At a recent brunch in Anaheim, three of mixed martial arts’ top young performers, Jon Jones, Urijah Faber, and Nate Diaz, met the press and were asked what they might have become if they hadn’t followed the road to professional fighting.
Jones figured a job in law enforcement might have been his path in life. Faber talked about opening a restaurant or teaching (and becoming Spider-Man).
“I never really had a plan or a goal long-term,” he said. “I followed my brother (UFC vet Nick) into what he did. If I think about it now, I probably would have tried to get a black belt in jiu-jitsu and open a school. If that wouldn’t have come along, I didn’t have a plan beforehand.”
That’s probably because Diaz was destined to be what he is today, a fighter, a job that isn't on the curriculum at your local grammar or high school. Sure, you hear about people being made into whatever they eventually become, but when it comes down to it, you can teach someone to be a doctor or lawyer; to be a fighter, you have to be born with it, and Diaz certainly fits that bill. Even growing up in the tough neighborhoods of Stockton, California, martial arts was where the younger of the two fighting brothers found his solace.
“Did you ever see Double Impact?” asked Diaz, referring to the cult favorite starring Jean-Claude Van Damme. “I was the bad Van Damme. (Laughs) Nick could always do the splits and stuff.”
“(But) We always watched martial arts movies and did different karates,” he continues. “We were always into something new, and I remember when he started (jiu-jitsu), I was like I’ve got to find something to do too. I was younger and looking at other martial arts and asking people, but when Nick started showing me Royce Gracie videos, it was all about that.”
By 2004, Diaz wasn’t just one of Cesar Gracie’s most promising jiu-jitsu students, he was about to enter the world of pro MMA as well, and at the age of 19 he did so with a third round submission of Alex Garcia at WEC 12. His promoter that night was Reed Harris, the WEC’s General Manager.
“We always knew when we signed him that we were in for a good fight,” said Harris, who promoted four Diaz fights from 2004-2006. “We knew we weren’t gonna have a lot of laying around. He was always exciting and he always showed up to fight. I had a long relationship with his manager Cesar, and we never had any real problems. And if anybody ever hit me in front of them, I’d just point. (Laughs) He’s a great kid and he’s always shown me nothing but absolute respect, and I appreciate that about him and his brother.”
It’s a far cry from some people’s perception of Diaz, which is based on his all-business demeanor during fight week, but those who know him and have met him have nothing but good things to say about the 25-year old welterweight / lightweight prospect, and people did get to see a different side of Diaz in the lead-up to October 23rd’s UFC 121 bout.
In town to support his teammate Jake Shields, Diaz was able to relax a bit, meet with the fans and the media, and enjoy some of the fruits of his labor.
“I’m having a good time, doing some signings, some appearances,” he said on fight day in Anaheim. “Except back in the day when we were younger, I haven’t been to a UFC that I’m not fighting in. I’ve showed up to UFCs when they’re happening the day of, but I’ve never been there the week before, so it’s kind of a trip. There’s guys upstairs sleeping ready to go to war, and we’re down here running around doing stuff; it’s kinda crazy.”
Diaz chuckles, and you just know that if there was an emergency call for a 155 or 170 pounder to step in on a few hours’ notice, he would simply ask for someone to find him a mouthpiece and some trunks. Again, it goes back to having a fighter’s heart and instinct, and Diaz has both. But what’s allowed him to become a rising star in the UFC is his fighting talent, and with the exception of a couple hiccups in close losses to Clay Guida, Joe Stevenson and Gray Maynard, he’s shown that on any given night, he can give anyone in the game fits.
On New Year’s Day, his wait to get back in the Octagon is over, as he will take on Korea’s unbeaten Dong Hyun Kim in his third consecutive fight at 170 pounds. His two previous bouts in the division have been spectacular to say the least, as he halted veteran knockout artist Rory Markham in a single round at UFC 111 and submitted Marcus Davis in the third round at UFC 118 in August. But this finishing prowess is nothing new for Diaz, and not a response to his split decision defeat to Maynard in January. He’s just doing what he always comes to do.
“I’ve been like that from the beginning since I’ve been fighting,” he said, “you gotta try to take out everybody. I’m a little sharper and I had some good fights, but it’s just another weight class and different types of fighters.”
And as he reveals, he’s actually smaller at 170 than he was at 155.
“I stopped thinking about the diet and I could eat anything I want, so I walk around at 175,” he said. “And when I fight at ’55, I walk around at ‘85.”
Go figure. But no matter what he’s walking around at, on New Year’s Eve, he’ll check in at 170 and then get ready for war the next night against Kim (13-0-1, 1 NC), who is coming off an impressive win over Amir Sadollah in May.
“It was the guy they (the UFC) thought we should be fighting at this time,” said Diaz. “They’re the boss, Cesar, my manager, is the boss, and they just point me in the direction. He’s definitely a really good fighter, I’ve been watching him, he’s entertaining and it should be a good fight.”
A win would make Diaz 3-0 in the welterweight division, and would warrant an even bigger step up. That’s fine with him, though he doesn’t rule out a return to the shark-infested waters at 155 pounds. All he wants are big fights.
“After this fight I might even go back,” he said. “I pretty much want to fight where I can get the best fights.”
That’s fighter talk right there.