Josh Hedges/Zuffa LLC/Getty Images
After months of confusion and drug testing chaos, as well as his now customary endless layoff after a bout, Nick Diaz will soon be free to step into the hallowed UFC Octagon and do what he does best—punch dudes in the head over and over again. How much this matters is, most definitely, in the eye of the beholder.
There’s a split in the MMA community, a divide between those who believe in the supreme power of the great Diaz and non-believers, who likely also hate puppy dogs and sunshine and think of the legendary fighter as “Nate’s older brother.” It’s a line both temporal and metaphysical, an indicator of both when you got into the sport and why.
Many newer fans, products of the McGregor and Rousey revolution, have never even seen the older Diaz fight. Even fewer, cynics might point out, have seen him win.
It’s true the 34-year-old Diaz hasn’t won a professional prizefight since 2011, a one-sided drubbing of B.J. Penn in his very first appearance as a pay-per-view headliner. This is a fact often thrown in the face of Diaz’s fandom, as if the official result written down by some nerd on paper means a darn thing to Nick Diaz and his legions. In his mind, there are only fights he’s won and fights where the other guy ran away until time ran out.
As such, Diaz isn’t confined to the world where athletes are judged by something as nebulous as wins and losses. To focus on such ephemera is to miss the point entirely. Diaz isn’t great because he wins fights, though he’s done that often in his career, 26 times if you’re the kind who enjoys counting coup.
Diaz is Diaz because of his approach to fighting, not the outcomes, because no matter how much “spinning s–t” or wrestling an opponent intends, he only believes in one thing—the utter destruction of an opponent’s mind, body and soul.
When you turn the Diaz machine on, you need only point him in the direction of a foe. His programming, installed on the mean streets of Stockton, California, does the rest.
Diaz doesn’t believe in taking a backwards step when throwing fists. In modern mixed martial arts, that makes him more than an anachronism. He’s, comparatively, downright barbaric. The sport has evolved in his 17 years as a professional, evasion and carefully timed takedowns the new currency of the trade.
But Diaz has never compromised, never sold out to the temptation of trading a fleeting victory for his fistic soul. He’s a fighter, not a dancer, not a strategist or technician. His is a violent, vile game, his a plan predicated on trailing his opponent until the other man’s feet can’t shuffle backward quite fast enough, then bombarding him with punches in such furious number that his mind can no longer process the barrage.
There are no timeouts in a Diaz fight, unless he’s sarcastically taking one as he did against the evasive Anderson Silva. There is only pressure, unyielding, implacable, and loud. Diaz doesn’t just break your spirit. He tells you about it while it’s happening.
There’s a purity to Diaz that doesn’t exist in anymore, not in the new homogenized world of MMA, a world where every fighter has the same tired style, comes to the cage in the same tired gear and offers the same tired platitudes and tepid trash talk before and after the fight.
Diaz doesn’t believe in any of that.
Hell, he doesn’t even like fighting. But it so happens he does it better than almost anyone alive. His long desire hasn’t dulled fan anticipation. His is such a contrasting presence, a return to the days when everyone involved in MMA was a little bit different.
And the end of the day it doesn’t matter if Nick Diaz returns to MMA. He is MMA.
Jonathan Snowden covers combat sports for Bleacher Report.