight -- because for the past 12 years as a pro he made it a point to express just how little anything else meant to him.
Choose your path. Walk it. What comes, comes. That’s what Diaz did.
In some ways that has yielded tremendous success. Take the title shot with St-Pierre. Fans had an expectation to see him fight GSP, and Zuffa is in business to capitalize off of stuff like that. No problem. He may not “deserve it” in the sporting definition of the phrase, not coming off a loss against Carlos Condit. And certainly not in place of Johny Hendricks. But he scored the fight because he developed a following over the years for exciting action and unpredictability.
Yet, the unpredictability that produced Diaz’s counter-culture following also ensured endorsement deals and the like won’t come his way. Even if he beats St-Pierre to claim the title, it’s hard to imagine that changes. Opportunities in and out of the sport have been limited solely by him. That fact has prompted many of Diaz’s fans, other fighters, his promoters and even his closest allies to call into question his ability to think and act in the ways society expects people in his position to think and act. Which is totally fine. Everyone has the right to self-determination. Attitudes, however, have consequences.
"Nobody knows who I am,” Diaz lamented during the teleconference. “I mean, I guess, everybody does, but as far as like your mainstream magazines and your Nike, adidas and all your good stuff, I'm left out of that.”
Whose fault is that?
I can say I've tried to get some access to him and cover him more closely since joining ESPN, only to be turned down by his trainer Cesar Gracie, who said he did so after asking his fighter. Outside of the veteran trainer, who also was highly influential over Nate Diaz, Gilbert Melendez and Jake Shields to name a few, Diaz never had use for handlers, or public relations people, or a social media marketing campaign, or anything that coincides with brand building. And, ironically enough, that became his brand. He only had his hands, which were balled up in fists or assembled in such a way as to send a pointed message.
Now the man is ogling recognition and red carpets and pampering? Now he wants everything that requires consistently diligent work and, dare I say it, playing the game? I believe that’s what he said, though sometimes it can be difficult to decipher, and he’s prone to contradictions. Well, that’s not how life normally works, especially not when reputations are hardened like bunkers.
“I'd like to be known as someone who kept it real … I just don't like that I'm made out to be this evil person that needs to be down or you know, that needs to be like conquered,” Diaz said.
Fair enough. Diaz isn’t remotely evil or ill-intentioned. He's said to be a great friend to the people who know him that way. But he has been controversial and, at times, socially odd and a major pain for people who would like to rely on him.
Some fans love Diaz for being this way. His rants against fighters with painted toenails and Las Vegas and the people it attracts are infamous. The fakers, the lowlifes, the people who refuse to remain who they are in the face of celebrity and the like. Those are things he has slammed -- the anti-“fake” part of him he alluded to last week.
Less and less these days people seem willing to sacrifice money, or fame, or celebrity for keeping it real. Diaz was that guy. Perhaps as he approaches 30, that’s changing. MMA has come to accept that Diaz doesn’t give a damn, mostly because he led us to believe that’s how he preferred it.
Last week’s window into his soul somehow suggested otherwise.
Nick Diaz, image-conscious kid from the streets of Stockton, Calif. That’ll take some getting used to.