Nick Diaz: Portrait of a Reluctant Warrior

“I’m at war. As far as I’m concerned, this is warfare and I’m a ninja warrior — and I’m taught to kill in the most efficient way possible. That’s the sort of mentality I’m going in there with. I don’t want to sit next to you and have a conversation and eat lunch…”

Back in 2009, Nick Diaz described his martial arts mindset to Black Belt Magazine. It’s sadly not available on their website, but those who have it remember it well.

Maybe it was the setting which brought Diaz out of his shell — here’s a classic martial arts magazine calling, and Diaz always fancied himself a true lifelong martial artist. He probably leafed through Black Belt while practicing on his sai and nunchuku as a restless teenage boy, in and out of trouble in his native Stockton, California.

Anyway, Diaz had just enjoyed one of his greatest career moments, dominating Frank Shamrock in Strikeforce en route to a second round TKO victory, but he didn’t seem very happy.

Mostly, Diaz felt the changed MMA landscape had become “too sporty.” He risked losing his “mental edge,” as he put it, by being forced to do do promotional work. Diaz even scoffed at post-fight interviews: “I’m going to go in there and fight for my life, and then act like I like this person?”

He made it clear — for all his successes, both for Strikeforce and earlier in his career, as a UFC contender — he really didn’t enjoy this business.

Eric Bolte-USA TODAY Sports

Eric Bolte-USA TODAY Sports

Nick Diaz would soldier on though, eventually winning Strikeforce’s welterweight title. Diaz also bested two old legends of the sport: Hayato Sakurai in Japan in 2010, then BJ Penn in a successful return to the UFC in 2011. It took a close decision against Carlos Condit for the UFC Interim Welterweight title in 2012 to snap a ten-fight winning streak. (A less competitive decision loss to Georges St-Pierre would follow a year later.)

This all came back to me as I heard Diaz’s remarks this week on a media conference call. As Dave Walsh reported, when asked if he was excited to face Anderson Silva in his UFC return, Diaz flatly declared: “I don’t enjoy fighting.”

Anderson Silva is another lifelong martial artist who also grew up around, what one might call, the wrong side of the tracks. But, he’s also many things Nick Diaz isn’t: namely, a happy guy with a beautiful family.

Diaz’s dark world view certainly has its down side. But, Diaz explained to Black Belt five years ago: for him, it also offers “confidence to know that I’m going to smash you, because you haven’t suffered and you haven’t given up the things that I’ve given up. You expect to come in here and beat me, and then you’re going to wear a bunch of pink colors on top of this, and you’re going to bring your happy wife and kids that I don’t have and I might not even potentially ever have—a happy life.”

Is Diaz capable of beating Anderson Silva in next year’s “war?”

Maybe. Maybe that confidence will be the difference. Diaz is only 30, for all his years as a fighter — maybe it’s the end for Silva, and a new beginning for Diaz. It’s not impossible to imagine.

But “a happy life?” Listening to this reluctant warrior, maybe that’s more difficult to imagine.