LAS VEGAS — If you know either of the Diaz brothers even just a little bit, one thing becomes immediately, and unquestionably, clear:
No one forces either one of them to do something they don’t want to do.
And that fact makes even a head-scratching interview Nick Diaz did Wednesday with ESPN’s Brett Okamoto all the more puzzling to decipher.
Diaz said he resents the sport that made him rich and famous. He said he was forced to come back to fight. He complained about being booked for a rematch with Robbie Lawler on Saturday at T-Mobile Arena on the main card of UFC 266 and groused he’s not fighting champion Kamaru Usman, even though Diaz hasn’t fought since Jan. 30, 2015.
“All the people around me and all the money and the sponsors, they won’t let me get away from fighting,” Diaz said.
Clearly, he shouldn’t be fighting if his heart isn’t into it or if he really doesn’t want to do so. Knowing Diaz, if he’s fighting, it’s because it was his choice and he had someone on his team work out a deal with the UFC for him to return for the first time since a bout with Anderson Silva at UFC 183.
It’s been a typical Diaz fight week, meaning one where it’s best to expect the unexpected. It started early this time, with a request coming out by the Diaz camp to change the fight from a five-round welterweight bout to a five-round middleweight bout.
He also railed on the matchmaking that set up the fight.
“This fight doesn’t make sense for me to go in and fight Robbie Lawler again,” Diaz said. “I don’t know why I’m doing this. … This should not happen. Whoever set this up is an idiot. I don’t know why I’m doing this.”
UFC president Dana White granted Diaz his request for a middleweight bout after talking to Lawler on Wednesday when Lawler arrived in Las Vegas. Lawler, who told White he weighed 182 when he arrived, didn’t care and agreed to it.
On Wednesday, the UFC held media day where every athlete but two, Dan Hooker and Nasrat Haqparast, was scheduled to appear. Those two are fighting visa issues and trying desperately to get to Las Vegas to fight.
Every time the door opened to the media room at UFC Apex, all heads turned to the left. Everyone was waiting for Diaz.
Even though there are two title fights on the card, it’s Diaz who is the big story this week. He’s long been one of the most compelling figures in the sport and now, ending a nearly seven-year retirement, he was the one guy everyone wanted to see.
More than an hour after he was scheduled to appear, a UFC spokesman entered the room and said Diaz wasn’t going to be available. He’s scheduled to appear at the UFC 266 news conference on Thursday, but good luck trying to determine whether he’ll show or not.
Listening to him in the ESPN interview, he sounds like a guy who would be content training for and competing in triathlons, teaching some jiu-jitsu classes and staying as far away from the cage as possible.
“I love to help people and I love to be part of the sport,” Diaz said. "But I don’t love what it’s done to me, especially in the last seven months, the last two years. So yeah, I’ve got a shot at dragging some of this back. So I’m going to go for it.
“I feel like that every fight. I’m kind of a dark and dim person leading up to a fight. I just despise these people who are happy to go out there.”
Dana White: 'Nick Diaz is a star'
Every single fighter suffers through doubts, questions their ability and willingness to go forward. It’s always been that way.
Most of them are not only able to overcome it, but are able to mask it so no one is aware of their insecurities. Diaz not only doesn’t try to hide it, he volunteers it to reporters.
“Do I feel confident?” Diaz asked rhetorically. “I never do. I never have. I always feel like I’m going to get trashed out there, every fight I’ve ever done. ‘How do you feel against Robbie Lawler?’ I feel like I’m going to get the s*** beat out of me. And even when I win, I get beat up worse.”
But this is the kind of thing that has earned Diaz and his brother a special place in the hearts of MMA fans. They’ll complain about every injustice, perceived or real, and do things their way first, last and always.
It was suggested to White that Diaz is going to sell more pay-per-views than anyone on Saturday's card. White, speaking to Yahoo Sports before the ESPN story was published, agreed.
He used to rebel against Diaz’s complaints and once went ballistic when Diaz skipped a news conference before a fight with Georges St-Pierre.
But neither his anger nor his threats changed either brother’s behavior. So now White just rolls with it.
“Nick Diaz is a star,” White said. “People care about him. People want to see him fight. And all the nuttiness that goes along with a Diaz fight the week of just makes people more interested.”
So what to make of his comments to ESPN?
Well, if it were any other fighter, the first suggestion might be to pull him or her from the card. It’s Diaz, and we’ve been down this path often.
At the end of the day, it’s just Nick being Nick.