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Fighting Has Defined Nick Diaz's Life

Ahead Of A Return To The Octagon And A Rematch 17 Years In The Making, Nick Diaz Shares How His Life Has Been Defined By Fighting

“I came from a really hard town,” said Stockton’s Nick Diaz when asked about his first fight with Robbie Lawler in 2004, and while many of his peers in mixed martial arts or boxing could say the same thing, it always held a little more weight coming from Diaz, who ends a layoff of over six years when he meets Lawler for a second time this Saturday on the UFC 266 card at T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas.

The Mandalay Bay Events Center was the site of their first fight on the undercard of Chuck Liddell’s long-awaited scrap with Tito Ortiz. Diaz, 20, and Lawler, 22, were young guns on the way up, with Lawler, the future UFC welterweight champion, 8-1 as a pro and two fights removed from the first loss of his career against Pete Spratt. Diaz, 8-2, had won his UFC debut seven months earlier, ending his trilogy with Jeremy Jackson via submission.

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Neither probably expected that they would fight again more than 17 years later, especially after an emphatic second-round knockout win by Diaz, who truly began building his legend that night in Las Vegas. For him, it was just a fight, and at least in this fight, he was getting paid.

“I was in a rough neighborhood, and my brother (Nate) was getting into gangfights and fights on the street,” Diaz said. “I got stabbed. I had a really solid mentality from getting roughed around as a kid and put through a lot. And so when I went out there, I just did what I knew.”

What Diaz knew was that even with rules and a referee involved, you fought as if your life depended on it, because outside of sanctioned competition, that was the reality of the situation.

“The people I grew up with, they were always fighting,” he said. “I remember in high school, this kid knocks this other kid out with a lock in his hand and busted all his teeth out.”

Fighter Timeline: Nick Diaz
Fighter Timeline: Nick Diaz
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Diaz ultimately began training with some of the best jiu-jitsu practitioners and MMA fighters in the world, but he never forgot where he came from, and when he fought Lawler, the world got introduced to Diaz’ life.

“I thought it was an everyday thing, but the rest of the world hadn’t really been from a rough neighborhood like that, so I went out there and I spooked him,” he said, “I gave him a real hard slap. I learned that from my grandfather. I was out of line one time, and he popped me one real good and it kinda stuck in my head.”

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In the years to come, fans would call that the Stockton Slap. Diaz didn’t pay attention to such matters as he became a cult hero, no matter who he was fighting, for whatever promotion he was signed to, or regardless of the end result.

“I thought this was going on everywhere, but it was just the school that I was at, so when I went out there to fight in front of an audience, they had never seen anything like that,” he recalls. “And I didn’t know I was doing anything different, but the commission and the judges didn’t like that stuff.”

He didn’t care, and that attitude made him even bigger. Today, though, the 38-year-old admits that maybe that wasn’t always the right tact to take.

Nick Diaz vs Robbie Lawler 2 Preview | UFC 266
Nick Diaz vs Robbie Lawler 2 Preview | UFC 266
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“Now that I’m older and I see the big picture, it kinda roughs me up a little bit that I was going so hard,” he said. “I had an advantage because of that mentality, but it wasn’t a good look to put from the sportsmanship aspect. I don’t like to hurt people and be that guy, but in martial arts, it’s do or die.”

For the next 11 years, Diaz fought with that mindset and his fans loved him for it. But after a 2015 no contest with Anderson Silva, many believed they had seen the last of the older Diaz brother. And though there would be periodic rumors that he was going to be making a return to active duty, nothing came of it until he made it official earlier this year that he was returning to the Octagon to face Lawler again.

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Being in shape wasn’t going to be a problem for the triathlete – getting fight ready was going to be the issue, yet training in Northern California with his longtime team has given Diaz the spark he needed, even if he may be considered the “old guy” of the group.

“Being older, you get really nervous for competitions and stuff like that, but when I think about it, it’s nothing to be afraid of,” he said. “I started out winning as a kid, and now coming back here to train with the kids, they’re all grown up now, and putting in work with those kids, it’s really good for me because they go hard. Older people, you don’t want to go too hard on the guys that are older, you take it easy. And I don’t want to go too hard on the kids, but they go hard on me, so that gets me in really good shape, and I just feel more comfortable at home with family and people that I started with.”

Dare I say it’s a kinder, gentler Nick Diaz? Maybe, but don’t think he’s lost his edge, especially when it comes to his place on the current MMA landscape.

“Win or lose my next fight, in my mind I’ve been the best fighter in the world since I fought Anderson Silva,” Diaz said. “I fought him when he was at his best, and every other fighter that I fought, I fought them when they were at their best. And I was not at my best. I’ve never done a fight when I’ve been at my best. I always walked out there like, ‘What am I doing? I can’t believe I’m doing this again.’”

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He chuckles, reminded of why he simply loves interviews (note sarcasm).

“This stuff is a lot more stressful on me than the actual fight part,” said Diaz, who won’t have too many media obligations until he steps back into the Octagon to face a familiar foe for what he believes may be a fight with a familiar outcome.

“Robbie is a real hard hitter, but I don’t think he’s gotten much better than he was when I fought him the first time,” he said. “But I’m way more of a dangerous fighter than I was when I fought Robbie Lawler the first time.”