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Nick Diaz's ESPN interview the foundation for UFC comeback he may or may not want | Opinion

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Nick Diaz voluntarily put himself back in the spotlight for the first time in a long time on Monday. Anyone who watched his nearly hour-long ESPN interview is sure to have mixed feelings about what unfolded.

In many ways, it was classic Diaz (26-9 MMA, 7-6 UFC). The former Strikeforce and WEC welterweight champion and UFC title challenger, who is eccentric but admittedly anxiety-ridden in interview settings, hardly allowed ESPN’s Ariel Helwani to finish forming his questions before issuing responses that lasted minutes and splintered in numerous directions, which may or may not have tied into what he was being asked.

Viewers didn’t even get to experience the full conversation, either. Helwani later revealed the interview was conducted around midnight on Nov. 6 and actually lasted roughly one hour and 45 minutes before being edited down under 60.

Diaz and his team clearly agreed to the rare talk with an agenda to push for a fight against Jorge Masvidal (35-13 MMA, 12-6 UFC), who beat his younger brother Nate Diaz at UFC 244 this month. In the footage that was published, however, Diaz’s discombobulated comments struggled to emphasize that point. Diaz threw some subtle and direct comments in Masvidal’s direction during his longwinded answers. In one breath he indicated he has an unresolved issue with “Gamebred,” while saying in the next that he was “definitely not” interested in fighting again.

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The story published on ESPN.com minutes after the interview aired included additional information from Diaz’s manager, Kevin Mubenga, clarifying Diaz’s intent, which is to return against Masvidal in spring 2020 at AT&T Stadium in Dallas.

Diaz has never been shy about his love-hate relationship with fighting. He was incredibly active during his 20s, but once he got to the pinnacle of the sport for fights with Georges St-Pierre in 2013 and Anderson Silva in 2015, his pace came to a halt.

There were large paydays attached to the St-Pierre and Silva fights, but there was also the controversial drug test that came with the latter. Diaz tested positive for marijuana metabolites after fighting Silva at UFC 183 was originally handed a five-year suspension from the Nevada Athletic Commission (NAC).

Eventually Diaz’s penalty was significantly reduced and he’s been cleared to fight for some time. Still, though, he hasn’t made a return to fighting, and he doesn’t seem to be particularly keen to do so again unless the circumstances suit him perfectly. He eluded that comes down to the greater forces at play.

“It’s not up to me (if I fight again),” Diaz said. Do you want some? Generally I’ll go and I’ll (expletive) show somebody their life. It’s up to them whether they want to deal. That’s just what I (expletive) do. That’s my job. I was doing that to people when I was 15 years old to get them to go come with when I was going to deal with like – I was going to karate with little babies and little kids. Like karate chop. I was a real karate kid.

”I explained to you exactly what’s going on, so it’s on you folks. It’s on you Dana (White). It’s on you UFC. It’s on them. It’s in your hands now – Cowboy Stadium.”

Despite his absence from the cage, Diaz’s life is still often exposed to the public. He’s social media presence shows he frequently enjoys the Las Vegas nightlife, and it seems his growing distance from the fighter lifestyle has altered his psychology toward the sport even more.

“After a while you realize there’s more to life, but you don’t realize it until they take the gun out of your face, and then you can go ahead and start to think like a normal person,” Diaz said. “I had a good couple of times off. I don’t know to be hateful or grateful for the suspension I went through, because I served it anyways. The verdict was I’m not the bad guy in the end.

“I needed a little bit of separation before I could get a clear picture. But I did what I was supposed to have done and supposed to be doing, just the way I should’ve been doing it at the exact right time. Looking back I made no mistakes. I never have.”

Diaz was asked bluntly if he’s happy in his life and he said, “No.” That answer appeared to be tied into seeing his brother lose to Masvidal at UFC 244 more so than anything, but it’s clear Diaz is dealing with an inner conflict.

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There were little shots from Diaz toward Masvidal over the entire course of the interview. He said he was “doing this backyard stuff way before anybody knew who ‘Kimbo Slice’ was,” and that he’s the true “BMF” champion. Diaz admitted fighting helps bring a certain structure to his life, and seeing his brother lose at UFC 244 re-lit a fire of sorts.

Only Diaz truly knows where he stands physically and mentally after so much time off and whether resuming his fighting career would positively impact his life. Returning after more than four years against Masvidal would be a tall order, but that seems to be what Diaz wants.

The rare interview was the set up for Diaz to step back in the octagon, and although it’s been a long time, he made it clear one thing has not changed: He will not bend to the UFC’s power.

“I think nobody else has any say in this besides me and the person that’s in the rightful position,” Diaz said. “But that (expletive), sometimes it’s harder than a five-round fight. When you’re (expletive) coming out of a hole. And I don’t care if I have to crawl back into that hole to crawl back out of that mother(expletive) again. So it ain’t on me. … You earn the right to fight the baddest mother(expletive), the pawns go first and that’s all I have to say about that.”

Gallery

Photos: Best of Nick Diaz

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