At some point, Nick Diaz will run out of chances. Just not now. Just not yet. Despite Diaz's positive drug test stemming from his participation at UFC 143, you can expect him to be welcomed back into the UFC with open arms, if and when he's ready to return. That's what happens when you're talented and popular and in your prime.
Now the question is: will he return?
Like most questions pertaining to Diaz, we'll just have to wait and see, with the understanding that anything is possible. This is a guy who missed out on a UFC championship fight and the chance to make a seven-figure payday because he couldn't organize himself enough to make three separate flights to media obligations. You think he has long-term plans?
There is some chatter from those around Diaz that he really is planning to call it quits, that he doesn't want or need MMA anymore. It wouldn't be surprising if that's truly how he feels now. He's less than one week removed from a fight in which he believes he unfairly lost, and less than a few days removed from hearing that he flunked a drug test and is likely to face a lengthy suspension. In his mind, he probably feels like the sport doesn't love him right now, so why would he love it back?
The funny thing is, his popularity rating seems to be at an all-time high. After the Nevada state athletic commission disclosed his positive test, most of the chatter has been in support of him. Given the sport's young demographic, it's not surprising that most don't see marijuana use as an offense worthy of losing your job, or even being suspended from it.
To them, Diaz is just another one of the wrongly persecuted victims of a misdirected war on drugs. After all, they reason, how is marijuana use beneficial for fighting?
So in that way, Diaz has already won the public relations war without saying a single word in his own defense. So, too, has the UFC, which is likely to bring him back into the fold whenever his suspension is up -- and it will most likely be one year. Company CEO Lorenzo Fertitta said so much during a recent Twitter conversation with fans.
From the UFC's perspective, there is just too much money to be made with Diaz to wipe your hands of him and walk away. He has become MMA's counterculture icon, it's anti-hero. On top of that, he's one hell of a fighter, a forward-moving, punch-throwing machine who is murder on the ground. The UFC is, after all, in the fight business, and few represent the rawness of prizefighting the way Diaz does.
That gameness makes Diaz a magnet for those of us who prefer our MMA served up with a side of primal rawness, and that isn't going to go away just because he disappears off our TV screen for a little while.
Sports is one of the few areas in which absence truly does make the heart grow fonder. That's why the comebacks of stars like Michael Jordan and Brett Favre and George Foreman were such big stories. Even if Diaz doesn't belong in that class of superstardom in the real world, he does have that cachet in ours. So if Diaz decides to come back after his yearlong ban is over, it will be a huge story.
But it will be interesting to see if it works in reverse.
Diaz memorably once said that "in order to love fighting, I have to hate it." But at some point, he might just hate it so much that he really, actually hates it. If that were to happen, this would be the time. He has other hobbies. He loves sport jiu-jitsu. He loves triathlons. By all accounts, he's an excellent coach, so he could make a living that way if he wanted to.
Counting the Carlos Condit bout, he fought seven times in the last 24 months, and five of those times, he prepared for five-round bouts. That's a lot of wear and tear on both the body and the mind. This break will test his love/hate relationship, strain it to the point that it might become beyond saving. If he finds that he no longer needs MMA, he gave us plenty of memories for the road.
It's obvious there are many parts of this sport that he can live without. Regulation, judging, point-fighters, etc. The list goes on and on. But for the next year, it's going to be very different. Those complaints are easy to make when you're in the moment, but what happens when all of it is taken away and you're left with nothing?
Then it becomes very simple. Then it comes down to this one thing: The sport moves on without you, but can you move on without it?