The People Versus Nick Diaz
If you are even a borderline fan of the sport, you know Nick Diaz. Your feelings are likely simple: you love or you hate him. He’s a loser or he’s a beauty. He’s awkward and rude; you boo. He’s an action fighter who always comes to throw strikes; you applaud. It’s black and white.
Hardcore MMA fans have a more deep and complex relationship with Nick Diaz They feel like they know him better; they see him as he is. This ultimately still leads us to the simple equation: you love him or you hate him. He stubbornly marches forward, taunting instead of fighting, biting off more than he can chew; you boo. He pushes the fight tactically, overwhelming opponents with crowd-pleasing combination punching, forcing his pace and his kind of fight; you applaud.
Depending which angle you look at Diaz through whichever lens, he either stands for everything great about the sport and none of it. Nothing is ever simple.
His first professional fight came in 2001 barely three weeks after his 18th birthday. As sports fans, you imagine how many athletes begin their careers at 18 or younger. The names you think of tend to be the greats. Mike Tyson. Lionel Messi. Wayne Gretzky. Lebron James. We would never confuse Nick Diaz with those individuals. Yet he still stands, or would be.
Diaz won his first four fights before a loss to Jeremy Jackson just a year following his pro debut. He would win then lose then win again before he was given the chance to avenge his first loss to Jackson.
In the first ten seconds of the fight , Diaz shot in for a takedown. He spent a lot of time backing up. He barely boxed. And he won. Without a single taunt or curse. He even offered a hand and helped Jackson off the mat after the stoppage. This wasn’t the Nick Diaz we know now.
In his next bout, Diaz won his debut in the UFC (in a rubber match with Jackson). As his UFC career progressed — facing off against marquee names like current UFC welterweight champion Robbie Lawler, Joe Riggs, Sean Sherk and Diego Sanchez. He would lose as many as he won, going 4-4.
In Diaz’s career, he either finished his opponent or he would lose the decision. You could argue it has more to do with his style than anything, but a determinist would say this is how it is meant to be with Nick Diaz. His force has always been to swirl chaos — a hurricane of expletives, anger, taunts and angst — until either his opponent breaks or outlasts him. Something about how Diaz fought was unyielding. He either broke you or you survived to win.
In all likelihood, we find ourselves at the end of his career. Diaz is a 14-year veteran of 35 fights. He’s made three runs in the top flight, the UFC. He’s been a champion in Strikeforce. He’s fought legends like St. Pierre, Frank Shamrock and BJ Penn. Nick Diaz has accomplished everything you can in the sport. He is a trailblazer.
Now, perhaps, he can blaze one more. This time without being the one who dictated the fight. This time without pushing his pace, overwhelming opponents with his words and pressure. This time it may be by being the victim.
Nick Diaz failed drug test from his fight against Anderson Silva. Diaz was suspended for marijuana. The positive test was the second of three he was administered within 24 hours of his fight (Henry Cejudo, fellow UFC fight and an Olympian, said on The MMA Hour he had never been tested three times in that time frame his entire wrestling career). The first and third test were sent to World Anti Doping Agency labs. The second test wasn’t — it went to a Quest lab. That’s called a red herring.
When Diaz took his case before the Nevada State Athletic Commission, he was suspended five years. During the hearing, his lawyer , Lucas Middlebrook, was laughed at for objecting to a certain line of questioning by the NSAC panel. Imagine that in a court of law. The hearing came across as unfair and in some ways overtly unjust.
Diaz couldn’t protect himself. Even with a lawyer at his side, he was out there alone. Like he always was in the cage. But in these kinds of fights, there is no way to overwhelm your opponent. You face enemies with more resources, more time than one man can match.
Which is why a current White House petition with over 73,000 signatures represents something more. The petition is aimed at lifting the ban against Diaz. 73,000 signatures of support is nothing to frown at. This represents a groundswell of support for a fighter we have never see in the sport before.
The media are on his side. Other fighters are, as well. Hell, even Cher. There is a feeling with the Diaz situation like there has never been before. A feeling of unison. A feeling of a united front. These things represent something insiders of the sport have pondered for years: a fighters’ union.
Like Diaz’s career, the sport itself rests on the point of a sword. They are treated like employees — what the company says goes — but are told they are independent contractors. When fighters express displeasure about pay on a weekly basis, those who pay ignore it. Fighters are plagued by over-training, prone to missing fights and losing pay cheques. Those who pay chastise them. Fighters are suspended by Commissions wrongfully or not suspended and allowed to fight when they are guilty. Those who pay sit on their hands.
A union is the only way to protect fighters. Except the obstacles to rallying a union are numerous and ingrained. Fighters are naturally competitive with each other and rivalries between entire gyms exist. The better you draw, the more a promotion treat you as a business partner — look at how Conor McGregor and Ronda Rousey are pushed by the UFC. A fighter is not going to do much to risk that.
Those top-level fighters are still only individuals. The business entity will always — always — defeat the individual. This is simple mathematics: the one versus the many. If the UFC and Bellator and Zuffa and Viacom have a right to do business however they see fit, so, too, do fighters. Fighters need look no further than Nick Diaz as a reason to do it.
Nick Diaz is such a fighter whose career has stood out because he seems to always be on the right side of the issue but judged anyway. Diaz has been as durable a fighter in the sport’s history, almost never missing a fight he was scheduled for. Diaz has balked at promotions contract offers and moved on to other promotions. Diaz has never been popped for a performance enhancer. Diaz is a consummate professional in nearly every measure except a single lifestyle choice.
This is where the fighters are letting themselves down. The fighters can train their hardest, they can put their everything into their craft. They can win their next fight and feel vindicated against all the doubt both internal and external. But they can’t turn to their fellow fighter and provide the same. They will inevitably lose the most important decision: their rights. Like Nick Diaz.