Return of the Slap: The long, winding road to Nate Diaz's comeback fight at UFC 241
Disputes with the UFC, unappealing matchups and injured opponents kept Nate Diaz on the sidelines
Nate Diaz and older brother Nick have always moved to the beat of their own drum while establishing themselves as anti-establishment fan favorites. But it was Nate who launched himself to superstar status in March 2016 by stepping in on short notice at UFC 196 and submitting Conor McGregor and coming up just short in their August 2016 rematch at UFC 202.
Diaz made over $2.5 million in disclosed pay alone for those two fights, an almost unimaginable sum for someone whose primary motivation to train came from being a poor kid who knew the older guys in class would buy a meal.
"That was actually the main reason I wanted to go train," Diaz told MMA Fighting in 2012. "I didn't have any money. At home, we didn't have s--t. I was starving all day. So if I went to train I'd get something to eat. Sometimes I'd be sitting at home and it was like, 'well, if I go train with Nick, I'll get something to eat afterwards. If I don't I'll just sit here and be hungry.' I was going for burritos and dinner, and hey, I wanted dinner every day. Before I knew it I was a blue belt."
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The three years since the second fight with McGregor have seen Diaz's relationship with the UFC become rocky as he had the financial security to not be forced into positions he felt did not suit him well.
Let's take a look back to see what led from UFC 202 to Diaz finally returning to the Octagon against Anthony Pettis this Saturday at UFC 241 in Anaheim, California.
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May 3, 2017: Appearing on The MMA Hour, Diaz suggested his plan was to sit out the rest of the year, first saying he laughed off a potential fight with Eddie Alvarez. "I just laughed," Diaz said. "'Do you want the Eddie Alvarez fight?' How dare you. He just got melted by the guy I just beat up. He just got plumbed by Conor and I just beat Conor's ass. I just laughed at them, like 'Get the f--k out of here, call me with some real s--t.'" Diaz followed up by saying the UFC offered him a fight he wouldn't take so they could extend his contract six months rather than allowing the time to run out and put him in position to negotiate a new deal.
He also blasted a UFC offer to fight Tony Ferguson. "They're trying to pressure me to fight Tony Ferguson, but what the f--k I'm going to cover for Conor McGregor and do his work while he's out making f--king millions of dollars fighting boxers and s--t? I'm not covering for you, bro. You guys fight each other," Diaz said. "You guys can fight each other motherf--ker. You guys got the same manager, you guys are working together against me. You guys need me to do the work for you? F--k off. You guys fight each other."
May 4, 2017: UFC President Dana White was asked about Diaz's interview and suggested Nate and Nick may be retired. "I don't know if those guys will ever fight again," White said. "We offer them fights all the time. We offer fights and they turn them down. I don't know what he wants. That's up to them. If they want to fight next week or they never want to fight again, that's up to them, that's not up to me. They don't seem like they want to fight. Either one of them."
Jan. 25, 2018: After Diaz posted on Instagram, "Sick of sitting around waiting for you f--kers to do s--t there's no excitement in this fight s--t, step your games up. I'll see [you] around May, June. Sincerely The Real Champ," White suggested he would offer to move things along more quickly.
"I'll tell you what, I'll call him today and make him an offer," White said. "I've got to look at the rankings and see where everybody is. I will make Nate Diaz an offer to fight today."
Feb. 7, 2018: While no fight was on the table yet, Diaz responded to the repeated callouts from then-welterweight champ Tyron Woodley. Woodley was looking for "money fights" and Diaz represented the potential for exactly that. After telling ESPN that Woodley was his best option, Diaz fired a few shots. "I see [Woodley] on TMZ every week, talking about me," Diaz said. "I'm like, 'What the f--k? If that's what you want to do.' It's not really my weight class, but I'm with it. I think it's my title we're fighting for. If he's the one calling me out, whose title are we fighting for? Who's the real champion here?"
May 1, 2018: Reports surfaced stating Diaz was in talks for an August return at UFC 227. Yet another potential fight that did not happen.
Aug. 3, 2018: Diaz finally appeared to have a fight locked in with news of his return to the Octagon against Dustin Poirier. The bout was to take place at UFC 230 on Nov. 3.
Oct. 9, 2018: Dustin Poirier suffered an injury just under a month out from his scheduled fight with Diaz. Rather than facing a replacement opponent, Diaz was pulled from the card.
May 5, 2019: The fight that finally stuck was announced. Diaz was booked to return to the Octagon to face former lightweight champ Anthony Pettis in the co-main event of UFC 241 on Aug. 17.
Aug. 12, 2019: Diaz explained why the Pettis fight was the one to draw him back to the Octagon after three years in an interview with ESPN, saying Pettis is a fight that keeps him away from "all the lame fighters."
"I was like, 'All right, you know what, Pettis is knocking out Thompson and doing all this cool s--t when he fights,' and I'm like, 'Man, that's an eligible opponent, and I dig that,'" Diaz said. "I don't need to be signing up for fights just because I want to punch someone in the face. That's not cool. I want a fight that's going to motivate me to fight."
Aug. 17, 2019: We'll see.
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