Nick Diaz Hates the Game
For a man who loathes injustice, maybe a professional sport is the wrong place to be.
By Ben Miller
If Nick Diaz were ten years younger, he might hate mixed martial arts.
The high school he disliked enough to drop out after a single year? It would be filled with UFC fans. The bullies that caused him to seek out Cesar Gracie? Might be Chuck Liddell’s biggest supporters. He would have been like Flea, bassist for the Red Hot Chili Peppers, who said on Twitter recently: “Can’t wait ‘til jocks think Mohawks are gay again so I can get one.” He is a rebel, an iconoclast and, most of all, a man who hates injustice.
Mr. Diaz’ desire to right perceived wrongs was on full display after his fight with Carlos Condit. He won the fight, and he was sure of it. He was the aggressor and he came closer to finishing. In a true fight – a fight until one man quits or is rendered unconscious with no time limits and few rules – Nick Diaz was certain that he could not have lost. In the world of a believer in bold contrasts between what aught and aught not to be, it made perfect sense.
The intention to retire, while possibly short-lived, was logical as well. That is because Nick Diaz never intended to be an athlete. He intended to be an artist.
Part of succeeding at a sport is learning the game. Playing the system. Drawing charging fouls in basketball. Blocking at the knees in football. Exclusively counter-striking in MMA. All of these things are legal. All of these things can lead to victory. None of these things are manly. They are just part of what sometimes must be done to win a game. And from basketball to football to MMA, all sports must accept – even, reward – these unmanly activities in the name of fairness.
Sports must have a simple system. Both adversaries must agree on an established system of rules and criteria for victory. Once that is agreed upon, both sides must be allowed to do anything within the rules in pursuit of that victory.
Counter-striking can no sooner be outlawed in mixed martial arts as drawing charging fouls in basketball. If a basketball player careens recklessly into an opponent who has established a position on the court, the aggressor must be guilty of the foul. If a fighter wildly swings away from the opening bell, his opponent must be allowed to protect himself by retreating as he counters.
Was Nick Diaz swinging wildly? If he were, there would be no discussion about Carlos Condit’s strategy. Condit would have been universally lauded for his performance because exclusively counter-striking would have been the only sound strategy.
The problem for Mr. Condit is that Nick Diaz did not fight recklessly. Mr. Diaz would have preferred a more active fight, but his advances were controlled. Retreating for the entire duration of a fight against an opponent employing a controlled attack is unmanly. Or weak, or cowardly, or whatever one of a dozen other pejoratives that have been used to describe UFC’s interim welterweight champion in the days following the fight. But it had to be rewarded, because that is sport.
If MMA is to be a sport, then it must be judged based on who is best advancing towards a finish. The tactics used must be irrelevant as long as they are within the established rules. By any objective measure, Condit beat Diaz by those criteria. He landed more punches, better punches and more kicks. He was taken down and put in a compromised position near the very end of the fight, but he ultimately got himself out. A judge of the sport must, therefore, award him victory.
To admirers of the fighting spirit (or sportsmanship, or whatever one wants to call It), Carlos Condit’s victory over Nick Diaz is the kind of thing that makes sports unjust. It is the type of thing that compels Royce Gracie to Tweet that, “Nick Diaz won that fight in my opinion. He is what every fighter should be. A true martial artist who comes to fight.” That is perfect. That is exactly what an artist should say. Because Royce Gracie never cared for sport, either. He wants exhibitions of fighting, not competitions for championships.
And so it all makes sense. Mr. Diaz fled the traditional sporting world to MMA in part because it was the anti-sport. He has reached the apex of mixed martial arts, but now the game has superseded the art. He could play the game and engage in the unmanly behavior his so dislikes. He could walk away in protest of the art he loves becoming overrun by sport. Or, he could keep doing it his way. He could fight the way he believes a fighter should fight, and accept the losses as the price that is paid when a man does what it right in spite of the existing system.
As a fan of great fighting and of iconoclasts, the author sure hopes that Diaz chooses to continue on his current path. For if he walks away or if he changes his style to game the system, he will have let himself become all too close to spirit of the bullies that once kindled his interest in the art of fighting.