Nick Diaz likes to get high. This week he failed his second drug test for marijuana fighting in the state of Nevada. Nick Diaz doesn’t care. He’ll do whatever he wants, as long as he can get away with it. After which he’ll play the contrite company man, earn his dollars, and swiftly return to his bubble in Stockton, California, back to the only life he’s ever known.
This is the Nick Diaz who’s earned the status of cult hero among fight fans. And he’ll never change.
Dana White may say that he is “beyond disappointed” with Nick’s failed test, which comes in the wake of his controversial title loss to Carlos Condit, but the UFC president knew exactly what he was getting when he re-signed Nick to the organisation after a four-year hiatus.
“The problem with Nick Diaz is Nick won’t play the game,” said Dana last January, five full months before offering him a contract. “When Nick Diaz wants to play the game just a little bit, we’d love to have him back.”
But Nick didn’t have to play the game, or even make any such promises to persuade the UFC to line-up a dream fight between him and outstanding UFC Welterweight Champion, George St. Pierre.
St. Pierre had triumphantly cleaned up the welterweight division and the UFC was struggling to find him a worthy opponent. Even Jake Shields, brought over from Strikeforce with much hype, failed to offer St. Pierre any kind of effective resistance.
Nick would be different. He was the Strikeforce champion and had a hypnotic, relentless fighting style which at the time was crushing all in his path. What’s more, he got under St. Pierre’s skin.
But all Nick cared about was getting paid: “playing the game” wasn’t in his vocabulary. He missed two press conferences in the build-up to his fight with St. Pierre, giving the UFC no choice but to drop the contest and substitute him with Condit.
Stil, Nick was Nick, he was a tantalising star, and his scant punishment was an equally thrilling match against former Welterweight Champion BJ Penn. Despatching Penn with little trouble, the UFC moved quickly, sidelined a reluctant Condit and again tried to make the match with St. Pierre happen.
If St. Pierre hadn’t been injured, it would have been him and Nick who’d have fought at UFC 143, instead of Condit. That match did not go down the way the UFC or MMA fans wanted. Condit’s win made a George St. Pierre v Nick Diaz match an ever more frustrating impossibility, leading to Nick’s dramatic announcement that he was retiring from the sport. “I don’t need this shit anymore,” he told the audience after his loss.
In the days between that fight and Nick’s failed drug test, the UFC was scrambling for a rematch between Condit and Diaz, which could once again pave the way for an imminent showdown with St. Pierre following the champion’s expected return in November. That now is impossible. The Nevada State Athletic Commission is likely to impose a year-long ban.
Shortly after the announcement of his failed test, Nick’s brother, Nate, told ESPN.com that Nick is going to stay retired. Maybe he really doesn’t “need this shit” anymore. Besides, a drugs ban would never get him to change his ways.
Even after he tested positive for “off the charts” levels of marijuana in 2007, following his submission victory over Takanori Gomi, Nick refused to apologise for his behaviour. He argued with the commission that he wanted more time, to be forewarned of drug tests so he can clear it out of his system before his fights.
“I think smoking pot is good for mixed martial artists,” Nick told Sherdog.com following his loss. “I’m going to tell all you fighters out there something right now, from my experience, if you have friends that you get high with, get them to train with you.”
There were videos posted on YouTube as recently as 2010, showing Nick on triathalon bike rides, smoking weed from a pipe. He never had any intention of playing the game. And that’s exactly what makes Nick, Nick.
He’s not a professional fighter. He’s just a fighter. As soon as he returned to the UFC and its media machine, there was talk of his “demons”, his reluctance, nay anxiety, at being an MMA star. His inability to control his behaviour, to attack his boss’s for not paying him enough, his hatred for the sport and the demands of the professional circuit.
No one “out-crazies Nick” said his manager Caesar Gracie after his pre-fight weigh-in with BJ Penn almost turned into a brawl. That was to be expected. This is the same man who started another fight with Joe Riggs in the hospital after losing a unanimous decision to him hours before. This is the same man who threw the first punch against Jason Miller when the fighter challenged his friend Jake Shields to a rematch inside the cage – a brawl which almost cost Strikeforce a lucrative television deal.
Nick isn’t a professional fighter, he’s just a fighter. That’s unlikely to change if Nick does decide to come out of retirement, or is coaxed out with an extravagant pay-day by the UFC after serving his ban. The company chairman, Lorenzo Fertitta, has already hinted that he’s standing by Nick.
“He will be back. [I] really like the kid [he] just needs to get it together,” Fertitta tweeted. “I’m a sap for real fighters.”
And that’s why he’s a cult hero. He’s a real fighter. Not a professional athlete, or a sportsman. But just a fighter, through and through, doing the only thing he knows how.