Reminder: Nick Diaz was ahead of his time in the fight against marijuana suspensions | Opinion
Six years ago today, Nick Diaz stood outside the Grant Sawyer State Office Building in Las Vegas, moments after he was told he wouldn’t be fighting again for five years.
Truthfully, I didn’t ever expect him to speak to reporters – myself included – after the Nevada State Athletic Commission delivered its draconian ruling, suspending one of the sport’s biggest stars for what seemed an absolutely absurd amount of time simply for testing positive for marijuana following his UFC 183 clash with Anderson Silva.
Oh, and let’s not forget the accompanying $165,000 fine.
Why would he speak to the media? After all, he didn’t really even speak to the commission, instead electing to plead his Fifth Amendment right some 27 times while being questioned by notoriously dogged commissioner Pat Lundvall. Flanked by attorneys Nick Granath and Lucas Middlebrook, a clearly uncomfortable Diaz gave us the closest thing we’ve ever seen to a Dave Chappelle skit during an NSAC session.
Yet afterwards, as we scrambled out of the conference room to try and get a comment I fully expected would never come, we were told that if we waited patiently outside, Diaz would indeed speak. Even at this point, I imagined his team was trying to stall us just long enough to let Diaz hop in car and speed away.
Several minutes later, just as I was convinced we had been duped, Diaz walked up and delivered his now famous monologue. The single quote that has been plucked most often from the 12-minute soliloquy is a classic.
“I know all the fighters, and they’re all on steroids,” Diaz said before staring straight into the cameras. “All you motherf*ckers are on steroids.”
It’s important to remember what was happening in MMA in September 2015. The UFC’s anti-doping program was just a few months old, and there were still questions about how effective the work of the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency would prove. As it would turn out, USADA’s reach did show itself to be rather powerful, and the number of sanctions issued by the agency in its early days gave Diaz’s claims some credence.
But just one month prior to the hearing in which Diaz was suspended five years for using marijuana, the same commission suspended former UFC middleweight champion Silva for one year after testing positive at the same event for multiple banned substances, including two anabolic steroids. It hardly seemed like two equitable decisions, and that fact was not lost on Diaz.
“This commission, everybody, they’ve done everything they can to keep me from being all the way on top, where I should be,” Diaz said. “Those people are nothing but a bunch of crooks up there.”
Diaz isn’t always the most effective communicator, a fact that isn’t lost on him. But there were so many parts of this particular speech that struck me as especially important, outside of the most circulated clip. First was the emotion that he fought back when discussing the fact his suspension would not only just keep him from competing but would also prevent him from being a licensed cornerman for his brother, Nate Diaz.
“My brother’s got a fight coming up,” Diaz said. “You mean to tell me I can’t even go and corner my brother when he goes in to – this ain’t a sport. This is war. This is warfare. This is a war game. He’s going in there to fight for his life. I can’t even go stand next to him.
“They’ve deprived me of not just money now, but the right to stand up for not only what I believe in, but for my little brother. I can’t even go and help my little brother.”
Shortly after battling back a quick tear, Diaz also offered an incredibly honest look into his upbringing, focusing on topics that only seem more relevant today in both bullying in schools, as well as the accompanying anxiety.
“They got me sweating bullets in a little court office hearing, and I should be sweating bullets in a gym, training for a fight,” Diaz said. “This feeling, what I got right now from being in that room too long, is exactly why I became a fighter. It’s exactly why I walked out of classrooms. This is exactly why I couldn’t make it through high school. I had little gangbangers trying to start up with me. I had little fights here and there. I couldn’t make attendance.
“I had somebody tell me the other day, ‘Oh, you could have gone to college if you wanted to.’ I was like, ‘Really?’ I’m like, ‘I got moved out of every school. I got moved out of three or four grammar schools. They tried to put me on drugs. Then the teacher is going to be like, ‘Oh, yeah, yeah, sorry he’s acting up today. He didn’t take his medication.’ Then kids next to me, you know kids are going, ‘Oh, what’s wrong? You didn’t take your medication today?’ And I’m like, ‘F*ck. What?’ That wasn’t going to work out.”
Public sentiment stood firmly behind Diaz in the months that followed. So staunch was the rally, the White House was even forced to issue an official response after a petition to lift his suspension received more than 115,000 signatures.
Following an appeal, Diaz’s order would later be reduced to an 18-month suspension with the fine lowered to $100,000. Unfortunately for fans, it didn’t matter, as Diaz remained on the sidelines despite being eligible to compete.
Now, six years later, Diaz (26-9 MMA, 7-6 UFC) is finally set to enter the octagon again, facing former rival and fellow MMA legend Robbie Lawler (28-15 MMA, 13-9 UFC) at next week’s UFC 266 event in Las Vegas.
In the time that Diaz was away, the state of Nevada legalized the recreational use of marijuana, and the NSAC elected to stop punishing athletes for the detection of tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) in their system. Had similar rules been in place in 2015, it certainly makes you wonder how Diaz, who was very much in his athletic prime at 32 when he was suspended, might have seen his career take a different trajectory.
“I’m the biggest draw,” Diaz said in 2015. “I’m the best fighter. I’ve been fighting for longer. I’ve been throwing more punches than everybody in the sport. I’ve been dodging more punches than everybody in the sport, and that’s the bottom line. That’s what’s really going on.”
Here’s hoping Diaz can pick up where he left off, and that the wisdom of his messages continue to be heard, even if they aren’t always immediately evident.