By Alistair Hendrie
As Nate Diaz sat hours away from his UFC 241 comeback against Anthony Pettis on Saturday, deep in the bowels of the Honda Center in Anaheim, California, Dana White had a message for him: please, whatever you do, don’t swear on ESPN. The plea hung in the air for a second. “Motherf****r,” shot back Diaz. Some things never change.
Diaz, who poured it on Pettis during a cast-iron decision victory, has always shunned the establishment, whether he’s flipping off the cameras or slamming his employers for what he feels is a lack of financial and promotional reimbursement. The 34-year-old is never far from a four-lettered rant and he is, by all accounts, a bad motherf****r.
Now, though, the Stockton bad boy wants to test his credentials as a bad motherf****r against Jorge Masvidal. Speaking at the UFC 241 post-fight press conference, he said: “This is what I’m talking about, the baddest motherf****r title… I need that belt made…” He’d earlier said in the Octagon: “With this belt, I want to defend it against Jorge Masvidal.”
Although the UFC probably won’t open another championship for that sentiment, Diaz raises an interesting topic. What, then, constitutes a bad motherf****r? In Diaz’s view, it’s not being a great athlete, a humble person or the most decorated fighter. It’s about maintaining that warrior spirit. Fighting for the fans. Cashing big cheques. Owning the mic.
Of course, Diaz ticks each of those boxes. So does Masvidal. They join the likes of Michael Bisping and Justin Gaethje as bad motherf****rs. They may have lost a few fights – who hasn’t? – but they provide entertainment value in abundance and put their souls and reputations on the line for their adoring audiences. So although Georges St-Pierre and Randy Couture are revered champions in the UFC history books, neither of them guaranteed fireworks and heated rivalries each time they stepped into the cage. They were standard-bearers for the sport, but they weren’t bad motherf****rs.
In fact, Diaz’s coining of the BMF league couldn’t have come at a better time. With Conor McGregor and Ronda Rousey both missing from competition, White admitted California’s Diaz is now one of the hottest draws in the game. His resurgence after three years away from the cage also comes as the 170lbs division is bristling with characters. There’s the antagonistic Colby Covington, the brash Darren Till, the cerebral Masvidal and the new kid on the block, Leon Edwards. Indeed, Edwards has been quick to pour scorn on “Gamebred” for ostensibly ducking him.
Still, were Diaz to defend his BMF status against Masvidal, it would be a collision of brawn, machismo and will that would generate plenty of buzz. Masvidal, the Floridian veteran and American Top Team mainstay, is on a tear right now, short-circuiting Till in March and obliterating Ben Askren in July. The American’s airborne knee which crashed into Askren’s jaw – with five seconds elapsed – was the fastest knockout in UFC history. When you consider Masvidal’s momentum, it’s no surprise Diaz marked him as a rival.
Kamaru Usman is primed to put his 170lbs gold on the line against Covington later this year so perhaps Diaz-Masvidal could act as a prelude to that title decider. Diaz holds a Brazilian jiu-jitsu black belt under Cesar Gracie and would enter with a decided grappling advantage over Masvidal. Especially when working from his back, Diaz is as fluid and slippery as they come, always ready to snatch a limb.
While the former UFC lightweight title challenger is also celebrated for his work-rate in the cage, churning out hooks and straight punches around the guard, Masvidal could nevertheless sting Diaz and potentially separate him from his senses. Older than Diaz by seven months, Masvidal crippled Donald Cerrone with body punches in 2017 and he stalks forward behind a textbook jab, teeing up rallies which have led to 15 knockouts on his 34-13 record.
Diaz’s ability to drain the gas tank for fifteen minutes, though, would perhaps leave him as a favourite against the admittedly more powerful Masvidal. In an era where personality is everything and storylines create superstars, it’s time Diaz and Masvidal got it on and ramped up the verbal warfare. ESPN and White should stand by for more expletive-laden promos.
Check out more of Alistair Hendrie’s work with his Kindle book, Fight Game: The Untold Story of Women’s MMA in Britain, which features insight from Rosi Sexton, Joanne Calderwood and many more.