By Edward Pollard
Nick Diaz is an outsider whose uncompromising stance as a fighter and as an individual put him in a unique position as a professional athlete. At the fairly young age of 26, Diaz is a seasoned veteran whose experience covers a broad spectrum of the mixed-martial arts landscape. He started fighting as a professional at 18 and has been at it ever since. He?s competed in the Ultimate Fighting Championship as well as the defunct PRIDE Fighting Championships in Japan, and he is now under contract with San Jose, California-based Strikeforce.
Aside from the fact that this Stockton, California native was raised in a difficult environment, he has had to deal with the added setback of being diagnosed with attention deficit disorder. However, Diaz refused to take prescription drugs like Ritalin, preferring to deal with the symptoms in his own way. Discovering that martial arts provided him with both a structure for his behavior and an outlet for his physical gifts, he came to adopt Brazilian jiu-jitsu with the help of Cesar Gracie, a teacher-student relationship that he still maintains.
Keep in mind that Diaz maintains a punishing training schedule that could floor the average mixed martial artist. He may not be a champion now, but you can bet that his path will soon lead to a title shot.
Black Belt: You?ve been training hard for a specific opponent and he gets bumped from the card. How do you deal with the period when you don?t know who you?re going to face?
Nick Diaz: That?s probably the hardest part about mixed martial arts for me over the last seven fights. I never know who I?m going to fight, usually. I?ve never had like a whole month knowing who I?m going to fight. If I did, I trained for that month for that person in particular and they changed my opponent.
So that?s happened to you a lot?
That?s what happened this time. I trained for a certain guy and now I?m training for a different guy, which is really de-motivating, especially at a time when I don?t know who I?m fighting. Once I know who I?m training for, I start training real good and real hard.
Do you think in a way that?s an advantage? Police don?t know who they?re going to face specifically, but they still have to be prepared. In a way, you?re also ready for anybody.
Yeah, but I just think about what history shows. Any time anybody?s ever gone into battle, whoever doesn?t know what they?re up against usually loses.
You could probably narrow down your list of opponents by now.
The only times I?ve ever lost are when I didn?t know enough about my opponent or didn?t know who my opponent was. That?s the biggest challenge for me, knowing who it is, getting on the ball real quick, and finding out how to deal with him.
How do you stay alert and ready for that next opponent? How do you get through that period?
I pretty much have to push myself and I have to rely a lot more on good judgment instead of that adrenaline and energy I would get from knowing who I?m going to fight. It?s kind of automatic then. But now I know who I?m going to fight so I?ve just got to be really smart about making it into the gym anyways, putting in the same effort and getting ready.
MMA fighter Nick Diaz competes in Strikeforce
In general, how do you maintain your level of competitive interest in MMA?
I want to be really happy, so I use training to stay balanced. I use the other things I do throughout the day to balance things out.
So instead of thinking MMA all the time, you pursue a normal life.
You can?t really [think about MMA all the time]. You have to have some sort of life. That?s the hard part, though. You have to have a life to balance. This has to complement that and that?s got to complement this, you know?
Tell me about prepping for the fight you had with Frank Shamrock. Frank?s another guy who is really capable in a lot of different fields, right?
For me, I know Frank and where he came from. I work harder than him and I know his tricks. I know what his mentality is. He thinks he knows exactly what I do, but he didn?t know that I came from his backyard.
I have the same sort of mentality as Frank?he thinks the same way I do. I think the same way he does on account of him. He brought a lot to the table when it comes to mixed martial arts and training jiu-jitsu. When he fought Tito [Ortiz], I heard a lot about that fight.
Was his meeting with Ortiz an MMA landmark? Did he prove a lot to you in that fight?
Yeah, and some of these people who looked up to Frank were so up his ass for the five years that I was training in the beginning. So many guys would come in with wrestling shoes, but I would tap them all out with chokes and arm locks and sweeps and stuff. I would train with a gi and despite all that they would show up and try to act like Frank. They wanted to lift weights and do steroids and paint their hair. This is the sporty type of attitude.
Is being sporty more of an attention thing?
Yeah. They want repercussions from training. They like the look. They didn?t like the way they looked doing martial arts in a gi. They thought that was dorky or something. They don?t like karate?it?s just sort of a dorky thing or something. They like to be cool, more like jocks?lift weights, you know. Here in America they felt better trying to impress their girlfriends than they did walking around with ninja skills and a karate gi. I heard a lot of people from the Lion?s Den would call it pajamas.
It?s the mentality that is mostly concerned with having a strong and big upper body. That?s why wrestling remains popular. Do you think that?s why steroids are such a factor?
Yeah, but these guys liked to hang out together to do all that stuff. I?d go right in and tap all of them out and they wouldn?t like that. I was younger than them, too. I?d wear a gi and they were against that. So I had to go where there was an instructor who could tell people that this is the way. Because they?re not going to listen to anything, even though I was tapping them out. That?s how ignorant people are. Even when they see it right in front of their faces they?re not going to believe it. I?m tapping them out.
Once I got into the academy everybody had the same mind-set as me, so I thought, ?Great, we?ll all learn jiu-jitsu together and train together.? Sometimes I tried to get those guys to train and they?d be like, ?You go run and lift weights like we did and then we?ll train with you.? And I?m like, ?Dude, why are you doing all that when I?ll beat you? It?s obviously not helping you.? I actually went through that with a lot of people from the time I was 16 until I was about 19.
Mixed martial artist Nick Diaz fights in Strikeforce
Your brother Nate fights for the UFC and you used to fight for them. Do you give him advice about how to handle things?
Yeah, I do. I give him the heads-up about what they do. He understands that they?re not completely all for you over there. You have to watch out and be ready for what you?re doing. It?s geared to that sportier athlete.
I?m at war. As far as I?m concerned, this is warfare and I?m a ninja warrior and I?m taught to kill in the most efficient way possible. That?s the sort of mentality I?m going in there with.
I don?t want to sit next to you and have a conversation and lunch and have an interview together and talk and shake hands. I?m like, Fine, if the media wants to talk to me or see me or ask me questions, they can hear about whatever.
The UFC thinks [marketing] is good for the sport, but we don?t need to worry about that anymore. I?m sorry?I just don?t believe that we do. It?s not like we?re marketing Crystal Pepsi?this thing?s here to stay now.
I?m sorry that it scares people and that they?re not mature enough to understand that violence is a part of life. It?s just the way it is and it?s not my problem. That?s just the way I feel.
I don?t mean to be bad for the sport. I?m sorry if I?m bad for the sport. I don?t necessarily love this sport, either. I love jiu-jitsu and martial arts and competition, but mixed martial arts and what it is today, I don?t necessarily love it. It?s just not an easy job. And people like to point their fingers a lot and think it?s a ballgame and they think it?s an easy job, and it?s not that easy. I need to look like this killer to my adversary. I need to have that mental edge and I will have it. It?s the most important thing if I?m going to be fighting.
And you don?t want to piss away that mental edge by doing promotional stuff.
Yeah, I?m not going to sell out to anything like that. I?ve already said I?m not going to, so how could I now? It?s just bullshit anyway. I?m going to put on an act and then go fight somebody? I?m going to go in there and fight for my life, but then I have to go and act like I like this person? It?s hard.
When I got into this, I was 17 years old. I had this mentality and it worked for me, but I just turned 26 and I had a girlfriend for five years and it?s harder. Her sister?s kids have to see me go out there and fight and I have to try and act sportsmanlike and it?s kind of hard. So this isn?t my favorite thing to do on Earth. People are calling me a creep and telling me that I?m a monster or whatever, but I don?t especially enjoy this.
I don?t think you enjoy going to your job eight hours a day, do you? So I can smile and act nice and be a good sport, but I?ll do that when I get home. At the same time, this has caused me a lot of problems. People who don?t agree with how I feel have a hard time understanding me. My ex-girlfriend?s dad?in five years I never met this guy. He was probably intimidated by me. He probably intimidates everybody he?s ever met in his life, but he doesn?t want to meet me. That sucks a lot.
I got into this sport as an angry, rebellious, mad kid. I was going to be nothing and nobody and all that stuff, coming from nowhere like Stockton. I was real angry about that and I had a really hard time trying to do good in school, especially when they moved me around a few schools and it just wasn?t easy for me, so you know I was angry.
You get a lot of things out of fighting if you work hard. For instance, I had a girlfriend and I started to have a normal life after a while. Then you have something new to work for instead of just being angry. I had a potential family and stuff like that to take care of. Now that I?m making money, that?s actually a possibility.
Mixed martial artist Nick Diaz fights in Strikeforce
You didn?t have much to look forward to before.
Yeah. But for me the only problem was that five years in I wasn?t concentrating on that until I started to see repercussions. Then I started to think about that, but by then I was just acting like an asshole.
I had to start from scratch when I broke up with my girlfriend. I?m at this point where I?ve fought for all these years straight and now I?ve made some money. I still live at home with my brother and my parents, but I want out now; I?m ready to go do something. I?m at a crossroads.
You?ve got to have people to trust, for sure.
But fighting makes it hard. You?re putting people off on account of training. You have to. Nobody understands that if you?re out there, you?re going to get your head pounded into the mat. Gil Castillo told me that. He?s always stressing out about his girlfriend. He?d be fighting and training and he?d want a personal life or just a life, period, but he couldn?t take care of both.
It?s a lot of physical stress and all of a sudden you have mental stress. I?d be like, ?Oh, dude, you have no physical to carry you through the mental part.? He would say that nobody?s going to know what you?re going through, not your mom, not your girlfriend?only you. You?ve got to think about that if you?re going to fight mixed martial arts. Nobody?s going to understand how fucked up and hard that shit is. So you?ve just got to make the best of all the good things. If you can?t, then you?re in trouble.
I?m trying to be 100 percent happy and manipulate myself into being angry, into being happy, into being all these things. I have to trick myself with all these emotions and I?m going to have to be strong enough to trick myself with it all the time. So I don?t ever just get to be a normal human and be emotional or some shit like that. I?ve got to block all that off.
Do you think what happened to Josh Barnett is going to shake a lot of people from the tree in terms of steroid use?
They?re all on steroids, though, you know? All of them are on steroids, dude. Obviously, he was trying to cycle off and they got him.
There?s a certain type of person who does steroids. I just don?t fall into that category. If you do steroids, you can?t stop. You have to do them. Even if the steroids were placebos, it would be a mental issue and you would still need steroids because you?re aware of your testosterone level and how it goes up and then drops, but it won?t go back up to 100 percent unless you use steroids again.
So you?re screwed once you start.
Yeah, steroids turned me off from the very beginning. I think I was brought up with certain good habits and one of them was to not stick needles in my ass. (laughs)
Maybe some people aren?t that lucky. But maybe you grew up and saw some of those people become pro wrestlers. No one told them not to do it and now you see what happens to them. They just turn into caricatures.
And I always thought it was kind of funny. So much of steroids is for looks. When I started fighting, most of the time I would have a confrontation with people I didn?t get along with: jocks and high school kids. Not to cry about how I didn?t have this or that and whatever?but they did. And we were both there. I wasn?t going anywhere, so we clashed. They did steroids and I never did.
Mixed martial artist Nick Diaz fights in Strikeforce
Wow, they were already using stuff like that in high school for football and stuff?
Yeah. When I was in high school, the whole football team was on steroids. The whole football team. The wrestlers were on steroids and they were weird. You would always hear stories about people getting carried away. You?d hear about this guy smashing someone?s head.
A ?roid rage kind of thing.
Yeah, and so people would be so intimidated by these guys, but I wouldn?t punk out. At the same time, they wouldn?t invite me to come play football with them. So I had a lot of anxiety involved with going to school every day and having to think about fighting or getting jumped. So this never went away for me.
In high school I started fighting in mixed martial arts, so by the time the confrontations stopped in school I was fighting in MMA. People didn?t want to fight with me anymore?they wanted to be my friend. But then every three months or so I would have a serious fight, so it?s hard to sleep now. It?s the same anxieties, the same energy.
I don?t like to use emotional words like anxiety, nervous or excited. People abuse these words to market medicine for kids. They tried to stuff Ritalin down my throat my whole life?it?s methamphetamines. They try that with every single kid. You might not be doing your homework and you get thrown around a few schools and [your assignments are] going to look shitty compared to the other kids, so you don?t do it at all. Then they decide, ?He?s not paying attention. He needs Ritalin.?
As far as I?m concerned, they use emotions to market drugs and I think it?s negative; I don?t agree with it. I think a lot of it has to do with the fact that people are weak.
Is that why you prefer a natural approach?
Yeah. I know that if I poke at somebody?s mental aspects, they?re not all there, either. They might have anxiety or depression. If we?re going to get political and start talking and doing interviews together, I might be able to poke at this stuff. You might not want to have me sitting right next to one of these guys in an interview.
I?m just too conscious of what makes people tick and what makes people the way they are, mostly because I?m trying to figure out a way to beat them, to be a more efficient killer, if you will. I want to figure out exactly what makes you tick. I feel like I?ve got the right information, especially if I know where you come from and who your friends are. If you?re from another country, that makes it a little trickier, but then I like to think about all the things you don?t have over there. You might not have a lot of our bad habits, like all the emotional things that come into play, but over there they?re missing a lot of things in general. They don?t have good boxing training over there, or good wrestlers. The whole rest of the world doesn?t have all three, so by the time they start coming out and having competitors, we?ll just decide on what they?re not good at.
Your opponent?s gotta watch out, man.
My opponent is gonna have to be rock solid or something, because I?m going to figure out what [of theirs] is not and I?m going to attack that. That?s the idea. At the same time, I?ve always gone this way like [a kind of] insurance.
I used to have a girlfriend, but I didn?t bring her to shows and stuff. I wasn?t going to walk in and show that I?m happy and have a normal life. A lot of times I wouldn?t, and that?s not a normal life. Even acting like you have a normal life is not having a normal life. You can quote me on that. Acting like you don?t have a normal life is pretty much not having a normal life, because putting on that front for 24 hours is just crazy.
And then you have to live with it.
Yeah, so if I have to live with that, and you?re not, that gives me a whole lot of confidence in a weird way. It gives me a whole lot of things, but it doesn?t give me a whole lot of other stuff, but it gives me a whole lot of one thing and that?s confidence to know that I?m going to smash you, because you haven?t suffered and you haven?t given up the things that I?ve given up. You expect to come in here and beat me and then you?re going to wear a bunch of pink colors on top of this and you?re going to bring your happy wife and kids that I don?t have and I might not even potentially ever have?a happy life.
For all I know, everybody?s just going to go ahead and keep calling me a creep and saying, ?Oh, what an asshole punk kid? because I talk shit or the way I look or whatever. So for all I know, it?s going to be the same way that it has from the start. For all I know, by the time I actually do start to have a life, then I?ll start to take an ass whooping.
So when I go in to fight somebody, I take all these things into consideration. I look at your family, I look at who you have. You?re going to bring your kids in? You?re going to tell me that you?re going home, you have a happy family?oh, you?re married now? You have to tend to your kids, you have to worry about them having dinner? You cannot. Even if you explain things to them and you think that it?s OK because you?ve explained it and you know that you?re in the right because you had to do whatever, they?re not going to understand. No one?s going to understand. That?s what I was talking about. It?s your head getting pounded into the mat, not theirs. Nobody?s going to understand but you.
Except another fighter.
Maybe another fighter. And if not that fighter, then he?s definitely not going to beat me. There are plenty of people who haven?t taken care of what they needed to take care of, and they think they can have this mentality, and they can go out there and still lose. Where I?m at right now, you?re doing something right if you?re beating me. Whatever it is, you did something better than I did. You were taking care of something.
Unless it was a decision.
Yeah, or a stupid doctor.