Guest column: What's the big deal about Nick Diaz?
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By now you’ve heard and read me talk about Nick Diaz enough this week, but I am fully aware that a lot of you newer fans aren’t familiar with why he’s so special to so many of us. Heck, it’s been over six years since he last fought. He missed most of the Fox era and all of the Reebok era, too.
With that in mind, my old friend Troy Farkas, aka TST, wrote this guest piece for us. He’s newer to the sport and has never seen the older Diaz brother fight before. He used to be my podcast producer at ESPN and has now assumed the same role for The Ringer MMA Show. When I first met him, as you’ll read, he knew nothing about MMA, but he has since caught the bug big time. I thought his take on Diaz was interesting, and I think you’ll enjoy it, as well.
“So, why do people like the Diaz brothers?”
That’s the question I asked Ariel’s partner-in-crime NewYorkRic in the spring of 2019.
I knew it was a dumb question, but I needed an answer.
At that point, I knew nothing about MMA. I would have told you that UFC and MMA were interchangeable terms. That Jon Jones was a boxer. That Conor McGregor was the rich guy who lost to Floyd Mayweather.
But in February of that same year, my bosses put me in charge of Ariel Helwani’s MMA Show. For three or four hours every Monday, I sat alone in a small studio as a carousel of unfamiliar names appeared on the screen.
My sole job? Beep out all the cuss words.
I spent a lot of time with Israel Adesanya that first year because of that. I think it’s why he’s my favorite fighter -- because his early UFC career and my early UFC fandom intersected at just the right time.
But anyway, in all of these interviews over the first few months, I’d heard the Diaz name so many times. I knew very little about Nathan, and it took me a while to piece together that he had a brother too.
I could tell that the name mattered because of how Ariel and others spoke about it. I just didn’t know why.
No title fights. No belts. I eventually learned that USADA busted Nick in 2017 and that he hadn’t stepped in the cage since 2015. I’d seen some clips of Nathan’s interviews, but I struggled to understand what he said.
I didn’t get the appeal.
That’s why I sought out NewYorkRic. He’s a great guy, so I knew he wouldn’t judge me for committing an MMA sin.
He provided me with the same answer I imagine most of you would have given then.
“The Diaz brothers are everything we love about fighting,” he told me. “They’re not scared. They’ll fight anyone at any time. And there’s just something really special about them that you don’t see in other fighters.”
I smiled and nodded along, and thanked him for answering my question.
But I still didn’t get it.
Later that year, on Nov. 2, 2019, I finally got it.
New York City.
Madison Square Garden.
Jorge Masvidal vs. Nathan Diaz for the BMF belt.
The Rock was there. The president was there (my pocket knife, which I always carry in my backpack, was confiscated because of it.)
It was my first in-person UFC event. I’d also go to Las Vegas for the next two pay-per-views, where I watched an epic Usman-Covington title fight in December and the return of McGregor in January.
At these events, I crossed paths with Steve-O, stood next to Ninja, and shook hands with Chael Sonnen and Michael Bisping.
UFC events are just different, I soon discovered.
And so is Nathan Diaz.
I’d seen LeBron James play in person several times before. I routinely visited Yankee Stadium as a kid to watch A-Rod and Derek Jeter, ditto for Manny Ramirez and David Ortiz at Fenway.
But I’d never heard a crowd for them like I did for Nathan at UFC 244.
Pair the raucous crowd with Diaz’s perseverance in that fight -- bloodied face and all -- and refusing to back down, protesting when the referee prematurely stopped the fight, I finally understood the appeal.
Fast forward to June of this year. For 24 minutes at UFC 263, I watched Leon Edwards pound Nathan Diaz into the ground, dominating him in every facet of the sport.
But in that final minute, Nathan almost made the impossible possible, nearly knocking Edwards out with just seconds to spare, the crowd in Glendale, Arizona, wildly cheering for one of the baddest motherf****** in the game.
Watching from home, I found myself jumping to my feet cheering for Nathan to do the unthinkable, too.
That’s the power of Nathan Diaz. That’s why he’s a legend. That’s why we all love him, and that final minute embodies exactly what NewYorkRic tried to tell me two years ago.
But again, that’s Nathan.
I still don’t get Nick’s appeal.
I’ve never watched him fight. I’ve hardly heard him speak. Even when his suspension ended, it took him some time to actually book a fight.
In my eyes, he’s a fighter who didn’t want to fight. And I’m not convinced he wants to be fighting Robbie Lawler on Saturday night, either.
But yet everyone still loves him, still hangs on his every word.
My question to all of you:
Why do you love Nick Diaz?
What does he mean to you?
What does he represent?
And what should I be watching for Saturday night when he takes on Lawler, 17 years after they first fought, when I was in third grade?
Thanks to Troy for this great piece. Check out more of his writing and his podcast, “The Troy Farkas Show,” here.