It wasn’t long ago that it seemed like the only fans of Nate Diaz resided within 50 miles of the 209 area code. We tuned in to watch him flip off his opponent and talk his mumbled trash prior to a fight, but the wins haven’t necessarily been the expected outcome throughout his UFC career.
Diaz splashed onto the scene when he was crowned the champion of The Ultimate Fighter 5 in 2007. He did rattle off four straight wins to start his UFC journey, but the guys he beat weren’t much to write home about, which is expected as the UFC started to figure out where Diaz was going to fit in with the other fighters. Since those first four fights, Diaz has recorded a very pedestrian 9-8 record.
With a nearly .500 record over his last 17 outings, how has Diaz continued to lure fans to his fights? It’s ironic, but he’s been doing the Conor McGregor long before Conor McGregor was even a thing in the fight game.
Talk crap at press conferences? Check. Act like the UFC needs him more than he needs the UFC? Check. Disrespect opponents leading up to and during the fight? Check. But the most important aspect of it all is that he puts on a show win or lose.
It does get old after a while, though. You could see that in Diaz’s demeanor at the UFC 202 pre-fight press conference that took place on Wednesday.
Should Diaz lose, it would bring him to an even 9-9 over his last 18 fights, but people are going to be just as interested in seeing him fight whether or not he wins his next five or loses his next five. It doesn’t just go for him, but for his brother Nick as well. The Diaz effect, or whatever one wants to call it, is alive and well, and there’s no sign of it slowing down any time soon.
So, what makes Nate Diaz a star?
It takes more than an exciting fighting style to capture an audience. Does anybody remember how enamored we were with Clay Guida? He’s an exciting fighter, but since 2011 he’s almost forgotten how to win and therefore his status of fan-favorite took a pretty quick nosedive. Guida was also somebody who would come out throwing haymakers from the opening seconds of the fight, but there hasn’t seemed to be much rhyme or reason to Guida’s fights over the last few years.
Once you scrape away the middle fingers and f-bombs, Diaz has a beautiful fight game, and that is what holds the interest of MMA fans. When he’s boxing with his opponent, we see crisp jabs and combinations. When he gets to work his jiu-jitsu, it’s simply fun to watch. Diaz walks into the Octagon like you’d expect somebody to walk into a bar fight. He throws everything he has into each of his fights. You tie that in with the background he has come from and you get somebody who people want to see fight.
Now, let’s not sit here and say he’s always a fan-favorite heading into a fight. That couldn’t be further from the truth. He has historically been booed more often than not. However, there has been one fighter that he’s crossed paths with that has made him even more likable walking into the ring. That fighter? You guessed it: Conor McGregor. Listen to the crowd reaction on Saturday night at the T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas. You will hear more boos for McGregor than you will for Diaz.
Nate Diaz’s star is going to burn bright after this weekend, win or lose, and it’s a star the UFC desperately needs. We all went through Ronda Rousey fatigue, and the promotion of McGregor has surely surpassed that feeling as well. Diaz just might be the answer to McGregor fatigue.