The thing about Nick Diaz ...

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As you may have heard, Nick Diaz, one of the most beloved fighters in MMA history returns Saturday.

This will mark his first fight in over six years, and he’ll be fighting a man named Robbie Lawler, who he beat 17 years ago.

I think most people were excited when the news of Diaz’s return was announced, if not a tad skeptical. We’ve been teased before, of course.

I felt the same way. I was also eager to learn more about his state of mind because I knew he didn’t love fighting anymore and, well, the last time I spoke to him he didn’t seem to be in a great spot:

I’ve said a few times leading up to this fight that I want to know if he’s returning to action because he wants to or because he has to. The latter could mean a whole host of things, and, yes, I know he doesn’t necessarily have to explain the why to us.

But I wanted to know. I’m inquisitive like that, I guess. In large part due to the fact that it seemed like he was over fighting for a while now.

My conclusion as we approach the fight: I honestly don’t think Nick wants to fight anymore. I don’t think he likes fighting anymore. I think he loves training. I think he loves being in shape. I think he doesn’t mind sparring on a Thursday night in Stockton, but I don’t think he wants to be covered and judged and subjected to all the things that go along with being a prize fighter anymore.

Maybe I’m wrong, but that’s how I feel.

I’ve been covering Nick for over a decade. You know about some of our moments. One moment you don’t know about happened in 2014.

It was UFC 171 fight week in Dallas. It was a rare UFC pay-per-view that I didn’t cover in person because my wife had just given birth to our second child.

Nick was in town for that card. And for some reason he invited me to use a new app called Glide where you can send people 90-second video messages. I was surprised that he invited me to use this app with him because I thought he didn’t like me back then.

Over the next couple of days, we proceeded to send each other what felt like 75 Glide messages back and forth. About all sorts of things. Non-fighting things. I even introduced him to my wife as she was breastfeeding. It was lovely.

I got to see a different side of Nick during that experience. A real sweet, genuine and thoughtful side of him. Not just the anxious, guarded side that we usually get. I’m really grateful for that experience. For the trust and the conversation, and I would like to think our relationship changed that weekend.

I don’t know if he even remembers that week, but I do, and I won’t forget it.

Maybe I don’t feel this way about Saturday if we don’t have that experience. Maybe I don’t feel this way if he didn’t open up to me like he did in 2015 after his insane five-year suspension from the NSAC. I think about that piece all the time. It’s one of the most deep and profound stories any fighter has ever shared with me.

You see, I think we, the MMA community, are very protective of Nick. I think Nick reminds us all why we fell in love with the sport to begin with. I think he represents why we love MMA so much, too. He’s raw. He’s real. He’s unapologetic. That’s basically MMA. He was and is the cult-like figure in this cultish sport that has changed a lot over the years.

I mean, he used to walk to the cage wearing jeans for goodness sake. It don’t get much more real than that, friends.

I also think we fear his ending in MMA will not be favorable and we want to protect him from that. Not his legacy, but literally him. Who wants to see a legend, who has had a conflicted relationship with fighting, get beat up? No one.

I expressed some of these feelings — because I’m sensitive, after all — on Twitter last night. And I got bombarded with hate.

That was a real bummer and a reminder, even though it happened in the fantasy world that is social media, that there are a whole group of people who don’t care about fighters like some of us do. They just care about their wings and their beer and their Saturday night parlays.

This is all an escape for them, and I get that. I suspect I’m part of that escape, too.

And that’s fine. I am comfortable in that role. I definitely don’t want to ruin the escape, and I sincerely try not to be a Debbie Downer.

But this one is tough to turn a blind eye towards. Maybe because I know too much about the backstory. Maybe because, contrary to popular belief, I’ve had a great relationship with the Diaz brothers over the years and admire them more than I can properly verbalize. Maybe because I know how the sausage is made and seeing Nick in that Venum jersey like some version of Weekend at Bernie’s, making way less than he should at this stage, just bums me out.

I’m not quite certain. And I promise I will try not to ruin your nostalgia this weekend.

But I can’t sit here and wave pom-poms like I would about, say, Saturday’s main event between Alexander Volkanovski and Brian Ortega, which is a fantastic fight, for this one. I just can’t.

This one is way too complex. Nick Diaz is way too complex.

And for the record, I hope I’m wrong about all of this. I hope he’s playing possum and will turn back the clock on Saturday. I sincerely hope I’m dead wrong here. I will be glad if I am. Maybe this is the start of an incredible new chapter in his fighting career.

But I’d be lying if I didn’t say I’ll be watching with one eye closed. Hoping this all goes well. Hoping he gets paid a boatload on the backend. Hoping he can find peace and happiness outside of fighting once and for all.

Every fighter deserves that.

Nick Diaz deserves that.

I hope I’ve explained my feelings about all of this well enough. I suspect some don’t and won’t get it. That’s OK. But I just wanted to write it out. Thanks for reading.