Not placing Nate Diaz or his brother, Nick, on Saturday night's UFC 209 card was a golden marketing opportunity that went up in smoke.
That point was hammered home to UFC officials Friday as they staged a public weigh-in revealing the unfortunate news that top-rated lightweight Khabib Nurmagomedov fell ill as he tried to make weight for the co-main event fight against Orange County's Tony Ferguson.
Precisely at that time, the Diaz brothers, who swear a fierce allegiance to their hometown, Stockton, and the 209 area code, conducted a meet-and-greet event with dozens of fans at a local marijuana dispensary.
And keeping with their popular, rebellious reputation that helped fuel interest in Nate Diaz's gripping, record-selling UFC 202 bout in August against Conor McGregor, Friday's appearance was filled with unfiltered talk.
"It made so much sense," Nate Diaz said of fighting at UFC 209. "I wasn't sad. I feel like they were put off by it, like they were saying, 'We don't need you.' They didn't even ask. I'm like, 'Well, that's a big ball drop for you guys. Look at your card.…'
"They don't want us any bigger than we are, they try to shut us down."
The friction between the Diaz brothers and UFC President Dana White is long and storied. White fumed when Nick Diaz skipped media commitments connected to his welterweight title shot against Georges St-Pierre, and he stormed out of a meeting before UFC 202 when Nate argued for more purse money.
But there's no denying the mixed martial arts fans' interest in the brothers, who are strongly schooled in boxing and jujitsu and committed to a training regimen that includes triathlons while personifying the anti-authority culture that a core of the fan base embraces.
"I don't know what it is," Nate Diaz said of their strained relationship with the UFC. "I'm still here after all the holding back I've been through. And my brother. We've fought everybody, did everything and they're saying I'm still the most troubled?
"I'm not a white boy with blue eyes. I'm not great-looking. I'm not the look they're going for, but I'm like, 'This is fighting … you don't go for a look. You go for the baddest … that's out there.'
"People who treat it like it's a business, wearing a suit, acting a certain way, like [UFC 209 welterweight title fighters Tyron] Woodley and [Stephen] Thompson — they're so … boring. You guys are acting in a certain way you think you should be acting to be professional, but the best example of a professional fighter is me and my brother. … We'll fight whoever you want."
The Diazes' well-known interest in smoking marijuana, which resulted in Nate's being scolded for puffing on a vape pen containing cannabis oil during his UFC 202 post-fight news conference, is what makes them genuine to their fans.
On Friday, nearly 18 months after Nick Diaz was suspended from fighting for five years by the Nevada State Athletic Commission — a punishment that arose from his testing positive for marijuana and was later dramatically reduced — the brothers appeared at the Blum cannabis dispensary near the Las Vegas Strip in a state that legalized marijuana use in November.
Orange County's Derek Peterson, chief executive of Blum's parent company, Terra Tech Corp., said he's seen "several" professional athletes purchase his product in stores in California and Nevada.
"We've got a drug that's showing a tremendous amount of advocacy for a variety of ailments and there's not a lot of professional athletes who are willing to step up and say something," Peterson said. "They're doing so under the shadows of night. It's about who's willing to speak up. It's about showcasing a lack of concern the [sports] leagues have about taking a hard look at the science and data of this product rather than just passing on a gateway-drug, stigma type of mentality."
Peterson said he smoked to help relieve the pain of a broken neck suffered in a surfing accident.
The canceled Nurmagomedov-Ferguson fight, which was for the interim lightweight championship, could improve Nate Diaz's position for a third fight in the fall with lightweight champion McGregor, whom he stopped by second-round submission in March 2016.
Diaz said he's unsure what will transpire, but he made a point of noting that his August fight against McGregor had more pay-per-view buys than UFC 205, the debut card in New York that featured McGregor-Eddie Alvarez and Woodley-Thompson.
"I bring the highest numbers with Conor," he said. "They worked hard on New York, and I beat that by myself with McGregor.
"I've been a game-changer. … Everybody's following me now, demanding the money fight."