The most profound thing Nick Diaz ever said to me just so happened to be on the darkest day of his MMA career.
On Sept. 14, 2015, the Nevada State Athletic Commission suspended Diaz for five years after he tested positive for marijuana metabolites following his decision loss to Anderson Silva at UFC 183. It marked the third marijuana-related test failure of Diaz’s career, and the NSAC decided to drop the hammer on him.
The length of the suspension was viewed by many as unfair, and a petition sent to the White House demanding the ban be lifted received more than 100,000 signatures. Historically, fighters suspended for using performance-enhancing drugs typically received — at most — two-year bans.
Most feared it would signal the end of Diaz’s career. And while the intense outrage in its aftermath led to the NSAC ultimately reducing the suspension to 18 months, Diaz still hasn’t fought since.
That night, I texted Diaz. I wanted to know how he felt after the NSAC’s initial decision. He ended up sending me a lengthy response, but it was the last thing he wrote that has stuck with me since.
“But in the end, I’m just upset I can’t be there for my brother right now since he’s gonna be fighting soon,” he wrote. “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.”
I get chills every time I read that.
Nick Diaz is a fighter’s fighter who actually hates fighting. He has told us that countless times, yet it seems as if we choose to ignore it because it doesn’t mesh with his persona and demeanor. As he has said before, he decided to go pro 18 years ago because that was all he knew. Prizefighting, he believed, was the only way out for him and his younger brother, Nate.
The problem was, his brother didn’t just watch from the sidelines. He followed in his footsteps.
At the time Diaz wrote that to me, he was coming off a big-money fight against Silva. He was far more popular than Nate. For his part, Nate was getting ready for a fight in December against Michael Johnson, which was set to take place a year after his one-sided loss to Rafael Dos Anjos. His career was directionless.
But everything changed nearly three months later.
Nate beat Johnson, got on the mic, called out Conor McGregor in one of the all-time great promos, eventually fought McGregor, beat him and then became a megastar.
And the unthinkable happened: Nate became more popular than Nick.
This didn’t seem possible just months earlier.
And every time I see Nate’s star shine bright, like in the buildup to UFC 244 two weeks ago, I think of Nick lamenting the fact that he didn’t have a way out for his brother.
Truth is, he doesn’t have to worry about that anymore because Nate is one of the highest-paid fighters in the sport and a top draw. A legit needle-mover, if you will.
Ariel Helwani shares a quote Nick Diaz said about his brother Nate, who reacts to it and explains the impact Nick has had on him. Order UFC 244 on ESPN+ https://plus.espn.com/ufc/ppv.
And so maybe that’s why Nick hasn’t fought since. Maybe, deep down, he felt as if he didn’t have to because his brother didn’t need him to anymore. He made it.
But, after talking to him last week, it sounds as if a fire was lit at Madison Square Garden when he saw his brother get beat up by Jorge Masvidal. Masvidal saying he wanted to “baptize” Nate didn’t sit well with Nick.
Did Nick outright say he was coming back in the interview? Not quite. But that’s not his style. He never really wants to fight. Never has, never will.
He once grew agitated when I asked him if he was excited about an upcoming fight. He’ll never be excited to fight, he said.
But Nick Diaz doesn’t do many interviews — that was my first with him in five years. He certainly doesn’t go out of his way to do them the way he did last Wednesday night in New York City. That alone tells me something.
And once the interview was over, his manager along with Nick wanted to stress that they came to talk to me for one main reason — to get a fight against Masvidal at Cowboys Stadium in the spring. That’s what they want.
Truth be told, it was nice to talk to him. It made me feel nostalgic. I think we’ve all been wondering how he was doing and whether he wants back in.
I bet a casual fan thought that interview was all over the place. It technically was. But it was also much like every Nick Diaz interview I’ve ever done, which is to say it was authentic. For better or worse, that’s Nick. That’s his charm. And that has turned him into a cult-like figure in our sport’s history.
Last week, he had a few things to get off his chest: about the suspension, about Masvidal, about his time away, about his “baby brother.” The baby brother whose fame exploded over the past four years or so.
But, as most of us with older siblings know, no matter how well things are going, sometimes big bro just needs to step in.
He told me he spoke to his brother before doing the interview. He said he wouldn’t have talked if his brother didn’t give him his blessing. Interesting role reversal, right?
Does the Masvidal fight happen? Hard to say. But what a story it would be. Nick Diaz — the man who gets called out seemingly every week by a different fighter — returns to avenge his brother’s loss.
“It’s my bad he even got into this sport and he gets his face kicked in …”
No matter the money, that feeling probably will never go away for Nick. At his core, he’s still that same old kid from Stockton looking to protect his brother. And right now, it sounds as if he feels like he needs to fight again for his brother, just as he did when he first started all those years ago.