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A year-and-a-half later, Nick Diaz is free — and his name has only appreciated

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Esther Lin, MMA Fighting

Believe it or not, it was 10 months ago that Nick Diaz, armed only with his amendment rights in the face of a bureaucratic hydra, was handed down a five-year suspension by the Nevada Athletic Commission for a positive marijuana test. That set up the #FreeNickDiaz campaign, and a petition to the White House, and ultimately a reduced sentence to a year-and-a-half, which expires today, Aug. 1, 2016 — retroactive to the last time he fought on Jan. 31, 2015.

Diaz is free. He’s ready to return a day ahead of his 33rd birthday.

Yet what a different fight world he comes back to from the one he left. For starters, the UFC is in different hands. The Fertittas are out, the William Morris people are in. Reebok is all that the people wear these days, and USADA is knocking at people’s door at 7am without calling ahead first. That’s the new clime.

The bigger change is more personal, though -- Nick no longer the most famous Diaz, something that wasn’t the deal back then. Nate Diaz has emerged as a cult classic for stepping in on short notice and beating Conor McGregor, and then for standing up for himself against the UFC in arranging for himself a better payday. They turned his beautifully written post-fight statement at UFC 196 into a song. He has murals. He slapped Dana White, playfully (and happily), and Conan O’Brien had him sit on his couch for a bit. Now Nate’s in a position to do the same thing against McGregor (again) at UFC 202 on Aug. 20. 

Nick is now Nate’s brother. That’s a flipperoo. Before Nate was always Nick’s brother. How does he handle this revision? How is Nick, who made it rain with #WolfTickets back before his title fight with Georges St-Pierre, handling the thought of all those zeroes on Nate’s check? This could get fun in a hurry.

The good news is, the "Diaz" name has become shorthand for "money fight." In fact, just moments after Tyron Woodley knocked out Robbie Lawler on Saturday night during UFC 201 he was calling out, not Stephen Thompson from the wholesome meritocratic world of contenders, but Nick Diaz. The free man. The man who comes with dollar signs.

That’s the other thing that has changed since Diaz was sent away. Titles. Not just titles changing hands, because champions are nothing but a cake carousel right now. But it’s the kind of people holding them. Michael Bisping, who has expressed interest in a fight with Diaz (just as Diaz has expressed interest in a fight with Bisping) holds the middleweight title. He loves a money fight, and he’s not afraid to say it. In fact, he lobbied for a rematch with 45-year old Dan Henderson, and voila, he got it. Not because Henderson was legitimately next in line, but because of a particular sound (ka-ching).

Then you got Woodley, who was angling for Diaz before people had time to process that he was the new welterweight champ.

Really, the sky’s the limit for Diaz on that return fight. He could, feasibly, fight Anderson Silva again, or Georges St-Pierre. He could fight Rory MacDonald, or Demian Maia (after Maia fights Condit) or Carlos Condit again (after Condit fights Maia). He could fight Sage Northcutt, just for a study in contrast. Or, he could fight Robbie Lawler.

That is the fight that makes the most sense. Lawler is coming off a loss, the first that he’s suffered since early-2014. He’s coming off the second knockout loss of his career. The first? Diaz at UFC 47 in 2004. You know Lawler would love another crack at Diaz. That first fight is still talked about to this day. Remarkably, both guys are still around. And both are relevant.

Whoever UFC matchmaker Joe Silva matches Nick Diaz up with, it’ll be good to have the elder brother back in the swing. He survived the Lundvall Ice Palace, and his image didn’t take any hits (even if the man himself probably did). In fact, his last name has only appreciated since he’s been gone. The Diaz’s are to the broader fight world what they’ve always been to the diehards for the last dozen years — that is, central to the fight game’s identity. 

#NickDiazIsFree