SAN JOSE, Calif -- It took the malleability of an iron sheath for Strikeforce CEO Scott Coker to accept the cost of doing business with Nick Diaz.
For instance, why didn't Diaz, the Strikeforce welterweight champion, make time for a recent media conference call alongside Saturday's challenger, K.J. Noons? Pretty simple. He didn't want to get on the phone with a guy he doesn't like and is about to fight. Professionalism dictates otherwise, of course, and Coker, resigned to the reality of his current 170-pound champion, wants to believe "maybe he'll do a conference call next time." (Less understanding are the public relations people.) Something more important: Why has he battled with state athletic commissions over the ability to smoke marijuana and fight? Because, people close to the 27-year-old fighter say, Diaz likes to get high and prefers pot to prescription drugs like prozac in alleviating the effects of ADHD. He doesn't do pills. Why is he a ball of anger one minute and docile the next? Why is he unflinchingly loyal to the family of fighters around him? What explanations are there for anything Nick Diaz does or says?
Essentially, the fighter from Stockton, Calif., one of the most economically depressed cities in the United States, is determined to live on his terms. He does what he wants, when he wants. That's why he didn't feel the need to placate teachers and do homework in high school. That's why he began training Brazilian jiu-jitsu when he was 16. That's why he pushes himself through Ironman triathlons. That's why he fights today.
"I guess that's the beauty of Nick Diaz and that's why people love him," said Coker, who began promoting the fighter in 2009 after obtaining his rights as part of a deal that put Strikeforce on Showtime. "He's kind of anti-establishment. From my point of view, you never know what you're going to get."
It hasn't been one big middle finger to the world followed by a grand exit into the sunset. Certain choices in life require a steep price, even for people who choose to ignore the consequences. Diaz is no nihilist. He simply lives by principles he sees as meaningful, not values prescribed to him by someone else.
Cesar Gracie, Diaz's trainer of 11 years, learned a long time ago to leave his fighter be. So when he's asked to explain why Diaz operates like, well, few others in mixed martial arts, he laughs and shrugs, sometimes simultaneously.
Just let the kid fight. That's where Gracie's answers tend to taper off. It's what he wants to do. No, it's what he has to do.
"I don't look at it like I love to fight," Diaz said Thursday. "I look at it like I have to fight. If there was any quit in this game, from the beginning, I wouldn't have made it this far."
So you can begin to understand why Diaz (22-7) nearly went mental in 2007 in Corpus Christi, Texas, after losing to Noons, someone he'd never heard of, because of terrible cuts above both eyes. You can see how enraged he must have been a year later in Honolulu, Hawaii, when he and his brother entered the cage as Noons celebrated in style with his family after defending the belt he captured by stopping Diaz. You can understand how the feud manifested itself onto the streets of Waikiki. You can sense what propelled him to undergo facial reconstructive surgery on both brows in hopes that he would not cut so easily. You could sense Diaz's disappointment when Noons (9-1) left MMA for almost two years to pursue boxing and fix problems with his management. And you couldn't miss the delight on that fixed face -- yes Nick Diaz is capable of delight -- Thursday, sitting within arm's reach of his nemesis, whom he thanked for stepping up and fighting him again.
"I didn't feel like he was going to take the fight a long time ago," said Diaz, who's unbeaten in seven bouts since a doctor ended the fight in Texas.
There could be more questions after Saturday night. Like, how will Diaz react if the 27-year-old Noons, who was torturing himself to make 155 pounds in his last three bouts, takes the title title again? It is possible, after all, that Noons' counter-striking is a perfect foil for Diaz's long, languid style.
"That's life," said Gracie, who advised Diaz to take it to the floor and might have an interesting time imparting another lesson if the current champion chooses again to do his own thing. "You can beat everyone in the world, but there's one guy who's an enigma to you."
For many, of course, Diaz is the enigma. Though not Coker. The promoter wants to believe he understands his champion, currently ranked among the top 10 in the world at 170 pounds.
"Nick showed up today for the press conference, which we're happy about. He'll show up for the weigh-ins obviously, and he'll show up for the fight.
"His job is to fight."