The marching orders for Nick Diaz’s second tour of duty in the Octagon were clear from the start. Before the start, actually.
“The problem with Nick Diaz is, Nick won’t play the game,” explained Dana White last January, five full months prior to Diaz returning from self-imposed exile in Strikeforce and inking a new deal with the UFC. “When Nick Diaz wants to play the game just a little bit, we’d love to have him back.”
There it was, simply put. Play the game. Toe the line. Make even the slightest effort to show us you want to be here, that you’re ready for this, and we’ll hand you the keys to the castle.
After running off an 11-1-1 record during the near-half decade he spent away, few people questioned Diaz’s credentials when he vacated his Strikeforce welterweight title in June and leapfrogged straight to the front of the line of the UFC’s 170-pound contenders. His abilities were not at issue; at least, not to those who’d paid attention to his evolution from mediocre mid-card performer to bonafide main event talent. If anyone had proven he belonged among the best fighters in the world, it was Diaz.
The million dollar question was: Could he deal? At 28 years old, was he finally equipped to handle the rigors of life as an MMA superstar?
Sadly, we got our answer on Thursday, as news trickled out that the Cesar Gracie Jiu-Jitsu fighter tested positive for marijuana in the wake of his unanimous decision loss to Carlos Condit on Saturday at UFC 143. As a result, Diaz will face disciplinary action from the Nevada State Athletic Commission, effectively scuttling the UFC’s frenzied plans to get him an immediate rematch with Condit for its interim welterweight title and give him yet another opportunity to find his way into a lucrative fight with Georges St. Pierre later this year.
The answer, emphatically, was no.
Now, perhaps we have final, definitive, comprehensive proof. To absolutely no one’s surprise, Diaz is not willing to play the game. Not even a little bit. Not even with the world’s largest MMA promoter bending over backward trying to make him one of this sport’s biggest attractions.
For those of us on the outside, the most tragic part is that we were all rooting for him.
I would wager that deep down, even Diaz’s strongest critics wanted to see him get it right this time. We wanted him to succeed not only because of his immense gifts and because it’s a joy to watch him fight, but because we empathize with his obvious personal pain. In a weird way, we relate to this guy who desperately wants to be understood, but can seemingly never find the words to say so.
Much has been written these past few months about why we can't seem to take our eyes off Diaz. The truth is, it's not because he's "crazy" or a "bad boy" or whatever unfortunate words we typically use to describe him. It's because many of us -- even if we don't want to admit it -- see parts of ourselves in him, and that makes it easy to want Diaz to rise above all the pressures and pain, and become the best in the world at what he does.
At least for now, however, that’s not going to happen. For now it’s easy to imagine that the "demons" (if that's what you want to call them) are getting the better of him. For now, it seems that awkward "retirement" he announced in the cage following his loss to Condit might actually stick; at least a little bit longer than we had hoped.
Diaz has been back in the UFC for all of eight months now and already he’s committed two offenses that probably would’ve gotten a less talented, less popular fighter released outright. He'd already dodged a bullet when the organization granted him a second chance after he no-showed a pair of prefight news conferences for a scheduled bout with St. Pierre at UFC 137. Now, he’s tested positive for this particular "drug of abuse" for the second time in his career, for the second time in the state of Nevada.
The first came in 2007 and turned his amazing second-round gogoplata victory over Takanori Gomi at Pride 33 -- at the time the biggest win of Diaz’s career – into a no contest. That was a little more than a year after he brawled Joe Riggs at the hospital in the wake of dropping a unanimous decision to the journeyman fighter at UFC 57. It was seven months before he began a four-year romp through the competition in smaller organizations, only to re-sign with the UFC in 2011 and notch a record of two major screw-ups in two actual appearances in the Octagon.
At this point you have to wonder how many strikes the UFC will give him. How many missed flights? How many hospital brawls? How many unsuccessful drug tests?
Though we all desperately want the opposite to be true, at this point we must admit that Nick Diaz is not in the lesson-learning business.
And if he isn’t ready to play the game by now, will he ever be?