Nick Diaz’s straightforward fight approach defies crazy portrayal
LAS VEGAS – The question was astute, simple and direct. Nick Diaz and his brother, Nate, are two of the finest mixed martial arts fighters in the world and they’re each closing in on a world title.
A fan attending the UFC 143 prefight news conference at Mandalay Bay on Thursday asked Nick Diaz what it would mean to him if the brothers were able to hold UFC championships at the same time.
Diaz paused, clearly in thought. Then he asked the man to repeat the question. UFC president Dana White leaned over and whispered to him.
Diaz breathed deeply, trying to come up with the proper words to express himself. But his answer took the conversation on an unexpected 90-degree turn.
“Yeah, that’s what we’re working toward,” Diaz said. “That’s the idea.”
At that, White and many of the fighters sharing the stage with him beamed. Members of the media and the audience stifled giggles.
But that answer may provide the best clue to the question that fight fans have been seeking for years: Just who is Nick Diaz?
Diaz, who meets Carlos Condit on Saturday at the Mandalay Bay Events Center in the main event of UFC 143 for the interim welterweight title, isn’t a guy who worries about pretense or perception.
He’s a fighter, first, last and always, and he’s not going to pretend to be anything that he’s not. He’s not trying to make anyone laugh, or create a brand, or push a product. In his mind, he’s getting prepared, mentally and physically, to head into war, to meet another man who is looking to do him serious harm, and he sees no sense in trying to make it anything other than that.
“He’s made it very clear, he’s not here to make any friends,” White said later. “He’s not looking to have any barbecues over at his house with anyone from the MMA world. He’s here to fight. That’s it, and I’m cool with that.”
Interview 99 percent of professional fighters and you’ll get the same answers regurgitated repeatedly: I respect my opponent. He’s a great fighter. He’s got great skills. Blah, blah, blah. It’s mostly vanilla, scripted answers that reveal little of who they are, what they’re thinking or how they feel.
But when Diaz doesn’t give those kinds of answers, he’s perceived as the crazy one. Welterweight champion Georges St. Pierre, who is sidelined perhaps until November by knee surgery, called Diaz “fake crazy.”
Reporters have picked up on that theme repeatedly, attempting to do psychoanalysis on a guy they barely know.
Diaz, though, isn’t crazy simply because he doesn’t give the answers one may expect or because he’s as serious as a nuclear explosion about preparing for his fights.
“People try to say, ‘Nick Diaz, he’s crazy,’ or ‘He’s not crazy,’ or ‘It’s fake crazy, whatever,’ ” Diaz said. “I’m like, ‘Hey bro, what you see is what you get.’ I’m not out here trying to put on an act like I’m crazy.”
Anybody who steps into the ring has to be a little crazy. All of us, after all, have only so many brain cells, and getting kicked, punched and elbowed in the head by some of the world’s toughest and most finely conditioned men isn’t a good way to preserve them.
Diaz became something of an antihero following his impressive victory over B.J. Penn at UFC 137 in October. He captivated the media as well as his fellow fighters at the postfight news conference, explaining his struggles to reach the top.
On that night, he talked about jogging past mansions and then coming back into his own neck of the woods, which is decidedly more humble. That provoked some chuckles, but Diaz wasn’t trying to be funny.
He’s not the most eloquent man who ever had a microphone shoved in his face, but few are as brutally honest, even if he’s difficult to follow sometimes.
“I had a lot of people laughing at me, and thinking one thing, and I just had to explain myself a little bit, I think,” Diaz said. “I don’t think there was anything emotional about it. That’s just the way it was.”
He’s one of the most finely conditioned athletes in the world, a guy who competes in triathlons in his free time, once winning his age group.
His ability to go hard for five full rounds is legendary.
“Nick can really take a lot of punishment, but he’s in such great shape that he can fight as hard in the final minute of the final round as he did in the first minute of the first,” Condit said.
Diaz’s condition and his accurate punching simply made Penn, who has had conditioning issues throughout his career, wilt. Penn did well in the first round of their bout, but Diaz never stepped backward or let up.
He kept a high pace and kept a jab in Penn’s face the entire night. By the end of the second round, Penn was exhausted and staggered back to his corner, while Diaz still looked as fresh as he did when he entered the cage.
He trains occasionally with super middleweight boxing champion Andre Ward, who raved about Diaz’s ability to UFC.com’s Thomas Gerbasi.
Diaz is, Ward told Gerbasi, “tough as nails and physically strong. That’s why we work with him. I like Nick Diaz in an Octagon against anyone. I also feel he could compete in a boxing ring, if he so chooses.”
But it’s not his boxing or jiu-jitsu skills that fascinate most people. It’s Diaz himself that has become one of the sport’s most intriguing characters.
His long-time trainer and manager, Cesar Gracie, noted during Episode 2 of “UFC Primetime” that despite outward appearances and the media portrayal, the Diaz brothers are good kids who aren’t in and out of trouble.
“They’re tough guys when they need to be tough, but really, they’re not thugs,” Gracie said. “They don’t have criminal records. They’re not out there stealing. These are guys you can trust with anything. They’re loyal soldiers.”
And Nick Diaz is a soldier who comes to fight and who doesn’t make anything else of it.
“I don’t want to be friends around a guy I’m about to fight,” he said. “This isn’t soccer. It’s fighting. I’ve got no problem understanding that this is a sporting event and being respectful, but it’s a fight. Come on.”
“In my mind, [other fighters] are the ones who are crazy,” he said, and he may be right. “They’re the ones putting on an act, doing what they’re told in front of the camera. The camera gives them a line and they say it 10 times. They turn these guys into robots. I’m not going to be that guy.”
He’ll be who he is, and who he’s always been: a fighter.
And because he is a fighter, as hard-core as it gets, that is why we watch. Don’t try to figure him out. Just enjoy what he does.
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