Article

Nick Diaz Knows What You Think About Him. He Also Knows You Cannot Turn Away

Respect, Focus Make UFC 183 Opportunity Against Anderson Silva Very Special

LODI, Calif.

Nick Diaz just doesn’t care what you think about him.

Sure, if you like his relentless attacking style in the UFC Octagon and his angry defiance outside of the cage, he’s cool with that. And if you’re among the legion of mixed-martial arts fans who believe he needs a serious attitude adjustment? Well, that’s your problem, not his.

But here’s the important thing: Diaz knows exactly who he is, and it’s not his job to make anyone else happy. He’s paid to fight and put on an entertaining show.

Details
What: UFC 183: Silva vs. Diaz
When: Jan. 31 at 10pm/7pm ET/PT
Where: MGM Grand Garden Arena 
How to watch: Pay Per View

And Diaz knows that love him or hate him, the one thing you won’t do is ignore him.

“I’d rather not be portrayed as an evil villain,” Diaz said. “But if people want to make me out to be that, and it sells tickets, that’s fine. But I do hope people understand that this is just what sells, and not what’s really me. I’m just a mixed-martial artist from Stockton, California. And I’m still here.”

Or more accurately, he’s back.

The buzz surrounding the highly anticipated UFC 183 headline fight justifiably centers upon the return of Anderson Silva, arguably the greatest fighter in MMA history and how he will look in his first fight since suffering a gruesome leg injury. But that won’t be the only comeback on UFC’s biggest stage.

 

Diaz, an unpredictable controversy magnet who has done and said plenty in his colorful MMA career to richly deserve the bad boy rep hung on him, also is stepping back into the cage after a nearly two-year, self-imposed exile.

Diaz, now 31, insists that he was dead serious about being retired after losing a decision to then-welterweight champion Georges St-Pierre on March 16, 2013. But in hindsight, it looks more like he just needed a mental break as he shrewdly held out for the best payday and fight.

As Diaz said, when the phone rings with an offer to step up a weight class to middleweight and take on the legendaryDiaz faces off against Anderson Silva Silva, you do it.

“I don’t fight because I’m fanatical about fighting,” added Diaz, who sports a 26-9, 1 NC record. “I’m not out there to win a belt. I’m not out there to be the baddest dude in the world, although it started off that way. But you don’t make it this far if you have a whole lot of quit in you.”

He added: “You come to me to fight a real fight.”

Adding to the intrigue is that in the months-long run-up to this fight, Diaz has exhibited virtually none of the outrageous, edgy antics of the past where he would be disrespectful at best, and a flat-out punk at worst. Trainer Cesar Gracie once memorably summed up the fighter by saying you “can’t out-crazy Nick Diaz.”

But the really crazy thing now is that Diaz mostly has been drama-free, speaking only of his respect for Silva.

“You know, I’ve never been the first person to step out of line, start playing games or misunderstand something,” he said. “Right now, my opponent is not playing games with me, and I’m not playing games with him. But until they say, ‘Go,’ in the cage, you never know where it will go from there.”

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So, Nick, what have you been up to last two years?

“What, are you a cop?” said Diaz, instantly flashing his intimidating scowl that can make blood run cold.

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The gym of Nate Diaz, Nick’s younger brother and fellow MMA fighter, is located near railroad tracks in an out-of-the-way warehouse district of Lodi, a small city just outside their hometown of Stockton. The under-the-radar location is fitting for Diaz, who has been out of the UFC spotlight. 

So, Nick, what have you been up to last two years?

“What, are you a cop?” said Diaz, instantly flashing his intimidating scowl that can make blood run cold.

Former <a href='../event/SF-Columbus'><a href='../event/SF-Rockhold-Jardine'><a href='../event/SF6'>Strikeforce </a></a></a>champion, Nick DiazThen it melts away into just enough of a sly grin that to let you know he’s just yanking your chain. Diaz did have a much-publicized brush with the local law when he was arrested for misdemeanor DUI in September. That’s one topic Diaz won’t discuss because it remains a pending legal matter.

What Diaz said he has been doing is taking a breather to clear his head. He helped other fighters train and indulged his passion for triathlons. (He does about six a year, focusing on the especially grueling off-road triathlons.) He traveled a bit and did some acting auditions. He even went shopping -- saying the word like it was some exotic activity.

“I just did the kind of regular stuff that normal people do,” Diaz said. “But it was the kind of stuff that I could never do. I was in the gym, every day, for something like 15 straight years. I always had a fight coming in three or four months.”

While Diaz can be famously uncomfortable in press conference settings, in a one-on-one interview he is soft-spoken, humble and thoughtful. In fact, he comes across as nothing like the trash-talking, expletive-spewing, opponent-taunting demon that gets unleashed in the cage . . . and sometimes outside of it.

 

This guy, friends say, is the real Nick Diaz.

“People just see the way he is at fights,” said Damian Gonzalez, a Stockton native and professional triathlete who met Diaz through competing at the same events. “That’s not Nick. If they had the time to really get to know him, they would see that he’s not the person that’s on TV. They would realize that they’re totally wrong about him. He’s really a very nice guy.”

But to his credit, Diaz doesn’t play the “misunderstood” card that athletes so often use when trying to explain away past misdeeds. He knows full well how he has acted during his rise up the MMA ladder. But he’s not exactly making any apologies, either.

Maybe the best explanation is that he simply is a product of his environment.

“Stockton is where I’m from, and there’s no shame in it,” he said quietly. He paused. “But there’s not a lot of people pulling for Stockton except for people who are from here.”

A hardscrabble, inland port city in California’s Central Valley, Stockton was ground-zero for the housing bust. Plagued by foreclosures, unemployment and high crime rates, Stockton became in 2012 the country’s biggest city to ever file for bankruptcy -- at least until Detroit did it, too. Twice in recent years, it has ranked first on Forbes magazine’s annual list of America’s Most Miserable Cities.

For Diaz, this is home.

While he only speaks vaguely about his childhood, he describes an up-by-his-own bootstraps story. He struggled in the classroom, falling behind as he moved from school to school, and not getting through his sophomore year of high school.

“I didn’t have much good in my life,” he said. “I really didn’t have anything. The minute I had something that I could hold on to, that I could invest in, that I could excel in, it became my life.”

What he found was MMA trainer Gracie and Jiu-Jitsu when he was 15.

“I felt like I was meant to do this, but nobody had any faith in me,” Diaz added. “My family, best friends were telling me: ‘If you think you’re going to make a living fighting, then you’re going to have a wake-up call coming soon.’”

 

Gil Castillo, then a well-regarded MMA fighter in his own right, remembers Diaz as a timid kid who always seemed to be around the gym, asking questions.

“It was like he didn’t want to upset any of us because we were the big dogs back then,” said Castillo, who now is part of his management team. “But after about two years, we realized that he was becoming something special. We couldn’t hurt him in the boxing ring and we couldn’t tap him out on the mat anymore. And he was training with guys who were ranked in the world.”

With a cage approach that combines insane cardio and non-stop punches, his rise was fast. He notched some memorable victories including over the likes of Robbie Lawler, Frank Shamrock and B.J. Penn. He earned the Strikeforce welterweight championship.

 

But all that often was overshadowed by puzzling “Nick being Nick” moments that could seem straight out of the pro wrestling heel playbook. The examples are endless. Brawling after the final bell. Testing positive for marijuana. Admitting that he didn’t do his taxes. No-showing for press events. And, of course, the constant stream of trash talk where he would act like he was mad at the world.

“I know I had a bad mouth on me,” he said.

Then, just as an example, Diaz unleashed a profanity-laden rant in his patented, we’re-gonna-have-a-problem-here tone.

“I would say crazy stuff like that because I didn’t know any better,” said Diaz, his voice dropping back to normal. “IDiaz and Condit talk trash between rounds started fighting when I was 17 years old. I didn’t have some sort of spoon-fed team teaching me how to do this. I was just a kid and didn’t have somebody to show me how to dress, how to act, to be polite. I was just rough and figured it out for myself. But then you get older and better understand how the world works.”

After back-to-back losses to Carlos Condit at UFC 143 in February 2012 and St-Pierre in UFC 158, Diaz figured that the MMA world wasn’t working well enough for him and started talking retirement. But fighters his age, and at that level, just don’t walk away. And in July came the announcement of a new, three-fight deal -- starting with a tantalizing bout against Silva.

“He’s too young, his name is too big and therefore the money is too good to retire right now,” Castillo said. “Nick understands that he is a character and that people love to see him knock people out or get knocked out. There’s not a person who watches MMA who doesn’t want to see what happens with Nick because he has the skill to back up everything he says and hurt people.

“That’s what makes Nick the whole package.”

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“You go after anybody’s leg if it’s there,” Diaz said. “I’ve heard people say stuff like (Silva) has a weak leg. But I’m not taking too much of that into consideration. I just promise to do my best for myself, my family, my team and my city.”

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What makes Silva-Diaz so compelling is the sense of mystery that hangs over this fight. We know what both men were. But what are they now?

Castillo said Diaz has never looked better in the gym. He recently went nine, five-minute rounds against a series of kickboxers. Diaz, he added, was barely breathing hard.

 

But even Diaz professes to be curious about what will happen in this pay-per-view bout at the MGM Grand Garden Arena in Las Vegas. He made no predictions. Instead, he broke down their fight styles, in a clinical fashion, and concluded that this fight could go either way.

“We’re built a lot alike, but he has the size and reach,” Diaz explained. “He has more of an advantage with kickboxing. I have more of an advantage with boxing. We’re both black belts in Jiu-Jitsu. So I’m not in the dark about what I’m getting myself into and what’s at stake. I know I can have a really good night, and that I might have a really bad night.”

> Read: Anderson Silva Ready to Restart Career, Reinforce Legacy

But he said that in a way that indicated he’s not planning on having a bad one.

And on this day, where he endured a long series of media obligations to promote the fight, he was on his best behavior. He even refused to rise to the bait when asked if targeting Silva’s surgically repaired leg would be fair game.

“You go after anybody’s leg if it’s there,” he said. “I’ve heard people say stuff like he has a weak leg. But I’m not takingDiaz at the UFC 158 weigh-in too much of that into consideration. I just promise to do my best for myself, my family, my team and my city.” 

Not far away, tacked to the gym wall is his plastic action figure. It proclaims him: The Stockton Bad Boy.

Earlier, Castillo had told the story of how once, shortly before the St-Pierre fight, Diaz was waiting at a stop light in Stockton when a woman next to him rolled down her window.

“She yelled, ‘I hope GSP whips your (expletive) ass,” Castillo recalled. “And this is in his hometown. But people love to hate him. Nick said he just started laughing. He told me later: ‘But she knows who I am, doesn’t she?’”

So, Diaz knows exactly what people think about him. But he also knows that come Saturday, people will be watching.

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