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A Salute to Nick Diaz: MMA’s Greatest Cult Hero

Nick Diaz may never fight again.

In what could only be described by Kevin Iole as a blatant “abuse of authority,” the Nevada State Athletic Commission handed down an unprecedented five-year suspension on the UFC veteran for his failed drug test from UFC 183 back in January. He was also fined a third of his purse.

The 32-year-old failed his drug test for marijuana for the third time and under instructions of his defense, “pleaded the fifth” for the entirety of his hearing. The NSAC unleashed its wrath on Diaz claiming he was a repeat offender who didn’t earn the respect of the commission.

Diaz’s attorney has vowed to fight the ludicrous suspension but if it is upheld, his fighting days may be over. This is tragic beyond words and a big blow to the MMA world. Diaz was one of the sport’s most influential and beloved icons.

The former Strikeforce and WEC champion was born in Stockton, California to a hard life. He trained in a variety of martial arts most notably Brazilian jiu-jitsu (under Cesar Gracie) and boxing. He would go on to be a very decorated pro fighter winning 26 of his 37 contests across major organizations with victories over many MMA greats.

He is the last man to fight and defeat former UFC light heavyweight champion Frank Shamrock, the only man to knock out current UFC welterweight champion Robbie Lawler and he submitted former PRIDE FC lightweight champion and legend Takanori Gomi in one of the most lauded MMA fights of all time (also the fight where he first tested positive for marijuana and his win subsequently overturned).

In 2008, Diaz went on an unbeaten 11-fight winning streak winning and defending the Strikeforce welterweight title before moving to the UFC to lay a beatdown on the legendary B.J. Penn.

He fought knockout artist Carlos Condit for the interim UFC welterweight title and while he lost a controversial decision, he made the usually aggressive Condit backpedal for most of the fight. He tested positive for marijuana for a second time in this fight.

He failed in his title bid against arguably the greatest welterweight fighter of all time in  Georges St-Pierre, though he managed to get a rise out of the stoic champion. And finally, he moved up to middleweight to take on and lose to the greatest MMA fighter of all time Anderson Silva.  Despite his shortcomings, Diaz is the first and likely last fighter to be able to boast at having fought the sport’s two greatest legends in back-to-back occasions (and being paid handsomely for both).

Diaz

Diaz fought the great Anderson Silva to a decision on UFC 183 (AP)

It’s a tired narrative but Nick Diaz embodied “rags to riches.” He had to overcome numerous hardships most notably his anxiety issues tied in with his marijuana use, something that has also grown him an intense cult following.

In the cage, he was known for his trash talking and taunting and his seemingly fearless persona. He left his hands down consistently even against lethal strikers in Condit and Silva and had the audacity to “sleep” on the greatest of all time. Diaz was a beautiful counter-striker often throwing a plethora of punching combinations and being pinpoint in accuracy as he showed when he stiffened Lawler with a well-placed jab to his jaw. On the ground, Diaz was a BJJ ace being able to use his long flexible limbs to seemingly pull a submission out of nowhere like his gogoplata against Gomi.

Diaz wasn’t a point fighter. He embodied the old school brawl-till-you-fall type of fighter (with no pun intended for his 2010 Strikeforce brawl and recent WSOF brawl) But beyond his fighting skills what made him such a memorable fighter was his out-the-cage persona: Nick Diaz the person, not Nick Diaz the fighter.

Diaz was raw, characteristically flawed and unashamedly true to his beliefs and this is what made him such a unique and fascinating individual. While he did have his fair share of haters and while he did at times, behave in an embarrassingly crude manner, he did so in his own authentic way. Colloquially, he was always “keeping it real,” unafraid to say what he really felt. In an age where pro athletes are media trained to speak like a politician, Diaz’s unfiltered opinions — whether they be about the ineptitude of judges, awkwardly worded pseudo-philosophies or an unflattering estimation of his opponent — echoed loudly through a hallway of athletes either afraid or uninterested to speak out.

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Diaz gives Condit a piece of his mind (AP)

He was a true person. Sometimes to a fault. He would constantly bemoan judges’ decisions regardless of how accurate they were. He never seemed to adjust to MMA’s scoring system and didn’t develop his wrestling defense well enough to at least keep the high-level wrestlers honest. But his greatest flaw may have been his compulsion to constantly play the “bad guy” — even in the face of the NSAC.

Diaz, who tried to apply for therapeutic marijuana use exemption failed to do so in time and may have been branded by the NSAC as petulant, making an example out of him. And within a span of 24 hours, the MMA world jumped to defend Diaz. His close friend, UFC women’s bantamweight champion Ronda Rousey slammed the NSAC for its unfair treatment. Former Olympic gold medalist and current flyweight contender Henry Cejudo is looking to boycott by not fighting in Nevada and UFC commentator Joe Rogan went on a Twitter tirade about the NSAC.

The fans have taken an online petition addressed to the White House to lift the NSAC suspension on Diaz, which has gained over 30,000 signatures as of today. The #FreeNickDiaz twitter hashtag continues to trend worldwide and fans across social media have stood up for their mistreated hero.

Nick Diaz is no saint and he is not a role model. But he is a fighter who is his own person. He is someone difficult to find in today’s day and age: an openly genuine person. He is a great fighter with a lengthy list of skills and achievements (and indiscretions). But most significantly, he is a character with one of the most loyal followings in all of pro sports.

If this injustice stays, the MMA world will sorely miss its greatest cult hero.

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