Opinion: Tapping and the Thoughtful, Progressive Philosophy of Nate Diaz

By Jordan Breen Mar 18, 2016

Editor’s note: The views and opinions expressed below are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Sherdog.com, its affiliates and sponsors or its parent company, Evolve Media.

MMA still finds ways to surprise me, for better and for worse, all the time. When the year started, no part of me expected this to be a serious topic of discussion: “Should Fighter X have let his or herself get choked unconscious?” Alas, the schadenfreude that goes with Conor McGregor’s defeat to Nate Diaz is irresistible. Still, we’re going on two weeks since Diaz and Miesha Tate shook up the sport’s landscape at UFC 196 -- a card which might have done 1.5 million PPV buys -- and folks are still pushing the tap-or-nap nitwittery.

One week of talking about this foolishness? I’ll tolerate it. MMA went crazy for a night, “Mystic Mac” blew it, we’re in a brave new world, and in the heat of the moment, people occasionally fixate on spurious, pointless topics. Two weeks? I will not stand for this.

It should go without saying that the attempted emasculation of McGregor, with the implicit taunt of “Ooh, you tapped, but Holm is a girl and went to sleep like a man,” is stupid, sexist, regressive and totally typical for MMA. However, it should’ve just ended there. Instead, former UFC welterweight champion and holographic Mr. Men character Matt Serra, among others, has kept beating the drum with vigor this week.

“Not being a cock, but look at Conor. All the s--- you talked, take a nap, man,” Serra told BloodyElbow.com’s “Three Amigos” podcast this week. “It’s not like your arm was about to break. I understand you want your career and if it was a kneebar, you’ll be out for six months, but dude, if worst comes to worst, you’ll think you’re in your bedroom. That’s it.”

Naturally, about two seconds later, Serra admitted, “I consider the Diaz brothers friends. They’re like extended family.” He then put a cherry on the garbage opinion sundae with this: “They’re good guys, they’ve got a [expletive] code, and they’re warriors, man.”

Warriors or not, you know what is part of the Diaz brothers’ code? Knowing when to give it up. Here’s Nate talking to MMAJunkie’s Mike Bohn about whether McGregor should’ve gone to sleep like Holm: “If you’ve got to tap out, you’ve got to tap out. I think [with] Holly, she thought she was maybe going to get out. She had already gotten out of one and she thought, ‘I’m not quitting.’ McGregor, he was [expletive] done, all the way done. It’s all right. He had to tap out because there was no getting out of that. I don’t think there’s anything wrong with tapping out ... You tap out if you’re caught. The thing is, that’s what I think, is don’t get caught.”

Here’s another facet of the Diaz code to consider: How often do you see a towel get thrown in during a high-level MMA fight? It’s a rarity -- whether we’re talking about the literal white towel or not -- to have a corner do its job and protect a fighter from punishment. Cases like Firas Zahabi saving a hapless Rick Hawn from having his legs amputated by Douglas Lima are the extreme outliers, while runaway beatdowns like Stipe Miocic on Mark Hunt with bystanders in the corner are commonplace. Yet when Josh Thomson whooped Nate all over the cage in San Jose, California, three years ago, there was Nick hurling the towel into the cage to protect his little brother, just as referee Mike Beltran was stepping in to stop the assault.

Nate felt like he’d been wronged by Beltran, not his brother. He thought, albeit incorrectly, that he was still in the fight, yet totally co-signed on his brother’s actions. Here’s the younger Diaz on the politics of corner stoppages: “I just saw the last Junior dos Santos fight with Cain Velasquez. I’m like, ‘What the [expletive] is wrong? Does this guy have friends?’ For me, if my partner is fighting and he’s not doing well and I get time to talk to him, or if it’s early in a round, I’m gonna say, ‘If he doesn’t start doing better and keeps catching punches and shots, I’m gonna throw this towel.’ He’s gonna have to be mad at me later, but I’m the one who’s going to have to go to sleep at night thinking how I let you get your ass whooped.”

Between Nick getting defrauded by the Nevada Athletic Commission and having the gumption to fight back and Nate’s takes on fight-stopping philosophies ... How on Earth is it possible that the Diaz brothers have become exemplars of justice and rationality? There is no disputing that the Diazes are two of the hardest men to ever compete in a cage, and I would argue their worldviews and personas are profoundly influenced by the same misplaced ideas about masculinity that fuel the take-a-nap-bro crowd. Again, how is it that in both theory and in practice, the Diaz brothers are apparently the most sane, thoughtful actors in MMA?

What’s craziest about all of this is that we’re talking about a fighter tapping out to a death-gripped, belly-down rear-naked choke after getting pelted on the feet; it’s the least-likely RNC scenario from which to escape, period. Never mind Diaz’s technique and finishing ability. I’ll go even further, though: This is 2016. If you’re any MMA fighter, but especially one like McGregor or Ronda Rousey, and you lose or generally gaffe in any capacity, you will be mocked. You will become an image macro. You will become a meme.

This was a strong MMA tradition even before memetic humor became the de facto language of Internet comedy. Do you think Rashad Evans really thinks it’s funny when he hears the phrase “stanky leg” or is forced to look at this picture over and over on the Internet? If you’re McGregor, Rousey or even just a notable fighter in a big-ticket UFC fight, you might want to be wary of engendering a scenario where you are not only defeated but go rigor mortis stiff with blood running out of your nose and your eyes bulging out of your head, all because you were just too tough to tap.

Masakatsu Funaki was one of the greatest pioneering MMA fighters, and he was, with all due respect to Bas Rutten, Pancrase’s first poster boy and shining star. Yet this is the way he ends up remembered, looking less like Rickson Gracie choked him and more like the Brazilian shot him execution style. That was 16 years ago, before someone would plaster Michael Jordan’s crying face over top of yours in a moment of fragility and failure.

The anti-McGregor sorts talk about tapping to a submission as though somehow that’s fundamentally aberrant behavior, and that’s obviously dumb. If anything, historically speaking, consternation and mockery have usually been associated with fighters who tap out to strikes. However, even that stigma has lessened over the years. Some 15 years ago, tapping to strikes was often a bizarre acid test, used to determine a fighter’s legitimacy. Today, even your weekend warrior amateur MMA fighter is likely going to be decently trained enough to not freak out and panic if he gets taken down, mounted and punched four times. Even if mismatches and beatdowns still happen all over the sport, stereotypes of bummy Midwest MMA shows where all 20 fights end in 20-second submissions to strikes are largely vestiges of the past now.

Georges St. Pierre, perhaps the best fighter of all-time, went down tapping to Matt Serra’s storm in the biggest upset in MMA history. Randy Couture, with the fight and UFC heavyweight title on the line in the fifth round, told referee John McCarthy he was done when a Ricco Rodriguez elbow smashed his orbital bone. Under one of the most vicious fight-ending salvos in an MMA championship fight, a complete assault to the head and body, Mauricio Rua, one of the hardest, most fearless cage fighters in history, went down tapping the mat as referee Herb Dean saved him. If tapping to strikes was ever supposed to represent the most heinous or cowardly breach of a lame-brained “warrior code,” that notion has been completely undercut by the passing of time.

Again, we’re not even talking about tapping to strikes. We’re not even talking about a wet-behind-the-ears kid like Sage Northcutt panic tapping to an arm-triangle choke that is approximately 65 percent applied. We’re talking about whether or not McGregor should’ve pointlessly struggled for one-Mississippi-two-Mississippi before Diaz left his unconscious face bugging out in a puddle of his own blood and drool.

It’s inane. We should be done with this. As wacky as it sounds, everyone should listen to the Diaz brothers and learn a thing or two about compassion, rational philosophy and pragmatic thinking.
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