The name Nick Diaz provokes a heated reaction, from his loyalest of fans to his most fervent of detractors. Some find him to be a refreshing alternative in an increasingly rehearsed and sanitized environment, speaking his mind in a world where fighters are advised ‘to play the game’ in order to become more marketable. Others find the “Stockton Slugger” to be a vapid embarrassment who behaves no better than a hired hooligan. Whatever your view nobody can deny that at just twenty-nine years old, Diaz has already had a career full of seminal moments that have made him one of the most mesmeric fighters in the sport today.
Here a just a few of Nick’s most important career defining fights -
1. The Jeremy Jackson connection – Some of you may be unfamiliar with the name, but Jeremy Jackson is a former fighter who will forever be intertwined with the career of Nick Diaz. When they first met, Diaz was an undefeated prospect who relied on his raw Jiu-Jitsu skills to quickly up-end opponents and dominate with strikes and submissions. But Jackson had his own trusted strategy; evading Diaz’s superior grappling and exposing his rudimentary stand-up to become the first and only man to legitimately finish Diaz with strikes (lost to KJ Noons via doctor stoppage due to a cut). It would have been a humbling experience for the Cesar Gracie prodigy but one that would serve as a lesson to him. In order to reach the top, he would have to become as comfortable standing as he was rolling on the mat. Diaz would subsequently have his revenge twice over, winning via TKO in the rematch and by armbar submission in the rubber match at UFC 44.
2. The Robbie Lawler upset – As Diaz squared off against the heavy-handed Lawler a decisive stoppage was not unexpected. However, most observing anticipated the brash young Diaz to be the sacrificial lamb and stepping stone in the career of the dangerous prospect Robbie Lawler. “Ruthless” was a scary striker who had won six of his eight fights by KO/TKO and was rapidly ascending the UFC welterweight division but no-one had informed Diaz of his supporting role as he went on to show a blatant disregard for Lawler’s reputation, teasing and taunting his bemused foe throughout the contest before, quite literally, handing Lawler his first and only knockout loss. Diaz had proven in spectacular fashion that he was now more than a gifted, yet one-dimensional Jiu-Jitsu stylist and could compete in all aspects of the game. It would not be the last upset of his career.
3. The Gomi Gogoplata – When Diaz got the call from PRIDE Fighting Championships to face non-other then their lightweight Champion in a non-title fight at 160lbs, he had once again been set up to be the fall guy. At the time “The Fireball Kid” was regarded as one of the best fighters in the world. In comparison Diaz had flitted in and out of various promotions, losing to bigger names like TUF alumni Diego Sanchez and former UFC lightweight Champion Sean Sherk. He had begun to resemble every bit the journeyman fighter who would never find a home in which to establish himself, nor the recognition bestowed to his peers. Yet in what many viewed as the ‘Fight of the Year’ Diaz survived a blistering onslaught by his Japanese counterpart, outlasting and submitting the PRIDE legend via Gogoplata to shake up the MMA world once again. The victory proved short-lived, as Diaz would later test positive for the banned substance marijuana, his win subsequently overturned to a no-contest and a six-month ban imposed, but few doubted Diaz as a worthy winner and his star had once again begun to rise.
4. Dethroning a King – When Strikeforce acquired rival promotion ProElite, it also inherited some of its finest talents and none more so then Nick Diaz who would make his Strikeforce baptism against none other than MMA pioneer Frank Shamrock. The heat between the two men was palpable; Shamrock had easily beaten Diaz’s trainer and mentor Cesar Gracie three years earlier and was every bit the distinguished elder statesmen, mischievously mocking his opponent in the build-up to the fight with sharp ripostes to Diaz’s clumsy rhetoric. The fight would be an entertaining yet one-sided affair, with Shamrock, in the twilight of his career, thoroughly beaten down by the younger man and sent into retirement. Diaz would go on to enjoy many memorable nights under the Strikeforce banner against the likes of KJ Noons in their much-anticipated rematch and Paul Daley in a highlight reel classic but the springboard toward those future triumphs was the defeat of a legend.
5. The Condit controversy - When Nick Diaz stepped in to face Carlos Condit for the interim UFC welterweight title at UFC 143, he had not lost in five years and was coming off a demolition of former UFC lightweight and welterweight champion BJ Penn. No longer the underdog it seemed as though the stars had finally aligned for the much-travelled Stockton 209 native, who would enter the bout as the heavy favourite but with Diaz things again proved unpredictable. He would go on to lose the bout via unanimous decision, a result mired in controversy due to the evasive tactics used by an opponent dubbed “The Natural Born Killer”, dividing fan opinion and prompting Diaz to prematurely announce his immediate retirement from the sport – a decision he would later renege upon. Diaz would again ‘piss hot’ for Marijuana metabolites and serve a one year ban imposed by the Nevada State Athletic Commission, scrapping any hope of an immediate rematch and a chance to unify the belts against the universally recognized champion in waiting, George St. Pierre.
The biggest fight of Nick Diaz’s career will take place this weekend at UFC 158 where he will once again play “heel” to the “face” of the sport George St. Pierre. The outcome may be uncertain but one thing is for sure – there is never a dull moment with one Nicholas Robert Diaz.