mma / Columns

Nick Diaz Returns…Finally

November 19, 2018 | Posted by Dan Plunkett
Nick Diaz

Seven years ago, Nick Diaz returned to the UFC under unusual circumstances. For sixteen months, Diaz had reigned as Strikeforce’s welterweight champion, racking up three exciting title defenses. Just prior to his third defense, Zuffa, parent company of the UFC, purchased Strikeforce. In that third defense, Diaz engaged in one of MMA’s best one-round fights, a wild affair that ended with him stopping Paul Daley with three seconds left in the round. Diaz was a star that could thrive on the UFC platform, and UFC welterweight champion Georges St-Pierre could have used a fresh challenger.

Despite the initial objections of Showtime, Strikeforce’s broadcast partner, Diaz signed a new deal with Zuffa that enabled him to fight in the UFC and set up a champion vs. champion match against St-Pierre. Diaz had fought in the UFC years earlier, most notably knocking out Robbie Lawler in a classic 2004 bout, but this time he was primed to be a key star in the promotion. He had the ability, the style, but more importantly, a raw honesty that made him one of the most captivating fighters in the sport. Diaz was going to be a real draw.

But with Nick Diaz, you can expect things to not go to plan. The very things that make him such a captivating figure—that raw unpredictability—resulted in him fighting only four times since Dana White’s June 1, 2011, announcement that Diaz would fight St-Pierre in the UFC.

On Friday, ESPN reported that Diaz has agreed to return to the cage to fight Jorge Masvidal on March 2 at UFC 235. If the bout holds, and that’s a significant if, it would mark Diaz’s first fight in more than four years.

Nick Diaz doesn’t love fighting, and he doesn’t want to fight. Those are the chief reasons that following the four biggest money-earning fights of his career, he’s stayed outside the cage.

The 2011 bout with Georges St-Pierre didn’t happen. Diaz is notoriously unreliable, but most would have thought he’d at least show his face during media obligations for his fight with St-Pierre, which was expected to be UFC’s biggest fight of the year. Instead, Diaz no-showed two pre-fight press conferences. With that, the UFC removed Diaz from the St-Pierre bout seven weeks before the fight, slotting Carlos Condit in his place. After a period of uncertainty, the UFC matched Diaz with BJ Penn, who had been Condit’s originally scheduled opponent, on the same card. When St-Pierre went down with an injury, the UFC elevated Diaz vs. Penn to the main event.

Diaz stamped his return to the UFC by thumping Penn to take a decision victory. After the bout, he made it clear that he wanted to fight St-Pierre, providing what would become valuable soundbites that the UFC played to promote their fight, but in the moment was real emotion.

When another injury delayed St-Pierre’s return, the UFC set up a Diaz vs. Condit bout for the interim welterweight title. In a fight hyped on a UFC Primetime series that did an estimated 400,000 buys on pay-per-view, Condit defeated Diaz by decision in a close fight. Diaz, however, was adamant that he should have won the fight, and indicated in the cage that he would retire because of the decision.

With St-Pierre out until the end of the year, and the UFC not wanting to miss out on the returns of a St-Pierre vs. Diaz match, the promotion eyed an immediate rematch between Diaz and Condit. But just as the bout was being finalized, the Nevada Athletic Commission, which oversaw Diaz’s bout against Condit in Las Vegas, announced he had tested positive for marijuana metabolites after the fight. The failure marked the second time Diaz had failed for marijuana in Nevada. Eventually, the commission suspended Diaz for one year retroactive to the fight date, making him eligible to return in February 2013.

St-Pierre defeated Condit in November 2012. At that point, Johny Hendricks, on a five-fight winning streak at the time, was the most deserving welterweight contender, but Diaz remained the most lucrative. UFC President Dana White insisted that St-Pierre specifically asked to fight Diaz, and they granted their star the grudge match for March 2013. When they met, Diaz couldn’t stop St-Pierre’s wrestling and lost every round. But although Diaz didn’t get the win he was looking for, he did get the biggest payout of his career, with the fight doing an estimated 950,000 pay-per-view buys.

The following summer, Diaz announced his retirement, although few expected it to stick.

In July 2014, one year after Diaz retired, the UFC announced his next fight: a middleweight bout with former champion Anderson Silva. Although announced well in advance of the Super Bowl weekend 2014 fight date, it was a relatively quiet build between one of the sport’s most captivating talkers and one of its biggest stars. Still, it was a successful pay-per-view that drew an estimated 650,000 buys. Diaz, the underdog, lost the fight in a clear decision, but lost no luster in the fight. He taunted Silva throughout the first round, including a classic moment when he posed lying down on the mat, and lost to a bigger fighter.

After the fight, Diaz failed his third drug test in Nevada for marijuana. In a power trip, the Nevada Athletic Commission handed him a flagrantly unjust 5-year suspension. Later, the suspension was reduced to 18 months. More notably, Silva failed different tests for various performance-enhancing drugs, resulting in the fight being overturned to a no contest.

Despite being eligible to compete beginning in the second-half of 2016, Diaz had no apparent interest or need to. He’d made a significant amount of money fighting St-Pierre and Silva and could afford the time off. He had a technical USADA failure for failing to report his whereabouts three times and received a yearlong suspension, but that didn’t matter much since he wasn’t fighting.

Whatever his reasons, Diaz is ready to fight again. Jorge Masvidal is a tough opponent, but if Diaz can get past him and wants to fight again, his options will be essentially unlimited. A star of his caliber could fight almost anyone he wants at welterweight or middleweight. Even a welterweight title shot wouldn’t be out of the question. His career has shown that the UFC will break from norms to book Diaz in big fights. Perhaps those paydays are what Diaz is looking for in his return.

Dan Plunkett has covered MMA for 411Mania since 2008. You can reach him by email at [email protected] and follow him on Twitter @Dan_Plunkett.

article topics :

Nick Diaz, UFC, Dan Plunkett