Nate Diaz, up against all odds, isn't going out without a fight

The numbers on paper — a 20-13 overall record, a 15-11 UFC mark, and three losses in his last four fights — could never accurately represent who Nate Diaz is or what he has meant to the UFC or mixed martial arts. He’s one of the biggest stars, now and of all time. He can manipulate the fan base and turn it into a frenzy with a short tweet, a few words or a hand gesture.

It’s hard to believe that he received full-throated boos from the crowd when he faced Marcus Davis in the opener of the main card on Aug. 28, 2010, at UFC 118 in Boston. Now, no matter where in the world, when his mug appears on the video boards inside an arena where a UFC card is taking place, there’s always a full-throated roar.

He’s said that his bout on Saturday with Khamzat Chimaev in the main event of UFC 279 at T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas will be his last in the UFC. The Chimaev fight is the final one on his contract and he’s going to go off into an uncertain fighting future.

He’s going to start a promotion, which he calls Real Fights, Inc., and has the perfect answer when asked why he’d want to put up with all the problems a promoter faces.

“You’re not thinking, man,” Diaz told Yahoo Sports. “I’ve been a fight promoter my whole career.”

GLENDALE, ARIZONA - JUNE 12: Nate Diaz enters the octagon to fight Leon Edwards of Jamaica during their UFC 263 welterweight match at Gila River Arena on June 12, 2021 in Glendale, Arizona.
Nate Diaz faces steep odds Saturday in what he said will be the final fight of his UFC career. (Getty Images) (Christian Petersen via Getty Images)

He’s become an elite attraction and headlined some of the biggest cards in recent memory despite that slightly above average record. He’s a massive underdog Saturday, as Chimaev is a staggering -1200 favorite at BetMGM, meaning Chimaev has a 92.31 percent chance of winning.

Diaz brushes off a question about the odds against him in typical Diaz fashion.

“I don’t give a f***,” he said. “Who f***ing cares about that?”

It’s that attitude that has attracted so many to Diaz and converted scores of fans from haters into super fans. During a championship fight with Benson Henderson on Dec. 8, 2012 — the only world championship fight of Diaz’s 15-year UFC career — he was grappling with Henderson on the logo in the center of the Octagon.

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Suddenly, Diaz pulls himself up and flips the bird at Henderson during the fight. It was moments like that, where he did not only what no one else has ever done but that no one else has really even thought of doing during the heat of battle that made him so beloved by UFC fans.

He was raw, he was raunchy and as real as could be, not just when the cameras were on but behind the scenes or out in the world. He attended the rematch between Jake Paul and Tyron Woodley in Tampa, Florida, on Dec. 20. As he was walking into the arena, he passed another MMA fighter standing at the head of the runway named Carrese Archer.

Diaz feinted a punch at Archer as he walked past and Archer flinched so much, two drinks he was holding went flying out of his hands and all over the place.

He’s been unapologetically himself, whether you liked it, whether UFC president Dana White liked it or not. He gave a fascinating and explosive on-camera interview to ESPN’s Brett Okamoto earlier in the week in which he said he felt he was being set up to be a fall guy to allow the UFC to build Chimaev into a star off of his name.

“What they’ve got me doing right now is they’re acting like I called for this fight, which I didn’t call for and didn’t want and still don’t want,” Diaz said. “But I don’t give a f***. I’ll fight anybody. But the pressure’s on him. He’d better finish me because he’s the next killer in town.”

Later, he added, “This fight is not even about this guy. It’s about making this guy. It’s about making this mother f***er, right? And I’m like, ‘OK, well, you aren’t going to let me go because I’m the best fighter here and you’re not going to let me go unless it’s off of somebody?”

When the UFC initially announced the Diaz-Chimaev fight, Yahoo Sports spoke to Diaz’s manager, Zach Rosenfield, who emphasized that Diaz had sought the Chimaev bout.

“It’s important to note that this is not a fight that we were offered; this is a fight we asked for,” Rosenfield told Yahoo Sports on July 19, when the fight was announced.

It doesn’t really matter all that much, because the fight is on Saturday and anyone who knows Diaz knows he’s not going to go down meekly. He nearly knocked out Leon Edwards in the fifth round of their fight at UFC 263 on June 12, 2021, in Glendale, Arizona. In his next fight, Edwards knocked out Kamaru Usman in the waning seconds of their fight at UFC 278 in Salt Lake City, Utah, to win the welterweight title.

He told Yahoo Sports he didn’t regret anything, though he conceded he was thisclose to getting the finish.

GLENDALE, ARIZONA - JUNE 12: (L-R) Leon Edwards of Jamaica reacts after his decision victory over Nate Diaz in their welterweight fight during the UFC 263 event at Gila River Arena on June 12, 2021 in Glendale, Arizona. (Photo by Jeff Bottari/Zuffa LLC)
Even when Nate Diaz loses, he wins. (Photo by Jeff Bottari/Zuffa LLC) (Jeff Bottari via Getty Images)

He spent 15 months on the sidelines after that fight, calling out heavyweight champion Francis Ngannou and middleweight champion Israel Adesanya while publicly begging the UFC on social media for a fight so he could end his contract.

There were huge gaps between his fights for the most part in the second half of his career. After he lost to Conor McGregor at UFC 202 on Aug. 20, 2016, in Las Vegas, he didn’t fight again until Aug. 17, 2019, against Anthony Pettis in Anaheim, California. He actually came back three months later in the heavily hyped “BMF Fight” with Jorge Masvidal, but then was off another 19 months before fighting Edwards.

He had an interesting explanation for those absences, amusing in a way to those who have closely followed his career and his social media exploits.

“The best part of getting out of contract with the UFC is that I will be able to be active,” Diaz said. “The only reason why I haven’t been active in the last 10 years is because the UFC paid me too much money. They wanted to keep me inactive and in contract. And if I fought three times a year, they’d be paying out too much money.”

White said that Saturday’s show is trending good and doing significant business. The only certainty, of course, is that on Saturday, Diaz will receive a thunderous ovation as he makes his ring walk and as he gets into the Octagon.

What happens after that is anybody’s guess, including whether he surprises and re-signs with the UFC. White, though, who had many battles with Diaz and his older brother Nick, and admitted they came close to getting in a fight at a club in 2014, said he harbors no ill feelings toward Diaz.

“I don’t know,” White said when asked if Saturday’s bout was Diaz’s last in the UFC. “Nate and I talked. Listen, this kid came in on ‘The Ultimate Fighter.’ He’s fought incredible wars for us. He’s been a big part of this company for a very long time. What more could I ask of Nate Diaz? If Nate’s ready to make this his last fight, I wish him all the best in the world. It’s been fun; it’s really been fun with those two.

“At the time, at certain times, it was, whatever, but looking back, the Diaz brothers have been an absolute blast. They’re legends in this sport and they’re legends in this company. These days come with all the guys and if that’s what Nate wants, then yeah, we wish him the best.”