By the time January 31st rolls around, nearly two full years will have passed since Nick Diaz publicly announced his retirement, then called for a rematch within the same two-minute post-fight interview at UFC 158. It was classic Diaz: brash but honest, an unscripted stream of consciousness underscoring an actual level of brilliance and understanding regarding the game around him.
Diaz held out for 16 months since that fateful night in Montreal. He wanted more money and he wanted another title shot, or at least a blockbuster fight that many felt was well beyond his rank. His demands were widely scoffed at until they implausibly came true, and now MMA's ultimate soothsayer is scheduled to fight one of the greatest of all-time, Anderson Silva, at UFC 183. It may already be the most anticipated pay-per-view of the last several years, but for Diaz, any excitement on his part would be dishonest.
"I can't complain," the former Strikeforce champ said on a conference call Wednesday. "I can't ask for anything more. I'm happy with the deal that I made. It's hard out there, especially when the rest of these guys aren't getting paid what they should be paid, and they sit around and they can't open their mouths about anything, for the most part, when it comes to what they do. They've invested a lot into being pro MMA fighters and a lot of them have lives on the side, and they've had half the fights I've had, so it's a bit different for a lot of people. It's a really complicated road if you're an MMA fighter.
"I don't enjoy fighting," Diaz continued. "I don't use that word (excited) in this sport. I use that word maybe if I'm starving and food is showing up, I'm getting excited now. That's kind of excitement. Or I'm excited to have a couple days. Trying to fight somebody is really, I don't know, people are confused with that term when it comes to fighting.
"Would you enjoy fighting Anderson Silva?"
Diaz has always given off a sort of flippancy towards professional fighting, one that is virtually exclusive to himself. Where most fighters profess to live for the thrill of the fight, he's on record stating his distaste for a practice that inherently will leave one or both of its competitors en route to the hospital. It's a hint of sanity in an otherwise insane world, and after nearly two decades in the game, it's the reason Diaz says he turned down so many of the fights proposed to him by UFC officials this past year.
"37 fights, a good 16 years of being extra serious, that'll do something to somebody," Diaz said. "It's pretty rough. I don't recommend anybody becoming a fighter. Fighting is not something that I enjoy doing. It's something that I do that I feel that I have to do.
"I didn't really ever mean to make the statement that I'm retired. What I meant by the whole thing is, you're never really retired from martial arts. It just doesn't happen. Some people don't look at martial arts the same way I do, with the same perspective or they got in this the same way. What I meant to say is I'm retired from climbing the ropes. I'm definitely not taking any fights that, I'm not doing anybody any favors and I'm not doing myself a favor by taking a fight that I'm not happy with. As far as my whole retirement gameplan was, I just pretty much needed some time off. You don't really get time off in the UFC without retiring sometimes, or getting hurt, and I guess I don't break easy like some of these guys."
Diaz noted that his sabbatical to allowed him to "come to a lot of understandings this year," and that, overall, living without being bogged down by the pressure of an upcoming fight led him to "see things a lot more clearly than ever before."
His new lease of life showed during the call, too, as the 30-year-old playfully answered a question about Anderson Silva's ability to return from injury by quoting Forrest Gump's classic line about how "life is like a box of chocolates, you just never know what you're going to get," then one-upped it by swiping a line from The Spider himself when asked what it was like being back in the media spotlight. ("Is normal.")
Implausibly, in his time away, Diaz's star only seems to have grown. He refused to discuss the contract dispute between his younger brother, Nate Diaz, and the UFC, but the pair's willingness to speak out against the establishment has endeared the brothers to large sect of the mixed martial arts fanbase, to the point where Diaz acknowledged that it was "pretty much obvious at this point in time" that he was one of the UFC's biggest stars, so it'd be a waste to not use the leverage he has.
"Sometimes I feel like I'm the only one who's in tune with what's really going on," Diaz said. "Everybody's fighting anybody. Like I said, I think the people lie to you and tell you they enjoy doing things that they don't like to do. A lot of it is a front, and they like to put on a good look in front of their family and have a positive effect on people around them and not get in any bad positions, so they keep their mouth shut or they say bulls--t like they like to hurt people. I mean, I don't want to hurt anybody. I'm a non-violent person. I don't necessarily enjoy violence. Like that show Ridiculousness, the host is a really funny guy. I love that guy. But I hate watching people get hurt over and over again. It's not something I enjoy doing.
"And you see these guys come out and say, ‘I just want to hurt somebody,' or, ‘I just want to go out there, I just love it.' Sometimes you say, you know, you're full of s--t. I do what I do because I've got to do it, for whatever reasons are behind it. A lot of it has to do with just martial arts and a martial arts background, and I don't think if there was any quit in me that I wouldn't have made it this far anyway. You can call it a curse if you will, or whatever you want. But that's just how I feel.
"The thing is, I've been an example for a really long time now for other fighters," Diaz finished. "I've been here longer. People like to say stuff like, oh, I shouldn't be in the top-10. Some of these guys open their mouth, they get bumped out of the rankings. Like I care. I know where I stand."