According to Cesar Gracie, Nick Diaz was compromised when he made his long-awaited return to the octagon.
Diaz (26-10 MMA, 13-7 UFC) came back from an almost seven-year long layoff this past September, when he rematched Robbie Lawler at UFC 266. The bout was contested at middleweight, and Lawler was able to exact his revenge and TKO Diaz at the 0:44 mark of Round 3.
In what was an unusual fight-ending sequence, Lawler dropped Diaz in the opening minute of Round 3 and called for him to stand up. A bloodied Diaz was also asked by referee Jason Herzog to get up, but Diaz said no and the fight was stopped. Diaz unquestionably displayed some rustiness after being away from the cage for years, but his longtime coach Gracie says he also entered the bout with a neck injury, which affected his performance.
“So Nick, he went into that fight and his neck was pretty messed up,” Gracie told Submission Radio. “Robbie’s a great, tough fighter and everything. And, Nick was doing great. And then you kind of see Nick kind of just kind of fading as the fight wore on. So, Nick had an operation very recently here seven weeks ago. So, two of the discs had ruptured in his neck before the fight. So, he was having numbness of the hands. That’s why he didn’t make 170. He fought at 185, is cause it was impossible to train. He just didn’t have any strength. He didn’t have what you’re used to, the Nick Diaz, you know, he didn’t have it.
“So, we finally were able to go and he got an operation and he put the titanium discs in his neck. So, he’s feeling great from that right now. And it’s like we’re getting the old Nick back, which is really good. So, now that that’s happened, we’re waiting for the doctors. He’s got another appointment I think next month. And then he should be cleared to start his hard training again. Because right now he can only run and hit the pads and everything. But he definitely wants to fight. And the UFC, I’ve been in contact with them, they just actually called me the other day asking about Nick, and there’s some pretty cool fight options that are in front of us.”
That’s not all Diaz was dealing with before making his return.
According to Gracie, Diaz had to fight Lawler in order to pay off his debt to the Nevada Athletic Commission. Prior to his return, Diaz hadn’t competed in MMA since January 2015 when he was defeated by Anderson Silva, a fight that was later ruled a no contest after Diaz tested positive for marijuana and Silva for performance-enhancing drugs. Diaz was later handed a five-year suspension by the NAC.
“What people don’t know is that the commission in Vegas was still demanding their money from, remember the marijuana test that we didn’t pass,” Gracie said. “Right. Yeah, OK. So, this is a new thing for you guys too. Even though it’s legal, they said ‘You still owe us that $75,000.’ I think it was some insane amount. You know, it was like ‘What? You still have to pay it? Even though it’s legal now?’ When that happened, it wasn’t, and we want to, and so we gotta. You’re gonna have to deduct it from your fight purse. And Nick really hadn’t signed the best contract in the world.
“And so what happened was, they said, we’ll pay you more money, but you have to fight this fight here, and on this date. It was a thing. It was like, if you don’t take that fight, you’re almost gonna fight for free, you know, by the time (you pay taxes and the fine). Obviously, people know, that’s not a secret, he had some tax issues in the past. He had to pay that fine, which, you know, it was just, you had to do it. It was like, well, Nick, he had his back on the wall. And it was one of those unfortunate things where he had to fight, and that’s it.”
Gracie says Diaz underwent neck surgery recently, and expects his student to return in much better form in 2023.
“He looked great that first round, part of the second,” Gracie said. “And then you started… you know. I mean, he did better than I thought he was gonna do, because literally, I can tell you, Nick’s training, before, the guy trains daily like a maniac, he runs triathlons. And I would take him to the gym and he’d do a little thing, and then goes ‘I can’t, I can’t.’ And I never knew what was that wrong with him, you know? So, after the fight and everything, we kept looking for what’s going on – cause he passed his pre-fight stuff – and finally we got these MRIs on his neck, and the doctor said, ‘Look, I cannot believe you just fought. You shouldn’t be walking.’
“So, the UFC did on his insurance thing, whatever, they paid for his operation. He went to the same place where I think Ozzie Osborne the singer just had his neck operated on. He went to the same place of Los Angeles and got that operation. And they took out the old discs, two of them. They cut you in the neck right here. They go in. They pulled out the disc, they put titanium discs in. And now the bone has to fuse with that, and it’s a process. There’s been a guy, a couple of fighters actually that have that operation. Usually it’s one disc, Nick had two. So yeah, so that’s why he fought hurt, and he had his back up against the wall, and it is what it is.”