The Diaz case, and the doors that open

February, 10, 2012
2/10/12
11:52
AM ET
Mindenhall By Chuck Mindenhall
ESPN.com
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Johny HendricksMark J. Rebilas/US Presswire
It’s been a whirlwind week in the UFC’s alt-title scene -- and it begins and ends with Nick Diaz.

For all his warts, Diaz had achieved a sort of cult status before his fight with Carlos Condit at UFC 143, and the terms of endearment were his alone. Innocent people who vaguely associate cannabis with the Donner party of the 1840s were starting to find warmth in his mean mugging. New York Giants quarterback Eli Manning was picking him to beat Condit, saying to the extent of his knowledge, “he’s a tough guy.”

This happens to be the universal perception that we tinker with. By the time Diaz’s second-grade teacher was cameoing on UFC Primetime, we were seeing Diaz in a different light. Or, younger in the same light. Either way, always a tough guy.

The thing everybody was growing to appreciate was this: Here was a truly unyielding person. The subtext was even better: Here was a human being.

None of that has changes in the aftermath of Diaz testing positive for marijuana metabolites after UFC 143. It’s the second time he’s tested positive in the state of Nevada, with the first occurring after he gogoplata’d Takanori Gomi at Pride 33 in 2007. That time, his THC levels were three-and-a-half times over the legal limit. If you are a fan of Nick Diaz, you are a fan of everything that goes into Nick Diaz, whether it’s heart, drive, contradiction or exotic subtances.

And if you were a fan of his a week ago and you aren’t today, you’re verging on hypocrisy.

That’s because this latest positive test isn’t so much news as it is consistency. Our perceptions may be fickle, but Diaz is still Diaz. His image doesn’t get hurt too badly for getting popped for marijuana again, even if his career spirals as a result. It’s not considered a performance-enhancing drug (though this can be contested); it’s a lifestyle choice that Diaz has never hid from. It’s illegal, and that’s what matters to governing bodies. What might not matter is the anticipated year-long suspension that the NSAC may impose. When asked, younger brother Nate Diaz texted ESPN.com that Nick intends to stay retired.

As crazy as it sounds, maybe Diaz really, truly is “through with this s---.” It would be par for the course for a guy who can’t be corralled into such nuisances as protocol and rules.

And with Diaz out of the picture, the welterweight division just as suddenly opens back up. Now it’s Condit’s decision to wait on Georges St. Pierre to fully recover from a torn ACL -- and GSP says that could be by November -- or defend the strap. Since Condit fought only once in 2011, it’s hard to imagine him catering to St. Pierre’s timetable, particularly when you look at how quickly he jumped at the Diaz rematch that was not to be.

Who benefits the most?
[+] EnlargeJohny Hendricks
Mark J. Rebilas for ESPN.comJohny Hendricks, left, might be in the right place at the right time again.

It could be Johny Hendricks, who has two things on his side -- timing and merit. It doesn’t hurt that he knocks people out with his big left hand, like he did to Jon Fitch at UFC 141. But Hendricks, who is riding a three-fight win streak, is ready to roll. So is Condit.

The monkey wrench could be Jake Ellenberger, who fights Diego Sanchez on Wednesday in Omaha. Should Ellenberger win, he too would have a case for a title shot. Remember that Condit and Ellenberger fought in 2009, a split decision so close that it would best Diaz-Condit in controversy if only the stakes had been as high. A rematch would do better business than no fight at all.

If Hendricks-Condit is made, there’s a chance that the UFC looks at Josh Koscheck-Ellenberger. Before Ellenberger signed on to fight Jake Shields, he was publically calling out Koscheck. This could be tabbed a No. 1 contender bout, even as St. Pierre rolls back into the fold.

The bottom line is, the division opens up to contenders that a couple of days ago it looked closed off to. And whomever it is that gets that shot can thank Diaz, who is the game’s greatest paradox.

For a guy who refuses to yield, at this point that’s all he can do.

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