Stop me if you’ve heard this one. Nick Diaz fights in Las Vegas, does his usual schtick enlarging his fame among his diehard fans and leaving the rest of the MMA world slightly confused, but intrigued. Then the drug-test results come back, and suddenly he has a real problem that won’t go away. Not without a suspension and a fine, in all likelihood.
For the second time in his professional career, Diaz has been busted for marijuana use by the Nevada State Athletic Commission. The first was back in 2007, when his spectacular submission win over Takanori Gomi at PRIDE 33 was changed to a no contest after Diaz turned in a urine sample with THC levels that would make Willie Nelson blush.
Fast forward five years, and it’s the same story, only this time in the UFC, and at a time when he can least afford it.
If you were surprised to learn that Diaz has a bit of a thing for weed, I have some news about Ernest Hemingway and booze that may shock you. If, like most of us, you already knew that Diaz liked a puff from time to time and just assumed he’d gotten better at fooling the drug tests, the news is probably more of a vague disappointment than anything else. It’s not that he uses one of the most harmless drugs (and least performance-enhancing ones) on the banned substances list -- it’s that he got caught for it.
Of all the questionable things Diaz does -- from slapping and taunting opponents to making the lives of the UFC PR staff miserable -- smoking weed is actually probably the most defensible. After all, he lives in California, where medical marijuana is legal. His trainer, Cesar Gracie, has publicly stated in the past that Diaz has a prescription for it, and if anyone could make the case for needing a little something to soothe his general anxiety, it’s Diaz.
My point is, most people in the MMA world probably don’t care that he smokes weed. It’s not giving him an unfair advantage over his opponents, and it isn’t jeopardizing his health. I suppose you could argue that it makes him a poor role model for kids, but no more than fighters who like to knock back a few too many adult beverages at the after-parties, and certainly not more than those who abuse use steroids or other performance-enhancers (not to mention, Nick Diaz is your kid’s role model? If so, you’ve got bigger issues coming your way real soon).
But if some fighters can get permission to up their testosterone levels before a fight, why can’t Diaz use something that helps him relax and enjoy Reno 911 re-runs?
The answer is: because the athletic commission says he can’t. Right or wrong, those are the rules, and Diaz knew it. The UFC might have been content to look the other way as long as he passed his drug tests, but the moment he fails to hold up his end of the bargain is the moment he has a problem.
Rematch with Carlos Condit? It’s a non-issue now. And can you imagine if the decision had gone his way, and if the organization was left waiting out a Georges St-Pierre injury and a Diaz drug suspension before it could make the fight that fans desperately wanted to see?
At the same time, it’s sad and a little bizarre that the least harmful thing Diaz does to himself is among the most harmful to his career. As much as he loves to complain about wholly imagined injustices, this one is sort of real. If a guy can get permission for testosterone, why can’t he get it for marijuana? If he smokes it legally a week before his fight, why does it matter whether it shows up in a urinalysis?
And yet, it does matter, at least to the NSAC. Diaz knows it is, as do his coaches, who have at least some responsibility to try and look out for the guy. They learned this lesson once already, so it’s hard to feel too much sympathy for them the second time around. It’s also difficult to feel too angry or betrayed. This isn’t an attempt to cheat, it’s just a failure to get away with something that none of us really cared he was doing anyway. It’s an oversight. It’s a screw-up that lends itself to the existing narrative of immaturity and irresponsibility in unfortunate ways, and at perhaps the most unfortunate time.
If Diaz thought MMA wasn’t worth the trouble when he lost a close decision, what’s he going to think now that the NSAC is likely to fine and suspend him? What if one of the most interesting and entertaining fighters in the sport is run into an early retirement by his own inability to deal with adversity, combined with an antiquated rule regarding a misunderstood substance?
It will be a shame, certainly. It also be frustratingly pointless. More than anything, it’s just dumb. Diaz didn’t break this rule as an act of civil disobedience. He simply messed up his own system somewhere along the line. That, or he found a brand new way to sabotage himself. Either way, he’ll have plenty of time to think about it now. So will his employers at the UFC.