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Even in defeat, Nick Diaz loses nothing of original value

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Esther Lin, MMA Fighting

The good thing about novelty fights is that they’re more about captivating imagination than they are any relevance to the title structure. Sometimes slugging ten shots of hard stuff and saying to hell with tomorrow is the only way to truly convince yourself of the moment. Sometimes you need Nick Diaz versus Anderson Silva to remember the power of impulse.

The bad thing is that somebody has to lose.

In this case, both Diaz and Silva were riding two-fight losing streaks and coming from the darkest chapters of their careers. For as fun as it was in the build, there was always going to be a sad note at the end, no matter the outcome. If Silva had lost to Diaz on Saturday night, it would have been truly tragic. This fight was tailored for him to do away with memories of Chris Weidman and the shattered shankbone. He was fêted by both the UFC (#THELEGENDRISES) and fans coming in, many of whom were convinced the sport’s greatest of all time was still everything he was.

Had Silva lost, it would have been hard to distinguish media from Sunday morning eulogists.

Instead, the man who was meant to lose lost at UFC 183 on Saturday night. That was Diaz, who at 31 years old can once again slip into the realm of hunches and uncertainty in the impenetrable land of Stockton. This sad outcome was on the layaway plan since the fight was made in July. We knew it was coming, yet it was hard not to tune in because with Diaz there’s always just so much going on, and not all of it definable.

Diaz came back from his semi-retirement for the big payday and the name opponent, and really, he held on better than the punditry would have had you believe. He lasted all five rounds. He may have stolen the fourth. The fifth was close, too. There were small windows when he got into his rhythms in the second and third, but he couldn’t sustain it. He said afterwards he thought he won all five rounds. He didn’t. But he didn’t get smoked in any of those five rounds, either. And he out-entertained Silva consistently for 25 minutes.

That’s what was so great, bizarre and ultimately fleeting about it all. Diaz came to not only fight but -- by his own cosmic urge -- to put on a show. The first round was everything a big main event under delirious circumstances should be. Diaz both held and broke the beautiful tension by getting in Silva’s face. He began egging him on, taunting him with words, dropping his hands, relaxing on the fence as if to let everyone know that he was not only familiar with Silva’s biography but with the concept of reverse psychology. As Silva maintained his distance, John McCarthy must have felt like he was refereeing performance art, and you could almost see his heart drop. Diaz did the snake charmer routine with his hands. He held up his elbow in fight pose, like he was trying to level the horizon. At one point, he laid down.

What the hell was he doing? Exactly! He was being Nick Diaz.

Not that he didn’t get down to brass tacks. Diaz was in there to beat Silva. He disrupted things best he could and tried to up the pressure ante, but he just couldn’t get into a groove. Though Silva never got rolling in the ways we are used to, either, the sniper would come out in key moments. The fight slowed as it went on. It gave up the theatrics. It was jostling between memorable and forgettable. In the end, after Silva got his arm raised with unanimous decision and cried from the 13 months that went into that realization, Diaz’s left eye wore the marks of the whole encounter.

"I’m happy to put on a show for fans," he said in a post post-fight press conference, dabbing at his eye with a napkin. But, he added later when asked about his future, "I’m kind of tired being a loser."

That was the thing that hung in the balance from the time the fight was made. Either Silva would show up as a husk of himself, or Diaz would lose his third straight fight. Dana White joked that because Diaz was paid so well for this bout we might not see him again for three years. Knowing Diaz, that is possible. Even Diaz himself, who has never dealt well with fight game fuss (yet who has fussed about the fight game plenty), said there are times he wants to just slip away into obscurity and be done with the whole thing.

"When they put those clips together, [the UFC is] not going to show none of my punches," he said. "They’re going to find whatever there is to find at the other end of it and they’re going to throw that up. And it doesn’t feel good to see that. It doesn’t feel good to try to argue with somebody who has an opinion. I’m just happy to avoid too many arguments. Sometimes I think I wish I could just fall off, so people will stop talking about me. But I feel like that’s just not happening."

Who knows what comes next for Diaz -- whether it’s a return to the welterweight division where the lesser names in the systemworks are to be found, or he slinks away from the game he’s been so reluctant to play for the last few years -- but one thing is certain. There are very few fighters that carry so many layers of intrigue into a fight as Nick Diaz. Win or lose, you can’t stop the gawking. It’s why he dreams of getting out. And it’s why he can be booked into big-time PPV novelty fights like Saturday’s main event with Silva, without ever having worn a UFC belt.

With Nick Diaz, there is meaning in every impulse.