Will fans get to see the intensity of Nick Diaz inside the Octagon or in MMA in general for much longer? Photo by Esther Lin, Strikeforce
It's difficult to reminisce about Nick Diaz's career without taking a journey down a dilapidated road of memories. Youthful and imperfect, Diaz waged war on anything that stood in his path, creating animosity between himself and his opponents that could only be described as borderline insane. One extreme example was the fight that broke out between Diaz and Joe Riggs at a hospital after Riggs won a punishing unanimous decision at UFC 57 back in 2006. Not surprisingly, there's more.
Diaz's involvement in a post-fight brawl after his teammate Jake Shields won the vacant Strikeforce middleweight crown in November of 2009 wasn't a surprise to most fans either. The famous image of both Shields and Diaz cocking back their fists to hit Jason 'Mayhem' Miller exudes Nick's persona in many ways. Some might describe him as a thug, others as a loyal friend. In either case, the image shows a Nick Diaz we have grown accustomed to over the years.
Like a fine wine, Diaz has begun to mature with age however. In more recent interviews, we've been humbled by a more mellow Nick Diaz. A man who talks deeply about family and friends, wants to make sure his mother is taken care of, and sings the praises of his younger brother Nate. Those thoughts don't subdue his opinions on the fight game or who's to blame for his irregular attendance at media functions however.
Those opinions have become more attached to thoughts on his continued presence in the sport. In more recent years, Diaz has talked publicly about the real reasons why he's fighting. It isn't about the competitive fire within him. He's fighting for the money. He's a prizefighter, not a man bound to the sport by a cosmic force telling him that this was what he was born to do. He reiterated that opinion on Thursday in a candid twenty-five minute interview with Ariel Helwani.
When pressed by Helwani about why he continues to fight, Diaz succumbed to his natural abilities. He's great at fighting, and despite the fact that he doesn't like beating on someone's face -- it's what he's good at. Many fans can probably relate to that logic. After all, how many of us hate our jobs, yet are very good at what we do?
The prolonged presence of Diaz's dislike for the sport and all the intricacies that come along with being a top fighter creates an aura of uneasiness for some fans. B.J. Penn may be his opponent on Saturday night at UFC 137, but the reality is that Diaz may be on the brink of leaving the sport before the age of 30.
That story, when it finally comes down the news wire, will create conflicting opinions, likely heavily laced with fans selfishly spouting off about how they are somehow owed greatness from a warrior they grew up adoring. "He's only 30!", "Why the hell would he retire now! He's awesome!" are lines we'll see incessantly fill the conversation.
The reality is that Diaz's drive isn't as ingrained in him as it is for other fighters. Those fighters who are pushing themselves way past their prime are more willing to do what they need to do to continue fighting than a fighter like Diaz. For Diaz, his final moments in the cage won't be similar to that of Chris Lytle. He won't be fighting off the tears because he's leaving a sport he dearly loves. He'll be glad it's over. No cameras, press, or expectations.
If money is his motivation, who knows exactly when he'll say enough is enough? He's only 28 years old, and he is at the prime of his career. He could make a lot of money if he continues winning. I get the sense, however, that Diaz may be the next fighter who truly walks off into the sunset at the top of his game, not because he's worried about his health or wants to spend more time with family. Because he wants to walk away from something he hates to do. Conventional wisdom suggests that Diaz won't take that step, but when has Diaz followed the accepted norm?