Unpacking some thoughts on Nick Diaz's Return

So what did I make of the Nick Diaz comeback bout - a fight-week, that, for me, was among the nerviest I’ve ever experienced.

I felt as though there were just too many unknowns and new developments to really comment on things ahead of time - through a video during fight-week, as Nick bounced between stances on his upcoming fight.

And I think that, as many people have pointed out, Nick making strange and worrying comments in the lead-up to a fight is not really as odd or out of place as some of you might have thought.

Indeed, this was an older Nick - a more world-weary Nick, but in some ways, I couldn’t help but feel like there was a certain level of peace emanating off of him.

Not peace in the traditional sense, but I found purpose in the way he spoke about training the next generation - something that seemed far removed from his angst-ridden prime years.

But as these interviews continued, and Diaz began to speak about his reasons for returning, how tough the last few months had been - all while alluding to a botched business deal that saw him lose out on the opportunity to open up a school, to follow what seemed to me to be his calling in life.

That’s when Diaz’s reasons for making this late-career return became more clear.

I’ve followed the career of Nick Diaz for years now - and he’s without question my favourite fighter, and my favourite personality within the sport of mixed martial arts.

And though there were a lot of fans who had their first real, drawn-out exposure to Diaz through the build-up to UFC 266, all of his talk about being nervous, scared as hell, and only returning because it’s the only thing he knows how to do, yea, that didn’t phase me too much.

Nick has always been painfully honest, unable to filter, or front - often speaking out of a place of anxiety only to totally backtrack and say the opposite thing when he’s in a different headspace.

And he’s willing to go to places in front of a camera that most fighters wouldn’t dare.

And I think that’s, in some way, what has endeared Nick Diaz to the fans over the years.

But yea, over this fight week - while there were some troubling signs, some things that indicated that Nick didn’t really want to be there - I’ve always kind of found Nick Diaz interviews to be troubling, to some extent.

And I mean that in terms of this guy’s overall career direction and career choice, or lack thereof.

He’s always been the guy who’s gifted by an elite ability to compete as a fighter but cursed by the fact that he can’t escape the responsibility of those gifts.

And though this fight week was perhaps the most dramatic example of Nick being Nick - for me, the most worrying thing - ahead of time - was the shape he was in.

I’ve seen pictures of Nick Diaz within the last year that saw him shredded, that saw him looking in better physical condition than even his best years in Strikeforce and the UFC.

But I suppose my main takeaway as I watched the weigh-ins, the promos, the media day photoshoots - it wasn’t that Diaz’s hands looked slow during that shadowboxing video shoot, or that he looked generally uncomfortable, or even the words that came out of his mouth - but I definitely got a knot in my stomach when I saw his frame.

And it puts the last-minute move to middleweight into perspective.

Ahead of the fight, I guessed that Diaz had hastily booked his return - seemingly left with little option after that aforementioned business deal went wrong.

According to his long-time teammate Jake Shields, he was pressured to take the fight with just a six week training camp - and whether that’s true or not, 38-year-old or otherwise, Nick Diaz looked ill-prepared for this bout.

If he had shown up in incredible shape, in the type of shape he was pictured in just a year prior, I think the mood would have been very different amongst his fans ahead of this clash.

And I think judging on the fight we got, I really believe that if Nick came in in better condition, just a bit sharper and more physically in tune with the task in hand, I do think that he actually would have beaten Robbie Lawler.

Because if we’re going to speak about the fight now, regardless of how I feel about its existence, Nick looked pretty good in spots - showing boxing and volume that called back to his best days in this sport.

I watched that first thirty seconds between the gaps in my fingers as I just prayed that Lawler wouldn’t rush him early and get him out of there.

But after surviving an early storm, Nick actually started fighting back, firing off combinations that - while slow and uninspired, were pretty damn effective.

That hook to the body, in particular, looked as sharp as ever - and I think that the fight overall, served moreso as proof of Diaz just never losing it, more than anything else.

Because he did look slow, his movements laboured, and though his experience and octagon savvy allowed this fight to go on further than it perhaps should have, I think Nick himself was well aware of what exactly was transpiring in there in real time.

And don’t get me wrong - I actually loved the fight - for what it was.

That said, it was as difficult a fight to watch as I’ve ever experienced - and even through the confidence that was slowly building within me as I watched Nick grow into the bout and its rhythm, he looked so awkward at times that I couldn’t help but feel as though things were about to take a turn.

And when they did, and Nick went down, my heart went right down there with him folks!

And I think after the tone that Diaz set over the course of fight-week, the vibe he gave off that confirmed beyond any doubt that he didn’t want to be there - yea, when he signalled to the ref that he was done, I nearly jumped out of my chair.

I really hate the MMA attitude towards quitting - the Just Bleed attitude that just doesn’t have the same presence in boxing.

It’s an attitude that’s stuck in the 1990’s - stuck in a more primal version of what is now a much more elegant sport.

And I think that Nick Diaz using his sense and opting out in that moment was a truly beautiful thing to experience.

People go off saying he did it for the paycheque - like they’ve never done anything in their own life for a paycheque - but no, he didn’t try to fool us in the build-up to the fight, and after delivering two rounds of extremely high volume action, he decided there and then that he’d given us enough.

And I commend him for that.

Because this man has earned his stripes - and with it, the freedom to take ownership over his time in the octagon.

So yea, it was a good fight, a really unique experience among the thousands of fights I’ve watched in my life.

I’m still unpacking how I feel about it to be honest.

Obviously I haven’t mentioned Robbie Lawler at all, but it goes without saying that the man is a legend - and it also should be stated that he turned up in a big way for this fight, overcoming his own obstacle after a few truly gunshy performances of late.

MMA as a sport all but guarantees a weird and ugly lifecycle if you stick around for too long - where if you don’t get out like Khabib or GSP, you’re likely to end up as a BJ Penn.

And when it comes to allowing these legends of the sport the opportunity to earn a living, feeding them to the new rising talent seems like the best way - from a promotional standpoint - to make some return off of the years of investment you’ve put into their growth.

Well, I helped BJ Penn become a star and a legend - so let’s feed him to Yair Rodriguez so he can capture some of that old long-forgotten momentum.

Again, it’s ugly, and it leaves you feeling a bit empty - in full realisation of how this sport - and in a more broad sense - how life itself operates.

But I didn’t get that on Saturday night, and I think that’s a real victory here.

Robbie performed admirably, showing us all that he still has some fuel in the tank, some ferocity to unleash under the right circumstances.

And Nick Diaz showed us that he’s still a fighter, he’s still able to get in there and put on a thrilling contest.

And if I may re-iterate, I firmly believe that a more in-shape version of this Nick Diaz would have been able to pull off the victory.

I was surprised by how good Nick’s hands looked in parts.

He was just slow, sloppy, and rhythmically poor.

Now, of course, I am managing my expectations here - I don’t want to see Nick fight again unless Nick himself wants to fight again - or if that’s too much of a grey area - unless Nick himself wants to fight for a reason that doesn’t stem from necessity.

If he does want to return, give him Demian Maia, or Ben Askren - or someone like that - I don’t need to see this guy in there with Jorge Masvidal, I’m afraid my heart would not be able for it.

But all in all, the fight-week, the bout itself, and the finish that left fans divided, it was a pretty compelling piece of MMA theatre don’t you think?

I didn’t know how this video was going to turn out, because as I mentioned before, I’m still unpacking my feelings on this one, but I do think that this was more of a celebration of Diaz and Lawler than some upsetting love-letter to their best years.

And at this point in their careers, that is good enough for me.