Coming this fall to a mind-numbing TV near you:
Isn't that the logical next step for Nick Diaz? We've already seen so much melodrama starring the fighter who flaunts his Northern California area code like it's a code of honor. He blows a lot of smoke about how he's rebellious enough to openly toke his weed and savvy enough to get away with it, then dopily fails a drug test to nullify one of his biggest career victories. He picks fights in the cage on at least two occasions when he's not even on the evening's card of bouts. And just last week, after being scheduled for a long-awaited shot at the UFC welterweight championship, he rises to the occasion by skipping two promotional press conferences, lying to company president Dana White, disappearing and hiding from his trainer/manager/mentor as well as his brotherhood of teammates, then maddeningly taking to YouTube to explain himself in a rambling, self-shot (while driving!) video that's just coherent enough for viewers to detect the delusional smugness.
The guy clearly needs help. So a reality television series would seem to be a no-brainer (in more ways than one) for some circling shark of a network. Maybe Fox can add it into its UFC deal in time for the fall ratings sweeps.
That's what we do in this cold-hearted feeding frenzy of a media culture we live in, isn't it? Reality TV, once merely the foolish forum for insufferable wannabes seeking their 15 minutes, has become the wretched repository for celebrities with issues -- issues that are personal but in no way private. From Britney Spears to Anna Nicole Smith to Charlie Sheen, we can't take our eyes off a train wreck. Even one --
And Nick Diaz?
Let's just shove the belligerent man-child out onto the brightly lit, lonesome stage and make him dance for us. That's what the people filling the seats want to see, right?
Not necessarily. After
Well, that pile of e-mails in my inbox had a different flavor from what I expected. Almost without exception, the MMA fans who contacted me put Diaz the human ahead of Diaz the fighter, expressing unease regarding the person behind the screw-you irresponsibility, behind the what're-you-going-to-do-about-it bravado.
Among those I heard from was a friend of a friend of the fighter, who wrote, "You nailed it in your analysis of Nick." I wrote back and engaged the guy in further discussion, promising to keep his name out of my story so he wouldn't be fracturing any friendships while helping me flesh out a deeper look inside Diaz. Thankfully, this fellow on the periphery of the fighter's inner circle agreed to do so, telling me, "He suffered a lot of trauma as a young man, dropped out in ninth grade, hates the prying of cameras and questions, and has very few social skills outside of fight discussions. Problem is, he is stuck with no other legitimate way to provide for himself except through combat sports. So he's mad at the crowd for 'just wanting to see me bleed,' mad at the system [the UFC, in this case] for forcing him into so many uncomfortable situations, and also mad at himself because he knows he's basically trapped due to his own lack of other skills."
As for my speculation in last week's story that Diaz doesn't seem to be the type to seek out therapy or other professional help, the friend of a friend agreed wholeheartedly that that's the case, "due to the stigma, mostly the one in his own mind." Even though he's not personally close to Nick, said my source, "I worry about him as a person. He's apparently a great friend and loyal like a hound dog. He just needs to come to grips with his demons and let them rest in peace before he does."
Among my other e-mails about Nick, there was only one that I'd characterize as derisive. "Diaz's problem is not one of 'social anxiety,' " wrote a person who signed his missive "Da Hooded Rat." "He simply does these things because he's like a spoiled child, desperate for attention." The e-mailer went on to say the UFC should "wash their hands clean of him entirely before he gets into trouble that's far worse." But then, after saying he'll be rooting for Nick to be "humbled" by B.J. Penn next month, Mr. Rat concluded with this: "Maybe then he can seek help in the hospital." So even the lone hater I heard from had some compassion for Diaz.
Here's what other e-mailers had to say ...
There's nothing for me to say here except: Hooray for human civilization!
Actually, I will toss in one other comment: I don't think the UFC is as callous as e-mailer Gary suggests. Dana White & Co. keep their eye on the bottom line, to be sure, but the long building process that has brought mixed martial arts to the threshold the sports mainstream also has been a labor of love for those guys. And while there always will be fighters disgruntled by the cards they're dealt, the people who run the world's biggest fight promotion do seem to care about the human beings inside the fighter armor. Diaz, for example, could have been tossed onto the scrap heap, but instead he was rebooked into a co-main event. Yes, his continued employment will be a money maker for the UFC, but I do believe there's some degree of human compassion involved. Maybe that's just the way I choose to view things.
Speaking of my perspective on matters of the cage, the monthly
Alex: I stack up fighters based on who I think would win a fight, not on who has something shiny around his waist. I think the beltless Fitch would beat Diaz -- even with his pants falling down.
Nick: See above. I believe Dan would beat either Mauricio or Lyoto or any other Brazilian not named Anderson. One man's opinion.
Herb: Yes, I'm still bullish on Miller. And yes, I'd love to see Cerrone vs. Guida if Clay has any energy left after fighting Ben Henderson.
John: I could see Miller winning a rematch -- I do still believe in his skills -- but I'm not with you on Ben being regressive or boring. Boring? Are we talking about the same Ben Henderson?
You can play that resume deconstruction game with any fighter, Brandin, and convince yourself that every UFC champion from Dominick Cruz to Cain Velasquez is beatable. And the truth is, they all
The UFC is not the WWE, Harry, scripting a crowd-pleasing story line. However, for the fight promotion's first visit to Brazil in over a decade, let's just say the matchmaking put nearly a dozen Brazilians in winnable bouts that they nonetheless had to go out and win. Just ask Luiz Cane about that last part.
OK, let me close with a few choice words from a reader from Dallas named Dave, who did something I hate seeing: He took my own words -- the ones I used to close my story about last Saturday's Strikeforce event -- and turned them around on me.
After an evening of stirring bouts, including the two semifinals in the admittedly watered-down Heavyweight Grand Prix, I wrote: "Fedor? Werdum? Overeem? Who misses them?"
And my astute reader, taking note of Showtime's occasional shots of the Cincinnati crowd, e-mailed me with an answer to what I thought was a rhetorical question: "Apparently the fans, since that place was not even half full."