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UFC 244: Nate Diaz doesn’t have to fight, but what would he do?

UFC fighter Nate Diaz
Nate Diaz remains as unpredictable as ever even ahead of his fight against Jorge Masvidal on Saturday at Madison Square Garden at UFC 244.
(John Locher / Associated Press)

Nate Diaz is always ready for a fight, no matter who the opponent is.

It could be UFC President Dana White one day, an anti-doping official the other. It could be his next foe, Jorge Masvidal on Saturday, or even himself, as he did through a self-imposed three-year ban.

The no-nonsense Diaz (20-11) started his career in combat sports as a ninth grader after squabbling in local Stockton parks, as nearly a 100 people watched, and on Saturday, he’s graduating to Madison Square Garden in New York, a locale where only a select few can headline, to mark UFC’s 500th event when he takes on Masvidal (34-13) for the inaugural and appropriately named BMF title.

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The R-rated acronym (“Baddest ... ") is not-made-for-print, much like Diaz’s explicit speech, but the championship belt appropriately embodies the essence of Diaz, an MMA mainstay since the age of 19 who proudly represents his economically depressed city and never backs down from confrontation.

“I don’t ever have to fight again. I didn’t have to fight a long time ago. But what am I going to do? I don’t like not fighting,” said Diaz, who returned to the octagon for the first time since 2016 when he beat Anthony Pettis by decision in August.

“It’s self destructive fighting, and it’s self destructive not fighting, so kill or be killed. I don’t want to do this ... at all but sitting back watching someone else do it does not come from me.”

Just as Diaz and his career have never followed a straight line, neither did his path to Masvidal. Last Thursday, Diaz declared he was dropping out of the fight due to an adverse finding by the United States Anti-Doping Agency (USADA) in a pre-fight drug test taken earlier this month.

Conor McGregor says he will return to mixed martial arts with a UFC fight on Jan. 18 at T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas.

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Diaz was adamant he’d done nothing wrong, and wanted his name to be cleared immediately, going as far as alleging that the UFC purposely tainted his tests. Twenty-four hours later, he had support from Masvidal, White and a slew of others and it was ruled that he’d not committed an anti-doping policy violation, because the vegan fighter had fallen victim to a contaminated supplement.

Seconds before he spoke to a huddled group of reporters to further explain the situation Thursday, Diaz grabbed a bottle of water as if to take a sip and said, “There better not be steroids in here.

“This is warfare. They were telling me ‘I’m on drugs.’ I told them, ‘No I’m not, fix your test,’ ” continued Diaz. “I continued taking my Whole Foods supplements, and I only eat out of the garden. I live by the code. Only the strong survive. I don’t need [performance enhancing drugs]. They messed up everything and what I believe in. It made me lose sleep at night, and it wasn’t fair. You ain’t ruining my whole legacy. I’m all natural. If we was cavemen, I’d be the hardest caveman out there.”

Even White, who has employed Diaz since 2007, is not sure how to handle the unpredictable Diaz at times.

“The last thing I try to do is figure out why Nate thinks the way he does,” said White. “I have no clue. This whole thing that happened with USADA … he thinks that we did that to him to keep him in check. This is a massive fight for us. The last thing we would do is mess with a fighter, but that’s the way he thinks. When somebody thinks that way, what do you do?”

“You know, I shouldn’t be getting into the details, but every time after a fight, relationships change with the whole company,” said Diaz. “I made all this happen. So the title is already mine. And I’m not trying to bust nobody out, but I feel like they need some type of leverage over me to keep me from being the ... king of the whole ... , you know what I’m saying? They have been the whole time. They live on me.”

White said he has a good relationship with Diaz despite the rough exterior that gives Diaz an uneven appearance and eventually raises even more questions than answers.

UFC 196: McGregor v. Diaz
Nate Diaz celebrates his win over Conor McGregor after their non-title welterweight fight at UFC 196.
(Wally Skalij / Los Angeles Times)

“Nate has this thing that people love about him. [He’s like] ‘I’m not doing what the man tells me to do,’ ” said White. “But he never actually really does it in a disrespectful way, or actually says it. Every time I see him, Nate’s one of the nicest guys you’ll ever meet.”

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After incessantly lambasting the UFC and White the last three years for not giving him the right fights and paydays he wanted following a thrilling win over Conor McGregor, Diaz emerged from a haze of marijuana smoke and a self-imposed hiatus this year to run through Pettis and has since resumed screaming from the mountain tops that he’s the best fighter in the world.

He defines the term “fighter” as someone who brings relentless pressure every second of the fight, throwing fists, legs, middle fingers and shouting expletives in no particular order. He’s not interested in a wrestling match or poking his jab toward a decision. The cardiac king who trains via triathlons prides himself on frenetic pressure that has earned him 15 post-fight bonuses, the second most in UFC history.

“When you give a real fight, all the attention is on you. That’s my fight every time,” said Diaz, a 6-foot southpaw who is a well-rounded Brazilian jiu-jitsu black belt with four wins by knockout, 12 via submission.

The UFC’s seventh-ranked welterweight is an antihero yet one of the biggest stars of the sport despite a crooked record and a lack of a championship. His fan base is so fervent that he can legitimately pull an audience from the counter-programmed Canelo Alvarez fight in Las Vegas as the Mexican boxer chases history.

Diaz believes he’s ready for the resurgent Masvidal, another all-action fighter who recently scored a five-second knockout over Ben Askren, the fastest in UFC history. Masvidal, a Cuban from Miami who grew up in street fighting competitions, will present the old school Diaz an East Coast versus West Coast challenge as if it were a 90s rap duel.

“I feel like I’m only getting stronger and better,” said Diaz, shortly before declaring “Westside!” at the end of his media session. “I was always train, train, train. The second I took three years off, everything started coming together with time.”

Should Diaz win the BMF belt, which cost $50,000 just to make, Dwayne “ The Rock” Johnson will bestow the strap to him immediately after.

White can’t determine what the unpredictable Diaz will do next should he come away victorious after UFC 244 — fights with Khabib Nurmagomedov and McGregor are always thrown around — but he’s undoubtedly certain the combat star values his respect and legacy over money no matter the decisions he makes, or the fights he picks.

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“His pay doesn’t suck, but it’s more than that for him,” said White. “Some guys act a certain way or have a schtick, but he’s 100% authentic. People know it, feel it and love him for his personality and his fighting style. They love that combination, and that’s what makes him so special.”


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