In terms of the greatest submission wins in Nate Diaz’s mercurial UFC career, Saturday’s victory will likely go down in the mythological lure of the sport’s greatest anti-hero just short of his 2016 victory over Conor McGregor.
No, Diaz didn’t actually submit his opponent at UFC 241. He did look great in winning, however, by outworking former lightweight champion Anthony Pettis in their welterweight co-main event bout while providing fuel to the belief that, three years removed from the Octagon, “ring rust” is just a myth.
The submission in question took place a little more than an hour after Diaz defeated Pettis when Dana White took his seat at the dais for the post-fight press conference. Asked whether Diaz had ascended to the lofty heights of McGregor and Ronda Rousey from the standpoint of being a must-see attraction, the UFC president finally tapped out and came clean after years of public dissension between him and Diaz.
“It’s pretty hard to deny now: He’s a needle mover,” White said.
White’s quote was, of course, a reference to his controversial comments made in July 2014 during a press conference in Dublin, Ireland, ahead of McGregor’s knockout victory over Diego Brandao. White, while praising Diaz’s older brother Nick as someone who demands the attention of UFC fans, infamously labeled Nate as someone who doesn’t move the needle in the same manner.
Time and again in the years that followed, White’s comments were proven nothing but false. In 2016, Diaz took advantage of a last-minute opportunity to face McGregor and produced the tap out heard around the world (followed by his legendary retort, “I’m not surprised motherf—ers!”). Five months later, Diaz lost a narrow decision to McGregor in their all-action rematch that not only went down as one of UFC’s greatest fights in history but set a new pay-per-view record.
The last one to know — or at least be willingly to admit publicly 00 that Diaz had elevated his status to crossover stardom was White. The three years that followed saw two things take place simultaneously: Diaz inexplicably sat out for over 1,000 days at the peak of his commercial prime while standing true to his principles, and UFC missed out completely on the development of a true counter culture superstar just as the golden goose McGregor began to drift away from activity.
All of that might have changed on Saturday when the 34-year-old Diaz put his career right back on track with a thorough and technically impressive win over the dangerous Pettis. From the standpoint of reestablishing himself as an elite fighter, Diaz passed the test with flying colors. But it was nothing compared to the impact of what White’s comments may do for his career from this point forward.
This may not have been Diaz giving up his weed-smoking and middle-finger waving past in order to suddenly don a UFC sport coat and sell his proverbial soul in order to be a company man. Given Diaz’s fierce unwillingness to compromise that for which he stands, such a thing would never have taken place under any circumstances. But White’s submission from the standpoint of the power of Diaz’s brand was hard to ignore in terms of it being a potential landmark moment in the unpredictable journey that the native of Stockton, California, has walked up to this point.
If we’re being honest, White would’ve had even less of a wooden peg on which to stand had he ignored the reality of what Diaz has accomplished. All of the metrics used to gauge interest heading into UFC 241 showed that Diaz’s return was the true draw of this card, substantially more in fact than the compelling heavyweight title rematch between Daniel Cormier and Stipe Miocic.
While attempting to get inside the head of Diaz and predict his next move is next to an impossible task, here’s to hoping he has plans of staying active and making the kind of must-see fights that fans lust after. From his post-fight comments, which included calling out the equally red-hot Jorge Masvidal and talking matter-of-factly about wanting to defend his mythical title as the true gangster of the sport, it appears this might be a possibility.
If it happens and Diaz enjoys the twilight of his pro career by fulfilling his almost inconceivable potential as a true PPV brand (while getting paid what he deserves for doing so), it would be a massive victory for everyone from fans to White and UFC. An almost instant title contender in two divisions due to his name and pedigree, Diaz doesn’t even have to concern himself with climbing the ladder and knocking off contenders should he prefer super fights against other big names. He’s afforded that luxury because of what he fights for and the beliefs in which he so fiercely defends.
There really is only one Nathan Diaz, and it’s about damn time he received the recognition from his own employer for being more himself than perhaps anyone else in the company: an expletive slinging, blunt-passing soldier who cuts through the B.S. of superficial promotion, demanding your attention and interest for how truly real he chooses to be.
In a combat sports world overflowing with self-promotion and noise, Diaz’s authenticity is the last remaining currency and a throwback to the sport’s roots of simply wanting to find out who is the toughest man alive. Even after three long years, when Diaz appeared, the needle once again moved.
To quote the self-proclaimed O.G. of the Octagon, “I’m not surprised motherf—ers.”