Posted 03/04/2014 by Jesse Scheckner in Featured Fighter
 
 

The Diaz Brothers – Early 2014 Edition

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Nate Doesn’t Do Nice

Following his absolute destruction of Gray Maynard at The Ultimate Fighter 18 Finale on November 30 last year, Nate Diaz appeared discontented. Maybe part of it had to do with the fact that the guy who he’d just knocked out got paid $45,000 while he only earned $30,000. Even before that, however, Nate – no stranger to eschewing traditional (read: homogenized) interview conduct – ignored all of John Anik’s post-fight questions and instead dropped these shimmering gems:

“I don’t know what kind of motherfucking show this is, man. Like, my motherfuckers are acting silly…Just so everybody knows, the number one and two lightweights in the world are right here, in me and my man (Caesar Gracie Jiu-Jitsu teammate Gilbert Melendez) right here.

“My man beat Ben Henderson for the title, and for some reason they let Anthony Pettis fight him. So you and Thomson better man up and get with me and my boy right here, because this is our division. We gonna beat your all’s asses, that’s what’s up.”

Melendez had won a candidate for “Fight of the Year” when he worked out a three round decision over the ultra-durable Diego Sanchez a little over a month earlier. Many at the time were unaware that it was the last bout on his three-fight contract with the UFC and that he was a free agent when he cornered Nate for the Maynard fight, along with Nate’s brother Nick.

…But more on both of them later.

Nate was largely unheard from in all of December and most of January. His silence finally broke when, in the wake of Benson Henderson’s split decision victory over Josh Thomson at UFC on Fox 10, he let loose with this polemical run-on sentence:

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The “other motherfucker playing his Hollywood roll [sic] on the sidelines in his #sillyasssuits getting paid to sit there and state his bullshit opinion like anyone gives a fuck,” who Diaz suggests has pulled out of half of his fights in his thus-far two-year tenure with the organization, is none other than current UFC lightweight champion Anthony Pettis, who currently is sidelined with a torn posterior cruciate ligament (PCL) in his left knee.

“Showtime” will be reentering this discussion soon enough.

 

Enter the Eagle

Remember Gilbert Melendez? Well, before contract renewal negotiations became hostile, he was on tap to face undefeated Russian sensation Khabib Nurmagomedov  at UFC 170. When things behind the scenes began to look like they weren’t going to work out, the fight was scrapped and “The Eagle” was left without an opponent.

Numagomedov had recently spoken about his intentions to face Melendez, Diaz and, finally, Pettis for the title, so when the Melendez fight fell through, the UFC offered the bout with Nurmagomedov to Diaz.

UFC president Dana White claimed Diaz said, “no.”

A day later, the younger Diaz had this to say:

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This was quickly getting ugly.


“El Nino” Hits the Jackpot

During this time, Gilbert Melendez and his representation were deeply entrenched in contract negotiations with the UFC, and things were looking bleak. White, in what could be perceived as an attempt to rein in the egos and aspirations of those sitting across the proverbial table from him, suggested they look elsewhere for employment; he was done talking with them.

Melendez responded by calling their bluff and signing with Viacom’s Bellator Fighting Championship, an organization with whom White has had a long-running antagonistic relationship. Major and minor MMA media sites alike picked up on the development that suddenly the #2 lightweight in the world would be with someone else, and not just anyone else – he’d signed on with an organization whose president, Bjorn Rebney, Dana White deeply despised.

The ball, for all shapes and purposes, was in the UFC’s court.

Making use of their matching clause, the UFC enticed Melendez back with an unprecedented reception package; he got the contract he wanted and a coaching gig on The Ultimate Fighter 20 (a season featuring an all-female cast – the first in the show’s history – that will end with crowning the inaugural UFC strawweight champion) opposite Pettis, who he will face afterwards for the lightweight strap near the end of 2014.

The announcement was made on Sunday, February 23. Three days later, Nate Diaz tweeted this:

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Some have since put into question the tweet’s sincerity, pointing to the question mark at the end. Perhaps Nate is showing a side we’ve never seen before: Nate the gagster, the sarcastic rabble-rouser who’s fishing for a few laughs at his own expense.

This, of course, is about as ridiculous as it sounds.

Two possibilities are far more likely:

1. Nate – who has been trying to renegotiate his contract with the UFC for months – saw how well things worked out for his buddy Gilbert and decided to give that route a go, completely taking for granted the fact that, unlike Melendez at the time of his negotiations with the organization, he is still currently under contract, meaning that the UFC, by and large, is holding onto all the chips.

The best case scenario for him here would be for the UFC to ignore his request and schedule him against a suitable opponent who will pave a clear path for him back to title contention. The worst, of course, is that they grant his wish and shitcan him.

2. He realized that there would be little room for him in the title picture at lightweight if Melendez wound up beating Pettis and, were he to move up, he may find himself getting in his brother’s way, as Nick has recently thrown his hat into the Octagon for the first time since his loss against Georges St-Pierre almost a year ago. With nowhere to go where he currently stands, it makes sense, in some way, to want to look elsewhere, even if it’s clearly a step down in grandeur.

The best case scenario for Nate here would be for the UFC to just let him go and try to stake his claim in another league with the possibility of a return sometime down the line. Conversely, the worst case scenario would be the opposite, then: making him stay within their ranks until his contract runs out, a makeshift gatekeeper kept stagnant by his allegiances.

 

The Prodigal Son Returns

“I’m the number one draw in this weight division, that’s just the way it is. I win by submissions, knockouts… There’s guys ranked above me, but no one is interested in seeing them fight. They want to see me fight. You want to make a good fight, this’ll be a good fight.

“I’m not sure what the UFC’s agenda is when it comes to me. It’s their show, their press. They can change to whatever they want to do at any point. They own this thing. They can do whatever they want. If they don’t want this right now, they don’t have to do it. It’s more about the fans wanting this.

“People aren’t stupid. You can’t ignore their real, ultimate understanding. They know what’s going on. It’s mixed martial arts. The real fans of martial arts understand intuitively. There’s a connection with me. You know when I fight, I’m going to sell out the show. Everyone wants to see someone get knocked out or tapped out.”

-          Nick Diaz in a February 25th interview with the L.A. Times’ Lance Pugmire.

 

Keep an eye out cageside for Nick Diaz on March 15th at UFC 171: Hendricks vs. Lawler. Nate’s big brother will be watching intently, hoping to wedge his way into a welterweight title picture that, for the first time in what feels like forever, is no longer ruled over by a seemingly indomitable obsessive compulsive French Canadian.

Now, nobody believed Nick when he quit in the center of the Octagon almost a year ago. We just chalked his announcement up to him being caught up in the moment, dejected in loss and frustrated knowing that the only direction he had to go was down. We all knew he’d be back, and here he is, being all Nick Diazy about things.

Now it’s just a matter of what to do with him.

Nick is right about one thing – he gets people’s attention. According Tapology, UFC 158: St-Pierre vs. Diaz was the ninth-highest earning pay-per-view in UFC history, falling just short of a million buys. Furthermore, it was St-Pierre’s best pay-per-view card in his history with the organization (comparatively, UFC 167: St-Pierre vs. Hendricks pulled in a meager 625,000 buys). Considering Dana White has stated on numerous occasions that St-Pierre is a bigger PPV draw than Brock Lesnar (and in total buys overall, this assertion is not incorrect), this only bolsters Nick’s position that, in a time where the UFC is in need of a name to put its product behind in the vacuum created by St-Pierre’s and Anderson Silva’s absence, they would do well to consider his request.

Diaz’s position that he’s a better draw than any of his welterweight contemporaries isn’t currently far off the mark. UFC 143: Diaz vs. Condit, which sold 400,000 buys (his only other headlining PPV card, 2011’s UFC 137: Penn vs. Diaz, did 280,000) is the best-selling event in the modern UFC era headlined by a welterweight not named Hughes or St-Pierre.

Consider that for a moment – Nick Diaz is the only non-titlist welterweight fighter in the UFC roster thought to be a large enough draw by the UFC brass to justify having him headline two pay-per-view cards in non-title fights.

UFC 171: Hendricks vs. Lawler may prove to be a game-changer in many ways, and Diaz’s bargaining leverage all depends on how well the card performs. If it fails to draw buys comparable to his bout with Condit, he’ll likely apply more pressure (in ways only a Diaz brother can) and Dana and the Fertittas may wind up giving him the Chael Sonnen treatment. If the card performs well, however, he’ll be left with little to work with that he doesn’t already have, and even some of that will be diminished by the UFC’s success without him.

It still is important to keep in mind, however, that top ten welterweights like Carlos Condit, Jake Ellenberger and Matt Brown all have fan-pleasing striking-based styles, they all finish fights regularly and none of them have the contrarian attitude that made working with Nick Diaz such a headache for Dana and the rest of the UFC brass. Furthermore, relatively new additions to the division, such as Tarec Saffiedine, Tyrone Woodley, Kelvin Gastelum, Gunnar Nelson, Stephen Thompson and Brandon Thatch, have rejuvenated the weight class, making it the most interesting it’s been in quite some time.

 

 


Jesse Scheckner

 
A freelance MMA, entertainment and business journo born, raised and residing in Miami, FL, Jesse Scheckner is a former semi-serious musician, cinephile and recovering ne’er-do-well committed to nonfiction storytelling. He is the 2014 Florida MMA Awards "Best MMA Media Correspondent" winner and a two-time Miami New Times "Best Of" winner. Follow him on Twitter @JesseScheckner to talk about the stuff he writes about with him.