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Celebrity Sightings In Los Angeles - May 03, 2018

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Hope Springs Eternal: The Nick Diaz Delusion

Nick Diaz is back in the public eye. The interview — and the fan reaction — was a bit concerning.

Photo by gotpap/Bauer-Griffin/GC Images

Here’s a pop quiz for you: when was the last time Nick Diaz fought?

I can already sense how the gears are turning in your head. “Hmmm, has he fought since Anderson Silva? … … … No? Really? Damn.

OK, well, how long ago was that? Three years maybe? … Wait, we’re going on five years?”

Yes, in just over two months time, it will be a half decade since Nick Diaz last fought. I want you to keep that in mind for a moment.

On Monday, “Ariel Helwani’s MMA Show” featured a lengthy sit-down with combat-slash-cannabis cult hero Nick Diaz, which is always a special event given Diaz’s typical reluctance to give interviews. For nearly an hour, Diaz predictably ranted and raved, largely focusing on a persistent topic du jour, as Diaz proclaimed Jorge Masvidal’s ersatz BMF title, which he “won” by defeated Nick’s younger brother Nate earlier this month at UFC 244, was really his. Unsurprisingly, this excited people and frankly, it shouldn’t.

First of all, I must address the elephant in the room. Since the airing of the interview, much of the online discussion has centered on Diaz’s fitness to actually fight. Many in the MMA Twitterverse outright accused him of being either extremely drunk, extremely high, or extremely both during the interview. In lieu of those charges, some simply opined that he was punch drunk and showing signs of CTE. None of the inferences are worthy of merriment.

I withhold any arm-chair diagnosis because the fact is, I’m not Nick Diaz’s therapist and I simply don’t know the particulars. Also, as someone who has struggled with substance abuse at various junctures in my life, I’m not unsympathetic to whatever may be ailing Diaz and how profound it may or may not be. It is not exactly an unfair question to raise though, given the fact that Diaz, even by his own standards, is especially rambling and incoherent throughout the interview.

Many were quick to point out “Oh, Nick is always like that!” and draw on his well-known issues with social anxiety in the past, which often led to his discursive, rollercoaster interviews. However, even based on his prior precedent, Diaz’s was exceptionally out of it, slurring and mumbling in a fashion that simply wasn’t part of his elocution in the past, as evidenced here:

Regardless of Diaz’s state during the interview itself, it’s important to note the very obvious, observable changes in his demeanor and extracurricular activities over the nearly five years he’s been away from the cage. The cries of “Oh, that’s just Nick!” demonstrate either a baffling lack of awareness or a painful wilful blindness.

The first time I interviewed Nick Diaz nearly 12 years ago, he bristled at his fighting contemporaries who were moving to Las Vegas to train, singling out and lambasting former teammate Tyson Griffin.

“Las Vegas doesn’t f---in’ fool me, bro,” he told me, touting his healthier lifestyle. “That s--- is a f---in’ theme.”

And now? Half of his Instagram posts are him hanging out, drinking in Vegas and we get videos like this:

And this:

Now, I think it would be a bit mawkish to act as though Diaz needs some kind of intervention. He’s a 36-year-old man and still in vastly better physical condition than most of the population; I doubt he’s teetering on the verge of cirrhosis or fatty liver syndrome. Rather, I’m discussing this for a few reasons. One, it’s a massive subtopic that has almost superseded the interview’s content itself. Two, it’s a clear illustration that the recent years have seen a change in Diaz’s social MO and enthusiasm for partying. Three, the Diaz apologia commingled with his actions harken to something more intrinsic to MMA, I think.

Plain and simple, stardom and fandom both die hard in this sport. Their half lives are incredibly long and in a time that spectator are more desperate than ever to see the athletes they know and love and have an intimate fan history with, that dynamic is intensified. People still hang on any public statement Diaz makes, constantly needling him with questions about when he’ll return, despite how obviously indifferent he seems outside of an unrealistic jackpot payday and how clearly his personal interests and ambitions have changed. Yet, hope springs eternal for Diaz diehards.

This is exacerbation of a typical MMA tendency. For instance, anyone can see the fool’s gold in Scott Coker basing so much of his promotion around fighters we enjoyed in their period of relevance 10 years ago, or why someone like Oscar de la Hoya would think he could make money with Tito Ortiz-Chuck Liddell 4. However, in MMA, fans don’t tend to pull the plug on their enthusiasm for a fighter competing until they see demonstrable evidence of their physical degradation. Diaz is renowned for his extraordinary toughness, unyielding scrapping style and didn’t exit the sport on a string of grisly knockout losses. With every Diaz statement, no matter how adverse to the idea of returning to MMA, you can hear fans doing their best Lloyd Christmas, gleefully asking, “So you’re telling me there’s a chance?”

Again, my larger point here isn’t that Nick Diaz needs to get sober and hop back into the cage, but rather that every indication is that he has changed as a man - totally his prerogative – and constantly praying her leaps back into competition and grilling him about it endlessly is fruitless. Let’s say these pollyannaish fans got their way: you really want him to dive back into the fire against a hungry Jorge Masvidal, at the peak of his professional career and still improving? Undoubtedly, Diaz wouldn’t back down, but the 2010 Stockton vintage you’re imagining in the cage with “Gamebred” is likely a pipe dream. As I said, Diaz is 36 years old and hasn’t fought since Benedict XVI was Pope. In the time since Diaz last competed, there have been 39 separate UFC title reigns, not including interim belts. When Diaz fought Anderson Silva, Ronda Rousey was still unbeatable and Conor McGregor had just beaten up Dennis Siver.

To his credit, part of this phenomenon is due to Diaz’s one-of-a-kind, no-effs-given charisma that made him a people’s champion to an often jaded fanbase. It also, however, speaks to promoters’ inability to harness and cultivate new, interesting personalities to occupy the minds and fantasies of fans, as well as said fans’ inability to let go of the past even when presented with mounting evidence that the present or future they want isn’t likely, if not altogether unfeasible.

We’re fight fans; it’s worth having having hopes and dreams for what manifests in the cage, as that’s how discourse gets formed, pressures promoters and we end up getting the fights we so desire. That said, if someone willingly disqualifies themselves from that discourse, there’s not much that can be done unless they have a change of heart. My dream certainly isn’t seeing Diaz at nearly 40 years old headed back into the cage for a desperate payday after being worn down by time. No doubt, it’s a difficult catch 22: Diaz has arguably squandered the last five years of his career partying and obstinately holding out for unrealistic paydays, but at the same time, he’s the same old Nick Diaz, doing whatever the hell he wants, whenever he wants to do it. Your only options are to accept it or to wind up buying wolf tickets from yourself.

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