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Despite latest defeat, Nate Diaz’s appeal continues to transcend wins and losses

Nate Diaz
Esther Lin, MMA Fighting

If there is one thing we know about the Diaz brothers, it’s that they will bleed at some point of a fight, and that it won’t do a thing to extinguish their competitive spirit. In fact, the amount of blood they shed may be directly proportional to the in-cage intensity. Hurt a Diaz brother and prepare to feel some pain of your own. It’s guaranteed.

“You sneeze on me, I bleed,” Nate Diaz said after UFC 244. “Blood don’t hurt.”

The two rows of stitches on his head held the proof. Last night was not Diaz’s night. Jorge Masvidal was the better man. He was accurate, landing 62 percent of his strikes. He was powerful, dropping Diaz in each of the first two rounds. He was active, keeping pace with Diaz’s high volume style. He was clearly winning.

But Diaz? He was still there. Not going anywhere, not him, the granite-chinned, cardio king. He had taken everything that Masvidal had thrown at him in an electric Madison Square Garden setting and he was still standing. Upright in the corner, at least until New York State Athletic Commission chief medical officer Nitin Sethi looked at the gash running atop his right eyebrow, and another one running along his right cheekbone, and ruled that Diaz could not continue on with the UFC 244 main event.

Ha! Diaz, not continue?

At some point before he made his ruling, someone might have reminded the good doctor that stopping a fight to crown the baddest motherf*cker alive because of a cut is about as incongruous as it gets, but amateur logic did not prevail over his professional opinion. Reluctantly, he called it off. Abruptly, we revolted. That’s not how it should end, not this.

“At first I was bitching and pissed off. They didn’t stop the Tyson Fury fight, and that cut was nasty,” UFC president Dana White said, comparing Diaz’s cut to one Fury suffered against Otto Wallin in September. “Then I walked back and saw Nate Diaz. His eyebrow was flipped over. He had another huge gash under his eye and I started thinking, ‘it’s easy sitting in my chair thinking the fight shouldn’t be stopped.’ The reason we love him, he’s so tough and durable and everything else. But these things happen, and [the cuts] didn’t look good.”

In true Diaz fashion, he disputed White’s notion, and the doctor’s decision. The cut was exactly like it always was, he said. He could have continued. He hadn’t gotten a fair shake.

“I was just getting ready to get started,” he said.

This is how any fighter worth his salt should feel in such a moment. There was little to balm the feeling that it was an upsetting finish to a fight that had been as riveting as the two combatants’ personalities. Actually, it was more than upsetting; through no fault of the fighters, it was the worst thing a sporting event can be: anticlimactic.

Many of us had the same reaction in real time, which is understandable. When you invest money and time and emotion into an event, you want to see a definitive conclusion. This kind of subjective ending is far from that. But if we’re being honest with ourselves, if we consider the damage he took from Masvidal in three rounds; if we have a second look at the cuts Diaz sustained; if we take into account that he will have to undergo surgery to fix his face and to remove scar tissue, we must acknowledge that while the ending wasn’t quite right, that Dr. Sethi was not quite wrong. Diaz had given us enough.

Sometimes, he must be stopped specifically because he won’t stop himself. He is programmed for ferocity until his last flicker of consciousness. He’s too tough.

The result is academic, because here is the thing about Diaz: he has fully transcended the results of his fights. At this point, it no longer matters if he wins or loses, because people are there for his show, and he always delivers. He brings the excitement of a duel, the intensity of a tightrope walker, the unpredictability of a bullfight.

This is the implicit promise he makes with his work, and the one we accept when we choose to watch him. It’s basically a relationship, the results of which were evidenced by what happened directly after the doctor’s decision, right after the official result was announced.

Guess who was cheered in the end? Diaz, of course. While Masvidal was (unfairly) forced to swallow his first jeers of the year, Diaz left The Garden as a hero.

There was a time when Diaz complained that he was misunderstood. No one quite got that he actually hated fighting, that he was actually delivering everything they claimed they wanted to see, that the random thoughts he shared were actually fight game gospel.

It took the sports world a long time to come around to his approach, his attitude, his vision. Everyone gets it now. Masvidal got the win but Diaz was the story. Masvidal got the BMF belt, but Diaz? That’ll always be one bad motherfu*cker.

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