As I composed the title of this article one image seemed to lodge itself in my mind: Nate Diaz securing a deadly triangle choke around the neck and shoulder of an unsuspecting Kurt Pellegrino, right before laying back to face the overhead cam and delivering (with both hands) the kind of sign language one learns by cutting off motorists. It’s the kind of moment that I imagine comes to mind for many MMA fans when considering the brothers Diaz- the seasoned Stockton natives who have managed to stir enough controversy over the years to earn a reputation as the Bad Boys of a sport that not only allows, but encourages kneeing people in the face.
But I don’t think this is quite fair. Surely the Diaz brothers have been involved in their fair share of rebellious behavior: The aforementioned dual middle fingers on basic cable, a post-fight hospital brawl, numerous skirmishes at weigh ins and post-fight press conferences, a less than friendly run-in with Frank Shamrock at a restaurant that I saw on youtube and, most recently, a post-fight melee live on CBS during which every member Jake Shield’s training camp and corner (which included the Diaz’s) punched Jason Mayhem Miller at least once. There is no denying their pension for trash-talking and reckless public relations, but what is ironic is that these features of their public personas (reckless, disrespectful, cocky) do not carry over into their work as Martial Artists. Not even a little bit. In fact, when i comes to the primary responsibilities of a MMA professional, training and fighting, they might well be two of the most disciplined, respect-filled and educated fighters on the planet. How often do you see a peppering of jabs used to set up a power hook to the body (Nick against most recent opponent Marius Zaromskis)? How often do you see 24 year olds outclass gritty, well rounded veterans like Josh Neer (Nate, 2 years ago)? When was the last time you heard of either brother missing weight? Have you ever seen either Diaz show up for a fight unprepared or under-conditioned? No, you haven’t- and I’d be willing to bet that you won’t. Ever.
Why is this? Because for all of their rough exterior and rowdy tendencies, the Diaz brothers are two of the most professional professionals in the world of MMA and I for one think it is a shame that they are often presented (by the marketing machines of their respective organizations) as the opposite. While many may decry their antics I suggest that fighters everywhere, young and old alike, could take a page from the Diaz book when it comes to being a true student of the game. Look at the well-rounded and fully developed skill set possessed by each fighter, neither of which have reached the age of thirty yet. Boxing, Kickboxing, Tae Kwon Do, Judo, Jiu-Jitsu, Wrestling...is there an aspect of Mixed Martial Arts that both brothers do not respect enough to have fully mastered? Not as far as I can see.
Simply put, despite the cocky bravado that the pair seem to favor in front of the camera, their styles and repertoires speak of the ego-less-ness necessary to attain such a diverse and mature skill set. There is a humility below the surface, the kind that one possesses when they truly love what they are doing and do it simply for the sake of doing it. Two young fighters who love the sport, are dedicated to the study of it, consistently produce exciting bouts and respect martial arts as though it were their religion? What more can a fight fan ask for? If the price of this is the brandishing of the occasional obscene gesture (and their non-stop reminders that they are indeed from Stockton), I’m more than happy to pay up.