The return of Nate Diaz has lit a fire under MMA fans everywhere

Kevin Iole
Combat columnist
Nate Diaz takes a selfie with fans after holding an open workout for fans and media at Honda Center on Aug. 14, 2019, in Anaheim, California. (Zuffa LLC)

The anecdotal evidence would suggest the biggest star of UFC 241 is not the man who is one of just four fighters to hold two weight class titles simultaneously. Nor is it the man who prior to his last fight had been hailed as the greatest heavyweight in UFC history.

It is neither the one-time lightweight champion whose jaw-dropping kick off the cage is one of the most iconic moves in MMA history, nor either of the hugely muscled middleweights who meet in what could be a bout for the ages.

No, the evidence of such things as internet searches, impact on social media and YouTube video views would suggest that the biggest star of UFC 241 is a guy who hasn’t fought in nearly three years.

Nate Diaz is commanding most of the attention prior to his fight with Anthony Pettis in the co-main event of UFC 241.

Virtually every video on the UFC’s YouTube channel that involves Diaz has surpassed a million views. By way of comparison, views of the countdown show featuring UFC 241 headliners Daniel Cormier and Stipe Miocic are at 596,000 views as of Thursday afternoon. Views of the UFC 241 countdown show featuring Diaz and Pettis are at 1.7 million in the same timeframe.

To steal one of the most famous Diaz-isms, “I’m not surprised, m----- f------!”

The reason for Diaz’s popularity is his willingness, if not eagerness, to speak what he sees as truth to power.

Pettis has said there’s bad blood between he and Diaz, and said Diaz is jealous that he was on the cover of a Wheaties box.

After a public workout Wednesday, during which Diaz lit a huge joint and smoked it, he scoffed at the notion there’s a feud between them.

“There’s no beef at all anyway,” Diaz said. “I’m OK with it. I’m just here as a businessman and a natural born killer, and I’m here to get the job done. He’s the guy to do it on, but there are no problems there. It’s all good to me. I’m just here to f------ kill him and stay alive for the weekend.”

He has his own sort of logic that doesn’t always follow but from which he never deviates. He’s complained about the way the UFC has promoted him for years, and it’s one of the reasons he hasn’t fought since losing a unanimous decision to Conor McGregor in their rematch at UFC 202 three years ago.

His two fights that year with McGregor, at UFC 196 and at UFC 202, sit Nos. 2 and 3 on the UFC’s largest pay-per-views, behind only UFC 229 that featured Khabib Nurmagomedov and McGregor.

Yet Diaz said, somewhat inexplicably, that the UFC buried him. The reason that UFC president Dana White has pushed fighters like McGregor, Chuck Liddell and Ronda Rousey as hard as he has is because he knew they’d sell. The more tickets and the more pay-per-views they sold the better financially it was for the UFC.

So it only made sense that the UFC would want to promote Diaz, but he has an entirely different view. He said fighters are too willing to comply with what the UFC wants and don’t take enough control of their own careers.

“[Pettis] should understand that because that’s what everybody in this f------ game should be doing,” Diaz said. “But they ain’t doing it. They’re like, ‘I’m going to fight who’s next. I’ll do what I’m told.’ From Day 1, and it’s going to stay the same, too, until I’m 100 years old, I’m the don of all this shit. If anybody is going to step in this room and say they’re the ass whipper, I beg to differ.”

He’s certainly not wrong about fighters needing to take a larger role in the direction of their careers. What he’s done is in many ways like what Floyd Mayweather did in boxing. Mayweather signed with Top Rank out of the Olympics and was portrayed as the next coming of Sugar Ray Leonard. His nickname was “Pretty Boy Floyd,” and he was marketed in a way that didn’t make him comfortable.

When he did it his way, he became “Money May” and the biggest draw in the sport.

Diaz always has done it his way. He said that during his three-year hiatus, the UFC attempted to minimize his significance. He said they offered him fights against no-names that were down on the card, but then changed course and admitted he’d been offered attractive fights, too.

“They were trying to degrade me the whole time I’ve been out,” Diaz said. “They were trying to put me on low on the card against not very big names. They also tried to give me huge names, but those fell through. But it don’t matter. I believe I’m the main event.”

He’s not the main event on paper, but he is in every other way. And for as long as Nate Diaz continues to fight, he’s going to continue to draw a crowd as long as he continues to do things in his own unique way.

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