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Welcome back, Nate Diaz!

MMA: UFC 196-Weigh Ins Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

It has been a long time since a Diaz brother graced the Octagon with their presence. Not eternity but close. So long we began wondering if it would ever happen again. So long we eventually gave up that it would. So long we were actually surprised to hear that he had decided to return to a sport where comebacks are the rule more than the exception. The Diaz brothers are that kind of MMA counterculture. But here we are. It’s fight week, and best we can tell, Nate Diaz is soon to be en route to Anaheim to fight Anthony Pettis at UFC 241, and doesn’t that make you feel a little bit giddy?

Even though the card is admittedly pretty strong on its own, Diaz’s presence at the event should feel something like an adrenaline shot to the system. It’s Nate Diaz! You know he’s going to show up, make a few fantastical statements, spit some hard truths, throw out a couple F-bombs, call out a few money fights, and scrap like hell on Saturday night. He may be a wild card, but he’s reliably wild. Admirably wild. Entertainingly wild!

Wow, it’s been a long time. The last time Diaz was in the cage was three years ago at UFC 202, when he fought Conor McGregor to a majority decision in their rematch. That series still sits tied 1-1 all this time later; all the money that could be made on a rubber match still remains unclaimed. For a promotion laser-focused on pulling in every last dollar, that is a surprise; so is the fact that Diaz is returning against Anthony Pettis. When last we heard from Diaz in the cage, he said he wouldn’t be coming back unless it was to settle the score with McGregor.

While those two remain tied forever — or at least until the UFC ponies up the cash to make it happen — much has transpired in the fight world since their last meeting. McGregor seems like he’s been on the shelf for a long time, but comparatively, he’s been as active as a jackrabbit, having fought Eddie Alvarez and Khabib Nurmagomedov in MMA and Floyd Mayweather in boxing since then. He’s also had two children born, launched a successful whiskey brand, claimed that he’d retired, then got caught up in a sexual assault investigation in Ireland. He’s stayed in the headlines; he’s stayed in the zeitgeist.

Diaz though? Wherever he’s shown up, he’s disappeared soon after. In rumors, in social media posts, in teammates’ corners, he’s there and gone. Human smoke.

Other MMA-related events that have happened since Diaz’s last fight:

  • 121 UFC events have taken place
  • 11 of the 12 UFC championships have changed hands at least once (only Amanda Nunes’ bantamweight title reign has continued uninterrupted)
  • Ronda Rousey closed out her MMA career with a knockout loss, then moved on to WWE, then had a strong run there before stepping away to focus on starting a family
  • Georges St-Pierre unretired, won the UFC middleweight title, then retired again
  • The Fertitta brothers sold their remaining stakes in the UFC
  • The UFC moved from Fox to ESPN
  • Jon Jones introduced the term “picograms” into the MMA lexicon
  • Donald Cerrone fought 10 times
  • Jared Cannonier dropped from heavyweight to light-heavyweight to middleweight
  • Over 200 fighters made their UFC debuts
  • Former Affliction promoter Donald Trump was elected president, then pledged his MMA allegiance to Colby Covington

Seriously, a lot of stuff has happened in the 1,093 days between appearances. But finally, it’s over. Finally, MMA gets the dose of real we’ve been needing for a while. Manufactured feuds and overplayed storylines can only take you so far. The opponent almost doesn’t matter, but the fact that it’s Pettis is a bonus.

While the former UFC lightweight champion is hardly the lightning rod for controversy that Diaz is, the matchup between them is inspired and inspiring. These are two showmen, clear in their approaches, clean in their execution. There will be blood.

In any other instance, that would be the draw, but in this case, it’s the sum of the parts and the parts themselves. There is dynamism, there is flash, there is gravitas. All of the ingredients are there, and in just the right recipe. So let us listen, let us watch, let us enjoy all the elements of his return before he’s gone from the sport forever. Finally, finally, finally, Nate Diaz is back.

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