I'm not here to pile on Diaz. He has already earned himself quite a penalty by losing out on a huge payday as well as a chance to win the UFC welterweight championship from Georges St-Pierre. Both are things he said he wanted, but neither was enough to get him to step on a plane. I am here to add a little sanity to a bizarre situation.
While no one questions his fighting heart and gameness, he has never answered the questions of maturity, a problem intermittently reflected in his behavior over the years, which at various times has included missed promotional obligations, a hospital fight, a positive drug test, an in-ring brawl, and no-showing a mandatory drug test that cost him a title match.
Yes, believe it or not, this is the second major title fight that he's lost out on because he simply didn't show up.
The behavior of Diaz in missing press conferences in back-to-back days comes as no big surprise. Anyone in the media who has tried to interview Diaz in the past knows he is notoriously press averse. Most fans know that. His bosses definitely know that.
Yet a few months ago, when Diaz openly campaigned for bigger paydays and more major opportunities, UFC president Dana White had only one request: play the game. Work with me.
It seemed simple enough, but in the back of White's mind, he was never quite sure if Diaz was truly going to follow through with the promise.
It's easy to wonder what would cause someone in line for the biggest payday of his life to throw it away for no good reason. Maybe this is exactly what we wants. He's said in the past he doesn't love fighting. In fact, he hates it. Why else would he miss not one but three flights? Why else would he offer no explanation to his bosses, simply going AWOL? There's a basic disrespect underpinning that type of response. Even if he has legitimate issues that need to be addressed, you owe your bosses an explanation for absence.
It's telling that Diaz's longtime trainer and manager Cesar Gracie explained that Diaz suffers from social anxiety disorder, but that he still couldn't excuse his behavior.
That's because Diaz is 28 years old. He's a grown man, and has had the time, resources and support system to address his problems. It's not as if he never attended a press conference before. Sure, each time he did it begrudgingly, but at least he was there. Woody Allen once famously said that "80 percent of success is just showing up." Remarkably, the easiest part is sometimes the most difficult.
Many Diaz apologists have already protested the opponent switch; he's out, and Carlos Condit is in. But the UFC has a billion-dollar business to run, and they can't risk Diaz not showing up when it truly matters.
On a video released on Youtube on Wednesday night, Diaz never explained his absence, but says "I've never not showed up to a fight."
That's simply not true. In August 2009, Diaz no-showed a pre-fight drug test in the days leading up to his Strikeforce title fight with Jay Hieron. The fight was set, the title hung in the balance, and Diaz was nowhere to be found.
Does that scenario sound familiar?
That was exactly what White feared about Diaz in the past. Even when the UFC and Strikeforce were separate entities, White never spoke badly about Diaz, explaining that he simply wouldn't play by the rules.
But during his current streak of 10 straight wins, Diaz became too good to ignore. As a fighter, there is much to like about him. He is tenacious, aggressive, talented and full of heart. He has great fight instincts, and a finisher's mentality. He competes with a chip on his shoulder. There is always something to prove for him. It was that kind of drive that led to him to repeatedly ask for the opportunity that he was eventually granted.
White gambled. He believed Diaz. He took the chance that maybe he'd grown up.
When a fighter elevates himself towards the top, there are certain conditions that come with it. Many fighters don't enjoy doing the media rounds, but it is a necessary evil. He always talks about wanting to make Georges St-Pierre money, or Floyd Mayweather money, but ignores the fact that both of those stars are out in front of the camera, selling the fight up until showtime. It may not be fun, but it's how you get paid.
Diaz will somehow rebound from this. He's still young, he's still good, and he's still in demand. In the long run, the experience may even come to help him. In the best-case scenario, he will learn from his mistakes and mature. In the worst-case scenario, it will pull his fans in closer. There will always be a certain counterculture vibe to MMA, and he might as well be its patron saint. Too good to lose, and too wild to be corralled.
Nothing lasts forever though, and unless something changes, Diaz is likely to be remembered as a hell of a fighter, and a terrible businessman.
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