The returning Nick Diaz has been the talk of the town in Las Vegas this week, and throughout the MMA world ahead of his return this Saturday at UFC 266.
It’s been over five years since we last saw Diaz, one of the most colorful characters in MMA history. During his absence, champions have risen and saw their reign end. The sport has continued to grow. Younger brother Nate has arguably surpassed Nick Diaz as the face of the Diaz army — a fact that was presented to Diaz at Thursday’s UFC 266 press conference.
“Yeah, yeah sure he has,” Diaz agreed, adding that “I’m working on levelling up with him a little bit. I gotta fight regardless, win or lose, I gotta fight and then I can help the kids and get everybody training. Help train these guys.”
The latter is in regards to some of the students under the Diaz brothers, including Nick Maximov, who Nick Diaz had high praise for Thursday. Maximov fights alongside Diaz Saturday night.
“Maximov, he’s a strong kid, he’s got a lot of potential. I see him going far in the sport. With his skillset, I don’t think anyone’s going to match that. He’s a strong kid.”
But while it’s great to have Diaz back for what many have called the People’s Main Event — Nick brushed off that praise, telling Cageside Press simply that “that’s great, I’m glad they feel that way” — there have been troubling signs ahead of his return.
A last minute change in weight class for his fight against Robbie Lawler, a rematch of their UFC 47 match-up which Diaz won. The fight this weekend will now take place at middleweight. Skipping out on media day, which being honest, wasn’t too much of a shock. And expressing doubt about his own return in an interview with ESPN earlier this week, which included him saying he didn’t really want the Lawler fight.
Questioned about the interview Thursday, Diaz suggested that it might have sounded worse than intended. But he didn’t exactly retract his statement either.
“There was a few things the way this fight got set up, lined up,” said Diaz. “Either way it doesn’t make a difference. When I get someone in front of me, I seem to be right back. I’ve always trained with the best, I’ve always held my own with the best.”
What seems to have taken Nick Diaz by surprise, however, is the attention his return has garnered. “I didn’t expect at this stage to catch so much heat and so much expectation from everybody. It’s kind of hard. Before, I was used to just saying ‘hi’ and being happy with everybody, and now all of a sudden I’m going ‘hey, wait wait wait.’ So that’s all. I wasn’t ready for all of the extra attention.”
More of it came Thursday, with Diaz the star of the show at the UFC 266 press conference, fielding more questions, or as least as many, as either champion present. And if he’s looking to avoid attention, he’s got a strange way of doing it. Asked if he plans to be more active following the Lawler fight, Diaz replied that definitely wants “to do this more often. Especially if I get my ass whupped. If I get my ass whupped, I’m going to come back right away.”
If he wins, on the other hand? He has hit sights set on welterweight champ Kamaru Usman. “If I can survive this fight— I’ve got a hard fight with this guy, so if I can survive this fight, I don’t see any reason [why not].”
Only Nick Diaz would expect a title shot with a win over a slumping opponent, after a multi-year layoff, while competing in a different division. Then again, it’s Nick Diaz, so anything is possible.