Editor’s note: This interview was conducted in September, well before Nate Diaz vented his frustration about a drug test before UFC 244. He has been cleared to fight.
“They wouldn’t let me in, remember?” Diaz said to ESPN’s Ariel Helwani as the two recently had a sit-down in the arena. “I snuck in the back with some of the East Coast hooders that work in here. They got me in.”
Diaz said he and the UFC were “bumping heads” back then, so he wasn’t invited.
How times have changed.
The next time Diaz attends a fight at MSG, he’ll be a guest of honor. His name and likeness will be splashed across the marquee and on posters, as Diaz will face Jorge Masvidal for what the UFC is marketing as a BMF title.
In the three years since McGregor scored a second-round TKO of Alvarez to add the lightweight belt to his featherweight title — becoming the first person to hold two UFC belts simultaneously — Diaz has fought exactly one time, winning a unanimous decision over Anthony Pettis on Aug. 17. Afterward, Diaz respectfully called out Masvidal, who was coming off two impressive knockout wins, including one over Ben Askren that took just five seconds, a UFC record.
Diaz’s performance against Pettis reenergized his large and loyal fan base, and the public reaction to his matchmaking idea persuaded UFC president Dana White to ultimately schedule the Masvidal bout.
As Diaz and Helwani toured the arena, conversation spanned from Diaz’s relationship with his brother Nick; how he went from feeling disrespected by the UFC to having a title invented for this fight; and why he doesn’t want his family attending his fights.
Answers have been edited for content, clarity and length.
Helwani: Was fighting at MSG a thing for you? Like a bucket list thing?
Diaz: Uh, no, I didn’t even think about it at all. But now that it’s happening, it’s pretty cool. It’s way cool, like, I don’t even know, but I’m pretty sure Muhammad Ali and Mike Tyson fought here, right?
Helwani: Yeah, that’s right. Well, Muhammad Ali vs. Joe Frazier, March 8, 1971, is like the most famous boxing match of all time.
Diaz: And whenever somebody does a concert here, it’s probably like a big thing, too. So it’s real cool, for sure.
Helwani: So, you’re headlining this card on Nov. 2. The UFC doesn’t normally headline pay-per-views without an official title on the line. Certainly not an MSG show. The first two shows, three title fights were on the cards. You realize how big of a deal this is? You feel like this is a massive feather in your cap that you forced them to do this?
Diaz: I didn’t force them to do anything. What I did was I went out there and I take the fight, and I just said what it was — the best m—–f—– in the game fighting the other best m—–f—– in the game. And everybody was like, “Yeah.”
“It doesn’t feel good to sit at home all day, doing nothing. But when I trained, I felt good when I come home. So it was keeping me busy, taking a fight and then fighting. I was demanded — not demanded, but, like, yo, you’re up next.”
Helwani: I was wondering if you expected it to happen so soon. Three months after.
Diaz: Yeah, who knows how soon. I would have rather fought later. What else did they have going on? Why haven’t I fought for three years? Why wouldn’t they do this if it’s possible, you know what I’m saying? So I was like, this guy has a good-ass fight [in beating Askren]. That’s what I’m looking for — the best fighter. So now that he is, I’m going to defend it against him. And now I’m headlining Madison Square Garden.
Helwani: Afterward, Masvidal seemed thrilled that you’d called him out.
Diaz: Well, I think I would be, too, because it’s acknowledgement. And nobody’s been acknowledging me when I did the dopest s— in the game.
Helwani: Did you think it would turn into this whole thing where the UFC is actually now making a belt?
Diaz: Nah, nah, who knew about the belt? Who cares about that? But just the point that we’re headlining this event and it’s happening, it’s because it’s a fact that that’s what it is.
Helwani: You went from not being a needle-mover to a guy that they’re making a whole title for.
Diaz: Yeah, that’s funny.
Helwani: Did you see Dana White finally acknowledge that you’re a needle-mover?
Diaz: And if you’ve got all these titles, too, which one do you want?
Helwani: Did you ever envision all this? Did you think this was possible when you got into this 15 years ago?
Diaz: Yeah, I wasn’t even looking that big, though. I was taking things one step at a time, you know?
Helwani: How far did you look?
Diaz: I didn’t even think about money. I wasn’t even thinking about getting any money.
Helwani: What was it about?
Diaz: It was just about feeling, like, you don’t got a job. It doesn’t feel good to sit at home all day, doing nothing. But when I trained, I felt good when I come home. So it was keeping me busy, taking a fight and then fighting. I was demanded — not demanded, but, like, yo, you’re up next. I was like, cool, and then it’s just what it was. And now it’s just about winning every fight for the team. Represent for it. It felt good to see my brother [Nick] win a fight, and my partners Gil [Melendez] and Jake [Shields]) and everybody win these fights. So it’s just kind of like, doing my job, like, doing my part. I gotta win, too.
Helwani: I noticed recently — speaking of your brother, you mentioned Nick Diaz earlier — that was the first person you mentioned in the postfight interviews [after beating Pettis]. You been talking about the Nick Diaz Army a lot these days. Is there any particular reason for that?
Diaz: I said that a long time ago, didn’t I?
Helwani: Yeah, but I don’t know, I just felt like we were …
Diaz: Yeah, it’s just always been like that, this Nick Diaz Army. We got a whole team at the academy, and everybody’s normal, and jive, and trains. But we’ll be in there all night, and as soon as fight camp starts, like 25 people from the class are just sticking around. And the whole team with regular jobs is there till 2 in the morning, 3 in the morning, working out. Nick started all that, too. Like, if someone was fighting, he’ll be in there all night with them. It’s just cool that it’s like that. … So it’s like kind of military style, “Oh, yeah, you’re fighting?” “All right, man, let’s go on a run. Everybody, let’s go on a run.” You ran. Even the people who weren’t fighting were still making the run. I don’t know, it’s just Nick Diaz Army s—.
Helwani: Is there any chance he’s in your corner for this one?
Diaz: It depends on him. You’d have to ask him. I don’t know if he even wants to be involved. I’m his brother. I don’t want to be in his f—ing corner, really, either. I don’t want to watch him fight.
The callout that changed everything! 🗣
— UFC (@ufc) September 19, 2019
Helwani: Do you know about this quote that he told me [after being suspended in 2017]? He said, “I’m just upset I can’t be there for my brother right now, since he’s going to be fighting soon. It’s my bad he even got into this sport, and he gets his face kicked in, and they don’t even pay him. I got us in this, and if I don’t make any money, I don’t have any way to get us out.” So he felt responsibility for you. Had you ever heard that before?
Diaz: No, but I understand it, for sure. ‘Cause what, like, what else was I gonna do? That’s what I got stuck in, you know what I’m saying?
Helwani: But he felt bad that you were getting punched and you weren’t making money.
Diaz: Seeing your homeboys fight or anybody on your team fight, it’s like, you don’t want to see them. … But it’s all good now, ’cause I signed up for this s—, too.
Helwani: Do you think he feels better now that you’ve made money, that you’re making it, that you’re headlining? Do you think he feels less of that burden? Or do you still feel like he wants you to stop?
Diaz: I think he just knows, again, it’s just, the game is a m—–f—–. I don’t think he’s too into it. I don’t think he’s out of it, I just think he’s just saying, trying to figure out what he wants to do for now. I can’t speak for what he wants to do.
Helwani: Does he ever say, like, “Hey, I’m proud of you” or “Good job”?
Diaz: Yeah, he’ll say good job, all that.
Helwani: Does your dad go to your fights?
Diaz: Ah, no, not really.
Helwani: You don’t like anyone there, right?
Diaz: I just don’t tell nobody to come.
Helwani: Why is that?
Diaz: I think people want invites and s—. But I just don’t like the feeling of that anyway — “Hey, come watch me fight! Come over here! Come!” Everybody talks to me like it’s some glorious thing. But I think of the negative part a lot more than the positive part.
Helwani: Like getting beat up?
Diaz: Yeah, like knocked out on your face, in front of everybody, your teeth kicked in, breaking off your leg on the way down from the knockout. It’s f—ing serious stuff you think about on the negative end. And then people are like, “I can’t make it to your fight.” I’m like, “Oh, good.” [Laughs.] Anybody that wants to come, come on, though. [Laughs.]
“Yeah, like knocked out on your face, in front of everybody, your teeth kicked in, breaking off your leg on the way down from the knockout. It’s f—ing serious stuff you think about on the negative end.”
Helwani: I remember one time, like 10 years ago, I asked your brother, “Are you excited for this next fight?” He had a fight coming up, and he got so mad at me about saying the word “excited.” He said he does not get excited about these fights, he never got excited about them. Do you feel the same way?
Diaz: Yeah I do feel 100%, and no one says that. But it’s just like bulls— when people do say that, and I’m not bulls—-ing and he’s not bulls—-ing. “I’m excited.” I’m like, who you trying to fool? You’re all happy about getting into a fight? It’s what I do, and I’m down with it. And I’m not gonna not fight, you know what I’m saying? I’m not like f—ing all super juiced to be going out there. I’m excited when the job’s done and we’re about to be going out to eat.
Helwani: Do you dread the actual fight itself?
Diaz: I can’t even explain it. I want to get in and do the same s—. I’m not complaining. Can’t live with it, can’t live without it, probably type of thing.
Helwani: Like there isn’t a point where you see that you’re going to stop? Like this is who you are, right?
Diaz: Yeah, I’ll fight forever.
Helwani: Do you already know, like, the same way you knew that Masvidal was next, do you know who is next after him?
Diaz: [Laughs] Yeah. I don’t know. And it develops in the training, and then when I make it, that move, it’s going to be a real move. … I’m gonna defend this f—ing belt in Madison Square Garden against this m—–f—– ’cause he’s the best m—–f—– and I’m the best m—–f—–, and the baddest m—–f—–‘s going to go down.