Nate Diaz shocked the world at UFC 196 earlier this month and in doing so finally stepped away from the shadow of his older brother Nick.
For years, the Diaz brothers have brought their own brand of anarchy to the mixed martial arts scene. Every time Nick or his younger brother Nate step inside the cage they deliver scathing attacks from limb and mouth to unsettle and out-strike their opponents.
Their scrappy style of fighting to a certain degree masked years of honed skill in striking and grappling; fans only seeing their disregard for respect and the occasional flip of a middle finger.
Older brother and former Strikeforce champion Nick Diaz held no issues fronting the line of his merry brigade of bad boy teammates, which includes accomplished fighters such as Jake Shields and Gilbert Melendez amongst others.
The media attention for Nick has landed him some high profile fights throughout his career, facing former UFC champions, legends – basically anyone who wanted to shut his mouth Diaz would roll the red carpet out for. Whilst trading blows to further the family name, brother Nate wouldn’t be far behind, quietly building his legacy in the shadow of his brother’s success and controversy.
In December last year, Nate stepped into the octagon to face heavy favourite Michael Johnson at UFC on FOX 17, his first fight since recording a heavy loss to current lightweight champion Rafael dos Anjos. Nate looked crisp, disciplined in technique and surprised many with a lopsided unanimous decision win. That night people started to take notice – Nate was finally coming into his own and was still a major contender in the lightweight division.
With his brother originally suspended for five years – later reduced to 18 months – by the Nevada State Athletic Commission following a failed drug test, Nate felt it was his time to seize the spotlight and the injury of another prominent fighter offered just that.
UFC featherweight champion Conor McGregor was set to face Dos Anjos for the lightweight title at UFC 196 but the Brazilian was forced to withdraw from the bout on short notice due to a foot injury. The UFC weighed up their options, with past foes of McGregor not even enticed to jump in the cage with “The Notorious”. When the dust settled, only a mere eleven days before UFC 196 in Las Vegas, Nevada, Nate Diaz was announced as McGregor’s stand-in opponent and instantly touted as the underdog.
Throughout the lead up to the event, McGregor berated Nate with insults about his teammates, career, and heritage, constantly putting Nate down in the hopes of unsettling the 30-year-old before the fight. While Nate lost the verbal war to the brash-speaking Irishman on many occasions, he still managed to do the unthinkable on March 5th and dethrone the 145-pound king with relative ease.
The constant aurora of invincibility around McGregor blinded people to how dangerous Diaz really was, and when he weathered the first found barrage of strikes those in attendance started to see McGregor as a mere mortal. Near the end of the second round, McGregor started to gas and the Brazilian Jiu-jitsu practitioner sunk in a rear-naked choke to win the fight, sending the MMA community into a frenzy.
In the space of one single night, the Stockton kid had forged a new path, separate from his brother Nick and, who knows, maybe one of greater purpose. While he may not reach the heights his older brother achieved all those years ago, beating a UFC champion is one hell of an iconic moment, one many will speak of for years to come.
Just for one night, it was all about Nate and to be honest, ‘I’m not surprised motherf*ckers’.
James McDonald, Pundit Arena