Nick Diaz recently managed the seemingly impossible – he left the extraordinarily loquacious UFC company president Dana White lost for words at a post-event press conference. This Herculean task was achieved at the end of a rambling monologue about money and his need “to be compensated properly”.
Diaz had railed against the property he currently lives in and told his enraptured audience that he was financially unable to change his living circumstances because he “didn’t go to school to learn about buying houses”. Heads were scratched, White’s among them. Everyone had the same thought simultaneously – “Is there even a school for that?”
Of course there isn’t. What Diaz was driving at was that his education had not equipped him with the tools to understand the property market and finances in general. At some point recently, it seems Diaz has picked up on the term ‘compensation’ and so pleasing did this word’s definition appear to him, he repeated it with the frequency of a politician on campaign.
Repeating a relatively unusual word over and over again is a habit of people who have – for whatever reason – a poor vocabulary. This seems to be the case with Diaz; that shallow vocabulary unfortunately meant that he was unable to expound on the finer points of his manifesto.
He has clear ideas of what he wants and what he thinks. The problem is that, while these concepts surface fully-formed in Nick’s mind, by the time they have been propelled into public via his mouth they have become a disintegrated mess. Getting a handle on what Diaz truly means is like looking down from an airplane on a cloudy day – clumps of fog, patches of clarity, the full picture tantalizingly close but ultimately elusive.
His lack of articulation frequently prompts his critics to declare that he must be suffering from some intellectual deficiency. The more colloquial of his detractors label him ‘a retard’. Similar allegations are frequently levelled at his brother Nate, who faces Donald Cerrone tomorrow on the main card of UFC 141. Both of them have a reputation for being monosyllabic, almost aggressively reticent with reporters who try to interview them.
Neither of them particularly courts the limelight and while there aren’t any reports of them being anything other than briskly courteous with fans, they do not go out of their way to work the room and get their pictures taken. Glad-handers they are not – literally, as it turns out. We learned from Cerrone this week that Nate churlishly slapped away his hand when it was proffered for a shake at a recent event.
This was taken as further proof that there is something Neanderthal about the Diaz brothers, some deep-rooted anti-social tendency which makes them misfits or miscreants depending on your viewpoint. Cerrone well knew that relating Nate’s failure to shake his hand would widely discredit the Stockton man. Similar episodes in the past have done the same for Nick Diaz.
They could not be further from the truth. Nick Diaz is possibly the smartest fighter in MMA. He sees the game as it is; he has achieved enlightenment. Diaz sees the world through a black and white lens that brooks no blurring of lines. His brother, who followed Nick to the gym as a young man and has followed his path since, is the same.
Nick is a fighter. Nate is a fighter. They fight. That is it. That is their role in life and the only thing they allow you to expect of them is that they will get in any ring or cage and give it their all. Consciously or otherwise, the Diaz brothers have climbed the mountain; they have surveyed the landscape of the sportsman’s world, and they have found it wanting.
Why do we expect athletes, and fighters in particular, to be models of perfect behaviour? It is a strange irony that the men we expect to be savages in the ring or cage are expected to be the total opposite outside of it.
I have often wondered if it is society protecting itself – do we collectively hold professional fighters to a high standard of amiable conduct in the hope that they will not throw off the shackles of civilisation entirely? Is it our way of retaining some status over them? We cannot compete with them athletically, they are the alpha males of the pack. But by holding them to artificially high standards of conduct, we are able to maintain our ability to censure them.
How neatly the Diaz brothers sidestep this! You can roll your eyes at Nate not shaking hands with Cerrone. He doesn’t care. He is supposed to fight him not be his friend. You can recoil with horror at the chaotic indignity of Nick’s assault on Joe Riggs in a California hospital. He doesn’t care. Earlier in the evening, we as a society paid him money to place himself in close proximity to Riggs and hit him. What difference does the environment make?
But of course it does, we cry. Fighting in the ring is acceptable, noble. Fighting that same man in the hospital is outrageous, criminal. If you voiced this opinion to Nick, he might respond with a quizzical stare, possibly look confused. Actually he’s looking at you like you are stupid.
In the Diaz world, fighters fight each other. The environment provides a backdrop only and hostilities cease once further combat becomes impossible for whatever reason. The notion that fighting for money in front of a paying crowd is in any way more noble or dignified than fighting in public because of a genuine dislike would likely furrow Nick’s brow further.
For the Diaz’s, the various PR machinations that fighters go through are nothing more than a shallow pretence. For them, the hand-shaking, baby-holding and all-smiles sunshine public appearances are a deception and a diversion. Many fighters are, in their public personas, wolves in sheep’s clothing. The Diaz brothers are just wolves, blood-stained and slightly manic-looking. I would never expect them to test positive for steroids but rabies wouldn’t surprise me at all.
And so the Diaz boys have shrugged off the mantle of affected decency in favour of treading their own path. That is why you will never hear of them moaning about not being paid for doing hospital visits, school visits, army base visits – they just don’t do them. They are who they are, and they don’t care what you think of them.
If you dislike them for not visiting a hospital, so be it. They are still going to fight the same way, live the same way. And they don’t have to take time off training – or away from their recreational hobbies – to do something they don’t want to. In a way, isn’t that something we all aspire to?
That said, it must be noted that not all fighters who do undertake such things as hospital and school visits are engaged in some sort of deception. Some are, some are not.
Ross Pearson, who faces Junior Assuncao on tomorrow night’s card, is one of the latter; you would have to search far and wide to find another sportsman of such fundamental decency and good character. His recent trip to a children’s hospital in the UK touched him deeply, and it was not a pretence for the accompanying media, which consisted of Fighters Only and a local newspaper.
Pearson believes that being a sportsman confers a responsibility to behave oneself properly. I remember talking with him about John Terry, the captain of the England football team. Pearson was genuinely outraged by the various lapses in standard that Terry had managed to commit over the years. Most recently, Terry has become embroiled in a scandal after abusing a black player with racist epithets. Pearson considers Terry a joke, and a miserable excuse for both a sportsman and a captain.
It is an admirable stance, and one at odds with a mainstream media that seems happy to sweep any indiscretion under the carpet as long as it is committed by someone capable of kicking a ball in the right direction (and what a contrast with that same media’s attitude to a well-spoken family man like Pearson fighting in a cage).
Pearson is a standout in terms of conduct, and an excellent role model for any youth who follow his exploits. But all that said, I would not say that Pearson makes the Diaz brothers look bad. Rather, his conduct is one more aspect of the fundamental truth that the Stockton savants have long espoused – be yourself. Do not pretend to be otherwise.
In a world where politicians, churchmen, actors, athletes and other public figures are repeatedly exposed to have been living double lives, the Diaz brothers should be applauded for all their abrasive purity. There is no doubt with the Diaz’s – you know what you are getting. And we may not like the things they say, but we should defend to their death their right to say them.