Exclusive: Cesar Gracie Discusses Nate Diaz vs. Benson Henderson, Nick Diaz and BJ Penn
Cesar Gracie is without a doubt one of the top coaches in the world of mixed martial arts. If you’re going to judge a gym by the amount of champions they have then you have to consider Cesar Gracie Jiu-Jitsu one of the best teams in the sport. Gilbert Melendez, Jake Shields, David Terrell and Nick and Nate Diaz are just a few of the top guys Gracie has taken under his wing and helped win or at the very least helped compete for championships.
In less than two weeks Nate Diaz will face UFC Lightweight Champion Benson Henderson for the UFC lightweight title at UFC on Fox 5 in Seattle. Fans are already salivating at the idea of the fight and many feel it has the potential to be the Fight of the Year. Nate has improved greatly since dropping back down to the lightweight division in September of 2011. Gracie explained the biggest differences between the Nate before his return to lightweight and the Nate after.
“I’m very proud of Nate, I was with him today and we brought in some pro boxers to spar with him,” Gracie told BJPenn.Com Radio. “He’s really looking great and he’s getting better all the time. He has grown into his own game and he’s looking really good. I couldn’t be prouder and he’s only going to keep getting better. He eats really good, he works out and he’s a really good guy.”
“One problem we were having when he was fighting at 155 previously, I mean he had a lot of talent obviously, but I wasn’t seeing the best Nate Diaz come fight time. The weight cut was really hard on him and by the time he fought he was so sluggish. It took him awhile to get going and he began to understand he pretty much was going to lose the first round. He has changed up his diet, he cut out gluten and some other stuff and began eating some raw foods. I introduced Nick to the gluten free diet and he told Nate and it’s made the weight cut a lot easier. He’s got a lot more energy now at 155 than he did before.”
Nate has certainly earned his shot at Henderson and the UFC Lightweight Championship. When these two step into the cage fireworks are sure to ignite and whoever emerges victorious will have gone through hell to walk away with that title wrapped around their waste. Both men are extremely talented and regardless of who you think will win, the one thing people agree on is the fact that it’s going to be incredible.
“This bout has the earmarks of a dogfight and it’s one of those match-ups that people really want to see,” offered Gracie. “If Henderson comes out to fight and not try and outpoint Nate it’s going to be wild. I think both men are going to come into the cage and they are going to go for it, there are so many great fights that night and I’m really excited to see it.”
Gracie is very familiar with BJ Penn having worked with him during the early part of BJ’s career. Penn will face Rory MacDonald the same night Nate and Henderson go at it for the lightweight title and just like everyone else, that’s a fight that Gracie is looking forward to watching.
“The thing about BJ is he has what I’ll call the unknown element to him,” said Gracie. “There’s an aura about him and I’ve been to his fights before, but I felt it for the first time when Nick fought him. We’re standing there waiting for the fight to start and BJ is mad dogging us and I knew we had a fight on our hands. If he’s in shape and he’s training really hard for this fight then I think he can do something really cool. He has all these ridiculous skills and he’s out for blood. If he comes in the way he did against Sean Sherk then it’s going to be a great fight. I’m actually happy that I’ll get to see it. It should be great.”
Both Nick and Nate get a bad rap because they portray the bad boy and people have a negative perception about them, but Gracie is quick to point out the difference between the fighter and the man. After defeating Jim Miller, Nate spoke about Miller’s nephew Daniel, the son of UFC welterweight Dan Miller, who is battling a rare kidney disease. Diaz implored people to help out the Miller family with their mounting medical bills.
“When it comes time to fighting, Nick and Nate don’t want to shake hands or hug their opponent,” said Gracie. “Sometimes you see two guys fighting wanting to hug one another in the middle of the cage. That is not the Diaz mentality, outside of the cage if they aren’t fighting you and you want to be friends with them they are great. That other stuff (trash talk) is what you see in interviews right before or after they fight. There’s a time to turn that stuff off and when they do they are good people.”
Case in point, before one of Nick’s fights a camera crew recorded him teaching a young kids Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu class. It was clearly evident that Nick enjoyed working with these children and showed a side of his persona that the public had probably never seen before.
“Nick helps out with our younger students and has no problem doing that,” Gracie stated. “He helps people out and no one knows about it and you will never hear about it. He’ll open the gym sometimes and I’ll walk in and he’s helping some new dude that he met somewhere. He really believes in what I like to call the Gracie Lifestyle which was started by grandfather Carlos Gracie. My grandfather was into training, eating healthy and living life correctly and Nick has adapted to that and it’s how he lives his life.”
Nick has talked about growing up in the rough neighborhood of Stockton, CA and how Jiu-Jitsu saved his life. Other fighters have similar stories of how they walked into a gym and fell in love with martial arts. Gracie explained to us how he and Nick met and talked about the relationship they have.
“Nick walked into a gym some time ago and the instructor was one of my guys,” said Gracie. “At the time Nick wasn’t hanging out with the right people and wasn’t eating very healthy, but he saw a different way and that’s the beauty of Jiu-Jitsu. It teaches people a different way to live and a different way to be, that’s the best thing about it and that’s the path he took. We kind of clicked and I was impressed by him and how he was always looking to train. He was a hard worker and never really cried about anything, he would do whatever. He was always into competing and I thought that was great.”