“I don’t want to do this shit. I’m stuck in this shit. If my situation was better and I could throw some money down on a nice house then, yeah. But I don’t even know what the hell a lot of money is…”
“People try to come talk to me thinking I’m violent. People are confused. I’m not violent. I don’t want to hurt people. I don’t love doing this…I just love jiu-jitsu because it works, because it makes you stronger and smarter.”
“In the fight world, it’s really a big great, cool thing but in the real world that I live in [in Stockton], I walk down the street like a fucking ghost. Nobody knows who the fuck I am…”
“I never had any confidence. You know, you’re gonna make this assumption that I have all this confidence and call me ‘cocky’ but I’m fighting for my life. That’s why I have a serious look on my face.”
“I already wasted my life doing this shit and I’m pissed off about that much. And the reason why I go out and fight and the reason why I lose – I don’t have a clue.”
Complex character Nick Diaz revealed to me in 2011 that he resented fighting, felt imprisoned within his sport, and insisted there is nothing to love about it. But he would fight on regardless.
THE decorated mixed martial artist from California, now 28, faces George St-Pierre in the most high-profile contest of his career on October 29 in Las Vegas.
Yet he is ambivalent. He wishes to defeat the best. But he finds media work, the hype and promotion, testing. It irks him.
I managed to get to him early. What Diaz revealed about himself is both staggering, and deeply admirable. He remains a compelling character.
Those around him – his training partners Jake Shields, Gilbert Melendez, his brother Nathan and spiritual leader and coach Cesar Gracie – insist to a man that this is the ‘real’ Nick Diaz. Honest to the bone, frank to the point of pain.
After leaving Cesar Gracie’s Jiu-Jitsu centre in Pleasant Hill, 40 miles outside San Francisco, after an enlightening afternoon spent around Diaz, Franz Kafka’s The Castle springs to mind.
Diaz is clearly a highly intelligent, fascinating man, at times in our talk at odds with himself, and beguilingly honest. At times, it makes painful listening.
Yet it is easy to comprenhend why most MMA fans both admire and feel an empathy with the mixed martial artist from Stockton, who has had a rough, tough existence, and is living proof of that in his fighting style.
Combining boxing with a love of jiu-jitsu, and its philosophy (he turned to your correspondent at one point, and eyeing my paunch, suggested that I too could benefit from some jiu-jitsu and a gluten-free diet. He’s right, too) Diaz bares his soul every time he fights.
In almost twenty years of writing about fight sports, and meeting its protagonists in moments of calm, covering them close to fights, and just afterwards, never have I felt so disarmed by a man whose motives for fighting apparently eat away at him.
Back to Kafka, the German writer and philosopher. As I headed to San Francisco airport, mulling over the relaxed nature of Cesar Gracie, and his Scrap Pack team with their nefarious attitudes, but how their pack mentality is innate and mutual, thoughts were shrouded by The Castle.
In the novel by Kafka, its protagonist, known only as ‘K’ [think Nick Diaz], struggles to gain access to the mysterious authorities of a castle who govern, for some reason, the village that he lives in.
It is a dark, and, at times, surreal work, The Castle expounding theories on human alienation, our subjugation through bureaucracy, and the endless frustrations of man’s attempts to stand against the system, which ultimately becomes the futile pursuit of an unobtainable goal.
It mirrored Diaz’s words. He has the authorship of his fights, but ultimately feels he is unable to control his destiny.
Here’s exactly why these sentiments arose. It comes when we have been speaking for 15 minutes. He has been intimating that he hankers after a simple life.
“Yeah,” says Diaz, looking away into space in that way of his. Then he looks back, his nostrils flared. “No. I don’t want to do this shit. I’m stuck in this shit. If my situation was better and I could throw some money down on a nice house then, yeah. I don’t even know what the hell a lot of money is. I don’t have time to go back and learn that shit. I’m too busy. There’s a reason I’m good at what I do because I’m not focussed on that shit. I’m focussed on what I’m doing and I’m not changing that.”
“I’m not changing what works, fighters don’t do that. I’m into science and the science of fighting. That’s why people try to come talk to me thinking I’m violent. People are confused. I’m not violent. I don’t want to hurt people. I don’t love doing this…I love jiu-jitsu because it works, because it makes you stronger and smarter. I even think you should do jiu-jitsu. You’d be more healthy and you’d have more insight, kids should do it too and be more healthy.”
It has taken Diaz some time to sit down for this tete-a-tete. It leaves plenty of time to observe him. Earlier, at the back of the gym, away from the mats, Diazhas taped his hands, and is pulling on his headguard as he prepares for 9 three-minute rounds of sparring in a ring.
The sweltering heat of the California suburb of Pleasant Hill makes it a sweat session, yet Diaz is in the zone, choosing his moments to attack with perspicacity against three sparring partners.
He fights in a Picaresque manner, part rogue, part abandon, part masochist, but when he decides to go to work, he is both clinical and brutal.
Fearsome, yet fearless. Flared nostrils, that sneer etched across on his face. It looks like disdain. It is, in fact, focus.
Timing is everything. He claps those gloves together when he goes to work, responds like a champion when he is hit, and never, ever, takes his eyes off his opponent. There is no bluff with Nicholas Robert Diaz.
There are moments during the four hours I spend there, having been invited there by Cesar Gracie, that an interview with Diaz looks off limits on this day.
There is a reluctance from Diaz at first. Reluctance to engage. He is deep in concentration, doing what he is does best, and nothing will distract him, not least a pesky media man from England.
Perhaps FO Magazine had come on a bad day; or maybe it’s a normal day. Mr Diaz is not sure he wants to divulge too much.
“Talking about how I’m doing, you know, and this and that, that’s not what I do. You know, I rely on stuff that I train and cover everything and I’m technically better. I don’t have to say ‘Oh, I know I’m gonna win or you know, I’m gonna do it’, you know, I don’t do that bullshit. I’m all prepared. I’m all pumped up to be honest. I’m not gonna say ‘I love this shit or I hate this shit’. This is just what it is, you know. I love jui-jitsu, of course, but I hate fighting for a prize when someone says ‘go’. But I’m not gonna not take the money of course.”
MMA fans find Diaz, his views, and his skills, of serious interest. “That’s what’s going on, though. That’s it. That’s all there is to tell. I try to explain to people that there’s nothing to say, you know. I have a conversation with somebody and they say well what do you like to do, well this is what I do. I get paid [to fight] and that’s that.”
Arguably, there is a sense of self-loathing in his fighter’s mask, and when we do converse, 90 minutes later, there is a filter-less torrent of words, a stream of honest consciousness, from a thoughtful man. Maybe a man who thinks too much.
Diaz spars nine rounds, intense, taking punishment, opening up, switching between southpaw and orthodox.
Outside in the shopping mall where Cesar Gracie’s gym has been set up for over a decade, the car park in the quad is half full. A quiet solitude resides. Gracie himself, marked by the signed of the triangle, and bearing the weight of a name thick with MMA history from Brazil, begins taking a class of around twenty jiu-jitsu practitioners. Outside, the nail salon and the Honda sushi bar on one side of the gym, and The Tug Boat Fish and Chip shop on the other, do a little passing trade.
Diaz pulls off his headguard, a rebel with a cause, almost Faustian, trapped in a life he can neither fully fulfil or even escape from.
Many aficionados will wish that Diaz can upset the applecart (and half of Canada) by defeating St Pierre in the autumn in the world’s fight capital.
The UFC’s corporate uber-champion versus the scruffy cousin from Stockton.
It is one of those fights: head says St Pierre, but the heart beats strongly for underdog Diaz.
* * * *
Back near the ring, Diaz has slipped between the ropes, and session over, takes to the mat with training partner Shields.
They grapple intricately from bottom to top, vice-versa, in guard, a strength-sapping struggle for 30 minutes.
Soaked in perspiration, their garments are wringing wet. Then we talk again…
When we sit down, it is on two plastic chairs in the middle of the gym, along a wall, just next to the mat where the jiu-jitsu players have been working out.
The chairs are wet. Shields’s perspiration runs like a river from the floor at our feet and snakes down a drain a few feet away.
So, Diaz, the trash-talker during fights, fearless in the fighting arena, is he a cocky man ? “You know – people like to call me cocky and that I have a cocky attitude and that’s wrong, so wrong. I think that’s just the way it is because I think the word ‘cocky’ involves a smile. You think it involves a smile like when you say someone’s cocky, or has a cocky attitude. Do you think it’s because of the smile?”
He eyes me. Not in an intimidating way. Isn’t he quite a serious person ? “I think there’s a smiley, sort of happy, cocky player, who is confident. I have nothing like that. I never had any confidence. You know, you’re gonna make this assumption that I have all this confidence and call me ‘cocky’ but I’m fighting for my life. That’s why I have a serious look on my face.”
So is he misperceived by so many people ? “Ha, this is just how it is and I have to deal with it. It’s made things the way they are, for ten years. Some people might have just seen me but I’ve been fighting for so long. I been fighting since it [MMA] started.”
“The way I look at it, I’m gonna be 30. You know – I started fighting in the UFC when I was eighteen, nineteen.”
“You have people looking at Jon Jones, acting like he’s a teenager but he’s actually twenty-one, and I started before him.”
“I was younger and people don’t give enough credit for that. They’re just like ‘Oh, you’re just that guy who loses to wrestlers’…and I’m trying to preach this thing about how PRIDE FC was a great sport and it was way more geared towards mixed martial artists.”
“That’s just the way it is so you can talk all the shit you want about how you beat me or whatever, but I’m playing a game. I’m playing you’re stupid wrestling game and I’m talking shit, of course I’m talking shit, but you should be talking shit too bro.”
“You know I got people right now trying to talk shit about me because I said that the UFC sucks and all this is wrong ‘cos of all the wrestlers…
“I’m like ‘Hey, dude I know mixed martial arts …’ I’m the only one that’s around that’s able to say all that cos I can see that and I’m going to open my mouth…”
Speaking his mind is integral to Diaz. It gets him into trouble; it gets him out of it.
“Yeah, I’m not afraid to open my mouth. I’m not afraid to fight because how are they going to contradict me ? What, you have something to say just because you think I’m bitter cos I got taken down? Well you’re wrong bro… this isn’t the way it should be dude. This isn’t tactical mixed martial artists for like street fighting. You know, you go out onto the streets to fight with a guy the first thing you’re gonna do is try and push his face into the ground and then get up and step on his head and push away cos you don’t want the dude kicking you in the face.”
“You want to get up and cover up and move around and you’re not trying to hold somebody down. You wanna make some space for your own self cos you don’t wanna scratch yourself up. So you know, none of these guys that are trying to hold me could ever fight me out on the street. I’d beat the shit out of ‘em all over the ground. Not to mention, it’s just not as practical as the Pride FC used to be.”
“So I have a lot to say about that. I think fighters are talking shit and I’m not trying to make a fight out of that. You know those guys don’t have anything real to say about me they’re wrong and make themselves look bad as mixed martial artists. I don’t know if it’s cos the UFC say you gotta promote this fight or whatever.”
“I don’t know if that’s why people are talking shit about me. [With me] it’s much more logical, I can’t base my confidence on being pumped up, I’m confident in my technique.”
The team – the pack – must be important to him. “I’m like – kamikaze. If someone fucks with my team, I’m kamikaze for sure, 100 per cent. I couldn’t care less. I already wasted my life doing this shit and I’m pissed off about that much. And the reason why I go out and fight and the reason why I lose – I don’t have a clue.”
Diaz says he was moved around schools too much when he was young. “I was good at the things I was good at, but moving so much, I didn’t have a chance. Any kid that has to move schools that many times is going to be fucked up.”
“I’m not saying I was fucked up and I’m not saying I was on drugs. I’m not on drugs, I’m not stealing shit, ain’t hurting nobody. I don’t even need much, I don’t drive Cadillacs or fancy cars. This thing has taken a lot from me. I’m just trying to get paid so I can eat. I don’t have kids or stuff to take care of. I don’t want nothing. I work really hard, train really hard, I push myself another hour after the first one because the first one’s the hardest.”
“If you look at my life over a long term period I couldn’t give a shit. I honestly don’t know, if I got locked up right now I don’t know if I’d want to come back.”
“I’m coming in here every day – going ‘why the fuck am I doing this right now?’ I could be, like, fuck this whole thing.
Isn’t it being tested that drives him ? He dismisses this notion. “Err…no. I’ve been tested, I’ve been done, I’m sick of this wacky bullshit. I’m not about that.”
It all began with jiu-jitsu. “I was watching the UFC [as a kid] and watching Royce Gracie tapping people out and I was like ‘Man, if I could do that…’”
But he wants to talk about growing up, and being healthy. Diaz lives on a mainly vegetarian, gluten-free diet, espoused by Cesar Gracie. “I’m angry that I couldn’t have got started on good food from the beginning, because I live in a place where demand for good, organic food in general wasn’t there. We had cheap food. So I took over my household halfway through my childhood and I took over [the diet].”
Diaz was taken to swimming club as a kid by his mother. And to Aikido. “I was like five years old, I was an aikido student for a long time. I learned aikido and judo when I was a kid. At the same time I had martial arts movies, my dad and my sister used to have them and I used to plug them in an watch them.”
“I never had anything. I didn’t have any money to ride motorcycles like the other assholes so I never had that shit; you know no-one ever taught me how to drive…”
But he knew how to drive…? “Yeah,” Diaz chuckles. “You know, I didn’t get my license till I was twenty. So I was fighting and training, I had a girl that was taking me to practice and this whole MMA fighting thing screwed that up but that was a good thing and then the next time I ended up in another relationship that went on for a really long time and that all went to shit cos of this [the fighting] too. You know this might not seem important stuff to someone else but that was really important to me, that kinda shit was really important to me and this whole thing fucked all that up an I never made a lot of money and this was never anything impressive to anybody in real life. In the fight world, it’s really a big great, cool thing but in the real world that I live in, I walk down the street like a fucking ghost nobody knows who the fuck I am…”
He is talking of Stockton, where he grew up. “And if they do know me, they don’t fucking say nothing because they’re stuck up a little bit, well not stuck up, but you know…”
For the record, Stockton has a poor rating in the United States. In the February 2, 2011 issue of Forbes, the magazine gave Stockton the dubious distinction of being ‘most miserable’ US city, largely as a result of the steep drop in home values. Central Connecticut State University surveys from 2005 and 2006 ranked the city as the least literate of all U.S. cities with a population of more than 250,000. According to a Gallup poll, Stockton was tied with Montgomery, Alabama for the most obese metro area in the United States of America with an obesity rate of 34.6 per cent.
How does Diaz view Stockton now ? He still lives there. “The more I travel thinking I’m gonna find somewhere I like, I realise I like it at home. People don’t be getting road rage and shit. They don’t wanna fuck with you. You don’t get fucking followed to the front door of your house you know, some fucker following you home and shit. You don’t do that shit [in Stockton]. You can go home and forget it, you don’t fuck with people so when shit goes down it goes down so that’s why when someone starts talking shit to me I reach out and slap the fuck out of them cos I’m ready and people understand that. I’m like ‘hey, what the fuck, that’s how it works bro.’”
How does he feel about younger brother Nate being involved in MMA. Nickbrought his livewire younger brother in under his wing …
“I wasn’t a wrestler like a lot of those other guys and my brother’s in it cos of me – and that’s it. I’m not saying that he’s made it as far as he has cos of me but maybe he wouldn’t be an MMA fighter if I wasn’t doing the training and putting it right in front of him to do.”
“Not that I pushed him into it, I’d hate to be that but at the same time…it’s just fucked up weird having a brother in this too. I could do without all this shit that’s what I’m saying.”
“I don’t need nice cars. I don’t spend big money. All I do is buy food and train and try to live healthy.”
“Training’s taught me how to live and I don’t need much now. Like I said, anything’s better than what I’ve been going through. Maybe it’d be better to be locked up in prison. This is like prison, I’ve been trapped in this prison, and after every fight there’s another… See, you don’t understand. When you get outta jail, that’s what it is… if I fight the fight, I win, I get out, I get off a little while and then get locked back up…”
“Look, a lot of time it’s been nice, and even though I’ve been overworked and over-fought and they haven’t told me who I’m fighting next…”
But there has been plenty of warning for the title match with GSP, for which Diaz has been obliged to surrender the Strikeforce welterweight title he has defended three times.
Surely he is looking forward to the GSP challenge? “ No. If I fight, I lose, no matter what, win or lose. If I fight. Period. I don’t look forward to anything like that [the GSP fight]. I look past that, like Holy Shit… if I win that shit I’m fucking stuck in this game…” Perhaps like Kafka’s ‘K’, the biggest battle for Diaz is the one with himself. And it is a fight he is beginning to win.