Nate Diaz broke just about every law of self-promotion at Friday’s UFC 263 press conference, but that’s exactly why the welterweight is one of the biggest stars in combat sports and the last of a dying breed.
Diaz was hidden off to the side, shrouded in shadows and smoke from the joint he lit up halfway through the presser, and barely answered questions, content to let middleweights Israel Adesanya and Marvin Vettori, who clash in Sunday’s (AEST) main event, take centre stage with their back and forth bickering.
And yet Diaz, who returns from an 18-month hiatus to take on Englishman Leon “Rocky” Edwards, stole the show in his own surly, rough-hewed, totally authentic and undeniably charismatic way.
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“I’m pumped to fight a worthy opponent, that’s what I’m here for,” Diaz said.
“It’s love everywhere I go, I love the support, I love the whole s— man, this is great. This is great these guys are doing their thing … real fights, that’s cool. Every fight is going to be the baddest motherf—er you’ve ever seen.”
Nate Diaz will return from an 18-month hiatus to fight Leon Edwards at UFC 263. Picture: Getty ImagesSource:Getty Images
The quotes aren’t dynamite, but when Diaz says them they work. It was his name the crowd chanted before and afterwards, he is the one who has done the rounds on ESPN and the other major media outlets this week. He is the star of this show, the biggest name in town.
In a combat sports market that is increasingly dominated by the likes of the Paul brothers, for whom life is an extended YouTube vlog with the lines between what’s real and what’s not so blurred they may well not exist, Diaz is a welcome salve.
Diaz does not jockey for likes, subscribers and followers and has no interest in promotion, which is precisely why he’s so good at it despite not having any of the traditional aspects used to boost a fighter’s profile.
The Stockton native is not eloquent and quick-witted, like his eternal foe Conor McGregor, preferring blunt-force insults that always come back to how he, truly, “doesn’t give a f—.”
His fights are never boring, but there’s a lot of entertaining fighters and few of them reach Diaz’s level of star power.
He does not boast an undefeated record, having gone 20-12 over his career and he doesn’t fight often, with only two bouts in the five years since his two thrilling clashes with McGregor, nor has he held a UFC title.
But what Diaz does have is authenticity and a lack of posturing that’s become so rare in a business dominated by manufactured images. It’s the basic tenet of being cool — he acts like he doesn’t need your attention, only it’s not an act.
He acts the same way now, with the same attitude, as one of the sport’s biggest stars as he did back when he first came into the UFC in 2007, and he kept that same vibe through fighting frequently in places like Omaha, Nebraska or Oklahoma City, far from the bright lights that now shine on him.
Nate Diaz (right) hasn’t got an undefeated record, but he does have star power. Picture: Getty ImagesSource:AFP
Nothing about Diaz has changed since he beat McGregor in March of 2016 — it just showed the sporting world what they’d been missing.
Diaz is a heavy outsider against Edwards, who’s wrestling-based style and size have been anathema to Diaz in the past. But that again is part of Diaz’s charm.
Edwards is a nightmare for the elite welterweights — he’s one of the best in the world, but his low profile makes the risk-reward of facing him a prospect many try to avoid.
But not Diaz. The size of the challenge is why he wanted it.
In Diaz’s world, a fighter only loses when he is stopped and Edwards (18-2) has never been beaten inside the distance, which is why Diaz wanted him in the first place.
A fighter’s record shouldn’t be protected and mollycoddled — this game, as Diaz is so fond of saying, should be kill or be killed.
Perhaps Diaz will be stomped into the ground for five rounds by Edwards on Sunday, or maybe he finds a way to get the upset. Either way, he’ll be back because he’s the real thing.
Originally published asWhy Nate Diaz is one of the last of a dying breed
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