Strikeforce welterweight champion Nick Diaz (above) has few equals. | Sherdog.com
After his UFC debut in 2003, when he armbarred rival Jeremy Jackson to win their rubber match in three tough rounds, I spotted Nick Diaz standing alone at the Mandalay Bay in Las Vegas, as endless waves of people milled through the casino. UFC 44 had ended, yet as a virtual unknown, he stood there looking around, unmoving and unnoticed, a hoodie zipped over his head. He looked like someone had stolen his wallet.
I congratulated him on his win and asked him why he looked so bummed.
“I dropped out of school to do this,” he said, like a man who had been given a harrowing diagnosis from his physician.
“But you won,” I said. “And you did it against Jackson.”
“Yeah, but now I’m going to have to do this for a living,” he replied.
It was one of the more puzzling postfight interviews I have ever had, particularly with a winner.
Diaz’s line of logic makes sense to me now. It is not the fighting part that bothers him. Placed in danger against the game’s biggest hitters, he is placid, unflappable; place a microphone in front of him, and, at times, he looks like most of us would if we were thrown in the cage -- out of sorts and clearly not wanting to be there.
Chris Rock perfectly summed up President George W. Bush’s distaste toward caring what other people thought of him: “If Bush had a pocket full of [expletives], he still wouldn’t give you one.”
After his first-round knockout of Daley, one could definitely say the same about Diaz. Outside of teammate Jake Shields, who faces George St. Pierre on April 30 at UFC 129, who besides Diaz is a hugely marketable fight for the UFC welterweight champion?
And with Shields in the ironic position of denying him a title shot should he upset St. Pierre -- Diaz has stated he would never fight his friend and longtime stable mate -- he will probably just stick around and fight whomever at whatever weight.
Like public figures in other realms, there is a weird charisma exuded by the athlete that honestly, truly, 24/7 just does not give a [expletive]. Plenty of athletes cultivate the image and some generate street cred with it, but few can pull it off with the riveting across-the-board consistency that Diaz does.
If you comprised a checklist of Things That Mean a Fighter Really Doesn’t Give a [Expletive] What You Think of Him, Diaz’s would have few equals.
• No nickname? Check.
• Favorite sport to compete in is not MMA? Check.
• Playing with nunchucks during media conference call and then posting video of it on the Web? Check.
• Fighting in multiple weight classes simply because there is a dude there that wants some? Check.
• Refusing to apologize for being a pot legalization advocate? Big-assed check.
As required by state law, Diaz has a medical marijuana prescription card -- like tens of thousands of other Californians.
In a sport where fighters’ attention to their “image” is only outsized by their handlers’ admirable-if-sometimes-overbearing attempts to build them as marketable brands, Diaz is a refreshing antithesis to that. He does not manscape, paint his toenails, tan or spew canned trash talk that everybody knows is “promotion,” but we listen anyway.
The only plastic surgery he is ever going to get is the removal of scar tissue over his brows, after which he went right back to fighting his ass off exactly the same way he did before.
He has not a whit of vanity, except when it comes to seeing if you can knock the piss out of him before he does it to you. In that, he is just about perfect in recent years. You can hold him down or beat him on a cut stoppage, but you are not going to break him.
It is not easy to climb the mountain when you refuse to play the game in any possible way, except for the actual fights, and Diaz has essentially climbed it on his own terms, holding both middle fingers aloft during the ascent.
This should not be taken as a paean to Diaz as some holy figure; he can, in the same sentence, complain about why he does not get coverage and respect and then complain about his interviewer or wander off course verbally.
He can be impossibly hard to pin down, even when you have slogged through the extensive PR/handler moats and conveyed to him that the piece you want to write is not a hit job but a feature -- the kind of piece he has often complained he does not get, you explain. Still, the trail goes cold.
Yet for the most part, despite this inaccessibility and sometimes-hostile attitude, media and fans have nothing but respect for Diaz, precisely because he just does not give a [expletive]. It is a rarified commodity in any sport, much less one undergoing a massive growth spurt where huge dollars await the slightest uptick in popularity, along with a good image to build a brand.
It is going to take one hell of a fighter to beat him, especially over five rounds.