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MMA fighters: Be more like Nick Diaz

In praise of Nick Diaz knowing he was done against Robbie Lawler at UFC 266

My favorite moment of the UFC 266 fight between Nick Diaz and Robbie Lawler came 44 seconds into the third round. Yes, that’s the time the fight came to a close, but hear me out.

Some will say that’s the time Nick Diaz quit. Those people will say when Diaz refused to get to his feet after a right hand from Lawler hurt him, that Diaz gave up. Those people are wrong.

I’m not alone in my thinking. Lawler said the same in his post-fight press conference interview.

“I felt like it was an accumulation,” Lawler said at the UFC 266 post-fight news conference. “But I felt like I caught him with a little check hook and then a little left after that then when he went down a hit him with a little uppercut. Then when he went down he wanted him to come down with him and I was like, ‘Let’s continue the fun stuff.’

“He’s a warrior. He was standing right there in the pocket. I throw hard shots and he was taking them. It was a lot of damage. When you go back and watch the fight it was a war. A three-round war. I hit pretty hard and it just wasn’t his night.”

By the time Diaz said he had enough, Lawler had pelted him with 131 significant strikes. Eighty-eight of those blows were head shots and the one that seemed to cause Diaz to hit the eject button was a nasty right that left blood leaking from Diaz’s damaged nose.

My opinion is that Diaz, who has been fighting professionally since 2001, took the time to assess the situation and realized he had given his all by that point and that any further time spent inside the Octagon with Lawler would only result in him taking additional damage. I believe Diaz knew his only route to a win was a winning lottery ticket, a one in a million chance of a submission or knockout win. Diaz, not willing to risk damage to his body and brain on a long shot, rightly called it a night.

I guess if you see things in a vacuum, you could say Diaz quit. But that’s unfair to Diaz and to all the men and women who fight for a living. To label someone who is locked in a cage and fighting another person, a coward or a quitter is a cheap shot and an oversimplification of a terribly complicated equation.

Before Saturday night, Diaz had not lost by stoppage since the doctor halted his 2007 Elite XC matchup against KJ Noons. There was a good chance that Diaz could have lasted the five full rounds against Lawler. At the very least, Diaz would have been able to go deeper into the third round than he did had he not made the call to end the fight. But why do that? What would be the point. A third round loss or a fifth round loss is still a loss. The one big difference being that Diaz took less damage in three rounds than he would have in five.

Diaz has been around the game to know what some see as bravery is sometimes nothing more than stupidity. Sure, he could have been “brave” and taken more of a beating from Lawler, but at what benefit? Would he make more money? No. Would he get a title shot? No. Knowing Lawler was the better man at UFC 266 and realizing and then admitting that going on would do nothing but get him hurt more than he already was, Diaz opted to do the wise thing. He admitted he was done and, in doing so, limited the damage by walking away from the fight.

 Nick Diaz punches Robbie Lawler in their middleweight fight during UFC 266
Nick Diaz punches Robbie Lawler in their middleweight fight during UFC 266
Photo by Louis Grasse/PxImages/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

That’s not quitting. That’s a smart decision. The fight game eats its own, and it allows too many fighters to go out on their proverbial shields. Diaz, knowing his health and future are more important to him than what the slavering masses think of him, was smart enough to save himself more damage. That’s admirable, and that’s something other professional fighters and the men and women who coach and corner them should note. Sometimes the smartest and safest thing to do is admit defeat, regroup and live to fight another day.

Nick Diaz has accomplished a great deal in his MMA career. If that career ended on Saturday night, it’s a career Nick Diaz, no matter what his thoughts on the fight game might be, can be proud of. And if Nick Diaz, in waving off his fight with Robbie Lawler convinces other fighters and corners they don’t have to needlessly risk their health (more than they already do as fighters) for the approval of fans and promoters, that might go down as the most substantial mark he makes in MMA history.

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