Why Diaz is being such an impossible Diaz

November, 1, 2011
11/01/11
3:19
PM ET
Mindenhall By Chuck Mindenhall
ESPN.com
Archive
TBDJed Jacobsohn/Zuffa LLC/Getty ImagesUp in arms: Nick Diaz isn't easily pleased -- even when things go his way.
Nick Diaz has never celebrated particularly well -- there’s too much to brood over, even in times of perceivable triumph.

Like the time he packed B.J. Penn up for an ambulance ride. That was a reluctant piece of business that he wanted nothing to do with. It didn’t stop the forces behind the curtain that are against him. Neither did the subsequent news that he’d been re-inserted into a title shot with Georges St. Pierre over Carlos Condit.

He peeked behind the curtain and saw that he was being cast as the bad guy on the spot for calling St. Pierre a faker. He saw through what was happening immediately. He knows exactly what we’re up to.

But at this point, Nick Diaz isn’t a bad guy -- and he’s never been one. He’s Nick Diaz. There’s a distinction. Bad guys are the notorious prodders who look to get under people’s skin; Diaz is just very protective of his version of reality. If he didn’t live in Stockton, Calif. among the riff-raff searching for lively cigarette butts on the sidewalks, he’d lose his bearings. When he goes on runs from his Stockton neighborhood into the nicer areas, he sees that people have fountains, yards and side yards with additional fountains. This peeves him on unfathomable levels; he thinks of slights and Floyd Mayweather’s millions and of people having their laugh.

That’s an active chip sitting there on his shoulder -- noteworthy because it’s a permanent fixture. He’ll never apologize for it. And that’s one of the reasons we love Diaz the man, or hate him -- it’s such a thin line. Where the fighter begins and the man ends, we don’t know. It’s possible they can’t be kept separate. There are those who can’t stand his contradictions and his disrespectful attitude. He’s either a martyr with the best boxing skills in MMA, or he’s a thug who can stuff a double-leg unlike some millionaires out there. As Walt Whitman said, “I contradict myself? Very well, I contradict myself. I am large. I contain multitudes.”

So does Diaz.

Which brings us around to the paradox -- Diaz wants nothing to do with those richer areas on his jogging route. Can you imagine him with a fountain? No. Diaz is best in the gutter looking up at the stars, because the gutter is his muse. It’s a kind of necessity, and we pick up on this and admire -- on some level -- his conviction. Those paranoias he harbors? They work as fuel to his drive, regardless of how he acquires them. And envy is just a word he uses for hunger.

How much of this is conscious we’ll never know, but Stockton is who he is, through and through. Diaz has plenty of money to move anytime he wants; he doesn’t acknowledge having a bank account, and maybe he shouldn’t. It’s not endless training that keeps him from browsing the market, it’s a gut feeling that he’s exactly where he needs to be for now. The street runs in him deep. We visit it vicariously when he tells us about it. And we have to, because no media will dare step foot in Stockton. (Though don’t tell writer Ben Fowlkes, who went to Stockton for a FIGHT! magazine assignment a couple of years ago and waited around for days for a Diaz who never showed).

Diaz is an iconoclast not because he’s trying to be, but because he can’t help it. For all the odds he beats, he sees them growing longer. He fights as a necessary evil. He wins, and it’s salt in the wound. Eh, you know what? It’s all as it should be.

As long as he’s mad at the situation, we’re dealing in vintage Diaz, the only one we know.

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