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With Brother Nick Sidelined, Nate Diaz Flies the Family Flag

Esther Lin, MMA Fighting
Esther Lin, MMA Fighting

NEW YORK -- One of the biggest misconceptions in MMA is that there is no depth to the Diaz brothers. They've been mistakenly characterized as thugs, brawlers and misanthropes, when the reality is that both are motivated, diligent workers who hold their inner circle as family, and have little need for those on the outside.

While welterweight Nick Diaz is the bigger star of the two, he's also sidelined due to a suspension handed down by the Nevada state athletic commission. That leaves 27-year-old Nate Diaz as the flag-bearer of the family.

There are many similarities between them. They look alike. Both are southpaws. They speak in a similar style and cadence. Neither is particularly comfortable in front of a bank of cameras, either. Indeed, it seems as if the Diaz brothers are at their best while competing.

But there is also evidence that both are at least slightly warming up to their public roles. Say what you will about Nick, but he's an absolutely riveting interview when he chooses to engage the media. And now, so too is Nate coming into his own in public speaking.

On Wednesday at the Church Street Boxing Gym in downtown Manhattan, Diaz was in many ways just what we have come to expect, but in other ways completely different.

He showed up over one hour past his scheduled workout time, which was perfectly Diaz of him. But then he threw a couple of curveballs. At one point, he asked the assembled media if they would stop filming the last part of his workout, the words "please" and "thank you" punctuating his request. Later, he apologized for being late and for making the media wait for him.

And in between, he was genuinely engaged.

Without question, there was media in that room who had previously been wondering if the wait was worth it. He's going to show up when he wants, answer a few questions, and leave, you figured.

But that wasn't the case at all. Diaz (15-7) stood in front of the horde and thoughtfully answered every question that came his way.

One thing he made clear: he respects his Saturday night UFC on FOX 3 opponent Jim Miller. The Diaz boys have been vocal in the past about their dislike of conservative fighting styles. They come to scrap, and they expect the same of whoever steps in the cage with them. When he looks at Miller, he sees someone who brings the same kind of intensity he does.

"Yeah, I can respect that he fights people," he said. "There’s these guys who come out and do a lot of boring s---. I’m like, 'What are we watching here?' I think they favor the wrestler a lot in this sport. And I think that anybody who comes down, throws some punches, does some jiu-jitsu ... I’m not hating on anyone though. You’ve got to do what you've got to do to win. If you have to hold on tight for your life or run around the ring, that’s what you've got to do. You’ve got to get paid, but I can respect a guy who’s going to come in there and fight with you a little bit."

That's the Diaz way, with engaging a must, and going for the finish a cardinal rule.

For this camp, he had Nick alongside of him everyday in practice, looking over him, evaluating, adjusting. In fact, he said the best part of Nick's retirement is the fact that there is more time to spend with him, saying he was receiving extra attention from "the best fighter in the world."

But he also shows plenty of thought past the obvious. Like when he noted that this break was good for Nick in "letting him have some spare time to just think about other stuff, other than fighting."

Nate, though, hasn't reached the point yet where he needs a similar break. Indeed, UFC president Dana White said on Wednesday that if Diaz won, he would find himself in line for a crack at the UFC lightweight championship after Ben Henderson and Frankie Edgar settle their newfound rivalry.

That's just fine with Diaz, who feels long ready for the opportunity.

"I think that I can keep up with probably anybody in the UFC, titleholder or not," he said. "I think it’s just how you’re going to perform on the day. But on my best day, I think I could beat anybody in the division."

He may soon get the chance. Miller (21-3) is a venerable opponent, having gone 10-2 during his octagon run. All three of his career losses are to either former UFC lightweight champs (Edgar and Henderson) or No. 1 contenders (Gray Maynard).

Diaz hopes to make it four, because that will mean that he gets to the level where he can challenge for a championship. The Diaz brothers may not voice their feelings very often, but this one comes down to family pride.

"I hope I can perform well because I feel like I perorm for both of us," he said. "I don’t want to let my team down, my brother down. He helps coach me, and I hope I can go out there and do good, and make everyone look good."

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