After his 10th straight win and third consecutive title defense against Paul Daley in what may have been one of MMA's greatest one-round fights, it seems fitting to take a closer look at one of our sport's most fascinating – and, at times, frustrating – figures.
I. Diaz is a man with the virtues of his faults. When it comes to stuff like showing up for media responsibilities or doing interviews (without threatening anyone) or doing any of the other little things that normal people take for granted, he struggles. When it comes to slugging it out against a man with the proven ability to knock people unconscious with a single blow – also known as the kind of thing most normal people could never do – he excels. The easy things are hard for him, and the hard things are easy. It's the same with his fighting style. The qualities that make him capable of brawling to a win over a guy like Daley are the same qualities that make him refuse to use his own ground game even when it might be the smarter choice. He never backs away from conflict, and yet he sees conflicts even when there are none. At least he's consistent.
II. Diaz is his own worst enemy. The biggest setbacks in Diaz's career – alienating the UFC, missing a title fight because he knew he couldn't pass a drug test, getting himself suspended for a brawl on live network TV, etc. – have all come as direct results of his own actions. He's followed bad choices with more bad choices, and seems to have learned shockingly little from them. Where might he be right now, and how much money might he have made, if only he could get out of his own way?
III. There's no one more exciting to watch in the welterweight division. In a weight class where the top ten is chock full of fighters who depend more on takedowns than haymakers, Diaz is a rare gem. The best part is, unlike some of the more one-dimensional strikers who try to talk every opponent into brawling as a way of hiding their own deficiencies on the mat, Diaz actually has a ground game. Even if he often chooses to ignore it.
IV. He just might be clinically insane. Where did he get the idea that he was going to be suspended after the Daley fight? How can he honestly believe that Strikeforce is trying to get him beat so they can get rid of him? Why does he seem so convinced that powerful forces beyond his control are constantly working against him? For a guy who complains about money so much, it's his own erratic behavior that has cost him thousands of dollars over the course of his career. If it were an act – or even something he could control – the financial implications alone probably would have convinced him to knock it off. This is a person who can't help himself.
V. The UFC needs Diaz. With Georges St. Pierre running out of fresh welterweight challengers, what could be better than a brash champion from another organization to come storming into the division with both middle fingers raised high in the air? He always puts on a show, and has a loyal fanbase that will follow him anywhere. In short, he's the kind of fighter the UFC can never have enough of.
VI. Diaz needs the UFC. He wants bigger paydays? The UFC has them. He wants a chance to cement himself as one of the all-time greats? The UFC has most of the top ten 170-pounders on lockdown. He's more or less cleaned out Strikeforce's welterweight class, and the UFC has the marketing machine to ensure that the whole world gets a chance to be baffled by Diaz's bizarre interview rants, and enthralled by his action-packed fights. Then everybody wins.
VII. Facts mean very little to Diaz. He says he's overworked, yet he fought three times in 2010, twice in 2009, and three times in 2008. Maybe he doesn't realize it, but that's pretty average. The last time he fought more than three times in a calendar year was 2006, when he was with the UFC. He also says he's underpaid, but he made $150,000 just to show up against "Cyborg" Santos in January. The next highest paid fighter from that same card was fellow Strikeforce champ "Jacare" Souza, who made $85,000. If Diaz is overworked and underpaid, then so is nearly every other fighter in MMA.
VIII. He's a fascinating example of what it looks like when a person follows his impulses, with no pretense or calculation whatsoever. Unlike GSP, who often seems to be a walking press release polished to the point of advertiser-friendly perfection, Diaz is uncensored and unfiltered. That has a certain appeal. Whatever you get from him, at least you know it's genuine, even if it's also immature or just plain ridiculous. Some people will be drawn to it and others will be repelled, but everybody has an opinion – sometimes several conflicting ones all at once. He evokes a reaction without being some pro wrestler comic book version of himself. People will always be interested in a person like that, if only because that kind of authenticity is so rare.