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Been Diaz and confused for so long it’s not true…

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Eric Bolte-USA TODAY Sports

Back in the day, after Nick Diaz was booted from his title shot against Georges St-Pierre at UFC 137 for missing a couple of media obligations, Dana White said he only wished the innocent heart of the 209 would play the game "just a little bit." Of course, Diaz doesn’t really like games. White figured that out at some point. Now White has learned how to deal with Diaz. Or, at least he says he has.

With White, as with Diaz, who really knows. The only thing that can be taken for granted is that Diaz’s reputation as the dependably undependable anti-authoritarian shy guy hangs around longer than even the most stubborn metabolite. That continues all these years later as we head into UFC 183 for Saturday’s marquee bout with Anderson Silva. Diaz hasn’t fought since March 2013, but he’s still, perhaps more than ever, incredibly Diaz-like. His middle fingers are just as active now as they were when he was 24.

So no, he didn’t make it for the open workouts at the MGM on Wednesday, which is usually just a little song and dance about nothing anyway. This time White stayed ahead of things by putting Diaz on a milk carton and openly wondering where his main event star was via his Twitter feed: #WhereIsNickDiaz?

The "Embedded" series that the UFC puts out during fight week took things further by showing a sad scene at the airport, in which a Southwest airplane -- bound for Vegas -- made a final boarding call for one Nick Diaz before closing its doors without him. For artistic effect, the camera then showed the jet bridge pulling away, and the plane being pushed out. It was actually beautiful. There goes the plane without Nick.

Furthermore, White -- who is in Phoenix for Super Bowl appearances -- confessed during an interview with Jim Rome that he didn’t have a clue as to where Diaz was, but he said it like a dad who is used to his incorrigible daughter staying out past curfew. It wasn’t mad…it was more it is what it is, and, you know, there’s no sense harping about it.

The thing is, this is all why people are drawn to Nick Diaz, and why we’ve sort of missed him for the last two years. It’s all the eff-you urges he can’t suppress.

It wouldn’t be a Diaz fight if there wasn’t a lot of strangeness riding sidecar up to the event. Diaz was at the airport but "elected" not to board the flight for Vegas, according to the UFC. There could be any number of reasons for that -- nerves, fear of flying, mood, toxic airplane water, forgot to unplug the toaster -- but this is just the kind of thing that makes Diaz Diaz. He cannot be governed, not even by himself. If there’s one thing Diaz does well outside of the cage, it’s bafflement. When he explains himself on Thursday, which he surely will try, expect to be further confused.

What draws people to Diaz, and what White has learned to accept, is that, for all his flaws and shortcomings, he’s a great piece of theater. The weigh-ins with him become a must-see event, because god does he get worked up. At the press conferences he makes, you can’t predict a thing that’s about to happen. He’s the anti-cliché. He can accuse the entire room of buying wolf tickets just as easily he can tell you about the soccer moms of Lodi giving him guff. There are full parables and nursery rhymes and disconnected bits of hokum in a typical Diaz response, and it’s all we can do to roll out the leeway. It all glints like gold.

Everything is a roaring conflict, too, including the very thing he’s doing. Diaz will tell you that he doesn’t like to fight. That’s why he keeps retiring. But still, there’s a genuineness to what he’s saying, a piercing sincerity, that makes you wonder -- then why keep doing it?

The answer will almost certainly be a long voyage into Diaz’s way of thinking, with plenty of grievances coming to light and non-sequiturs and a full ten miles of digression, but the reason is simple. It’s something he’s good at. Diaz can fight. He is a mixed martial artist beneath it all. He’s a Cesar Gracie black belt, a loyalist through-and-through. He’s a former champion who's had a career of memorable fights. If he wasn’t good, he wouldn’t be thrust into a main event against Anderson Silva after two years away and riding a two-fight losing streak. 

That’s why people just sort of nudge each other when he flakes out on a scheduled event that cuts into his mysterious schedule. If he misses the pageantry, fine, but he doesn’t miss the fight. Everybody knows Diaz will be there Saturday night, performing a necessary evil so that one day he can "acquire a family."

Diaz is going to Diaz.

And maybe the thing that White has figured out is that he plays the game just enough to keep things compelling.