Six years after legendary MMA star Georges St-Pierre bid farewell to the welterweight division, the antithesis of his championship reign fell out of the sky and crashed into the cage in the form of Nate Diaz. At UFC 241, after a three-year hiatus, there was no post-fight bowing, no pristine use of vernacular and no acknowledgment of a UFC-based hierarchy.
No, Diaz walks to the beat of his own drum—a common description for the most uncommon athlete in combat sports.
That tune propelled him to light a joint to a mix of cheers and audible gasps at the open workouts last week before his co-main event fight with Anthony Pettis. It pushed him towards completely photobombing the UFC’s title picture by defeating Pettis, creating his own belt and challenging top welterweight contender Jorge Masvidal to a “title” fight.
Game recognizes game, and apparently, gangster recognizes gangster.
“With this belt, I want to defend it against, Jorge Masvidal had a good last fight—a good last fight,” Nate Diaz said to an explosion of cheers in his post-fight interview. “All respect to the man, but there ain’t no gangsters in this game anymore. There ain’t nobody that done it right but me and him. So I know my man’s a gangster, but he ain’t no west coast gangster.”
Save your golden-plated trophy straps for someone that gives a damn. Diaz is officially dubbing his invisible crown as the “baddest [expletive] in the game” belt. Only a fighter that’s reached nosebleed heights of superstardom could get away with such an outlandish side attraction.
Forget about moving the needle. Nate Diaz is the needle.
The welterweight division hasn’t been this much fun since St-Pierre was running down the aisle in a Karate Kid costume. Granted, that trademark Gi was one of the reasons fans fell in love with St-Pierre in the first place. He was a pure martial artist stripped of the nonsensical, manufactured drama that stems from the spectacle side of things. That approach doesn’t work for everyone, particularly if you’re the “good guy,” but it vaulted St-Pierre into the stratosphere as one of the most popular MMA fighters of all time.
Diaz is also a purist and completely independent of any boxed in labels. Away from the bright lights, there’s an experienced sensei putting in hours coaching up the youth with martial arts and life lessons.
However, when it’s time to fight, there’s the Stockton-slapping, F-bomb dropping, middle-finger throwing, self-proclaimed gangster that says and does whatever he wants. His choleric reactions in interviews are a real-life response to grandstanding and the attempted beautification of a violent sport. At the end of the interviews and dramatized promos, every fighter still has to make that long walk to the cage and lay everything on the line. Diaz gets that.
More importantly, however, the audience gets him.
It isn’t often that UFC President Dana White cracks open a cold one and offers cheers to the Twitter-verse, but after getting a taste of the massive drawing power of Nate Diaz, independent of longtime rival Conor McGregor, he toasted to one of the most exciting events in his 20 years of doing business.
EVERYONE involved in last nights event!!! Fighters, Fans, My staff, ESPN etc. i have been doing fights for over 20 years and last night was INCREDIBLE!!! pic.twitter.com/PDNP4rJObl
— Dana White (@danawhite) August 19, 2019
There have been a slew of great fighters to compete at welterweight since St-Pierre defeated Johny Hendricks and willingly forfeited his title. However, no other champion or contender has been able to come close to touching his star-power—until now.
UFC 241 at the Honda Center in Anaheim was a sold-out venue of 17,304 fans for a $3,237,032 live gate, which broke the record for MMA events in the state of California. Diaz’s post-fight interview with UFC commentator Joe Rogan has already trended past four million views on YouTube.
With McGregor on the shelf, the Diaz army has marched into the UFC and taken over.
Perhaps the only unknown that has yet to be explained is the end goal. Will Nate Diaz simply rest on his laurels as his own attraction, while only choosing opponents with an aesthetically pleasing fighting style?
Make no mistake, the heavyweight title fight between Daniel Cormier and Stipe Miocic was slotted at the top of the UFC 241 fight card, but there is no question Diaz’s grudge match with Pettis was the real main event. It served as proof that the right fight with the right story could dwarf even a title fight. Not every main event needs a shiny piece of scrap metal to be relevant.
There isn’t a single fight in the UFC, much less the welterweight division, hotter right now than the proposed clash between Diaz and Masvidal. Here’s to hoping Diaz’s “baddest [expletive] in the game” title comes with a five-round clause because a three-round fight simply wouldnt do.
MMA fans deserve a full-length feature if that bout ever came to fruition. For at least one night, fans would be able to put the press conference screaming matches on mute, wave goodbye to the cringe-worthy jokes and say adios to the manufactured drama. Stripped to its bare bones, the art of fist-fighting was a sport before it was ever deemed a spectacle.
Who better than Nate Diaz and Jorge Masvidal to take fight fans on a nostalgic trip back to the beginning? Two original gangsters. The Stockton slap vs. three-piece and a soda. The “baddest [expletive] in the game” title hanging in the balance.
Not even St-Pierre could have done this.