STOCKTON, Calif. — GILBERT MELENDEZ, NATE Diaz’s longtime teammate, was in Stockton with some of his students from El Niño Training Center in South San Francisco for a night training session at Nick Diaz Academy on Aug. 24. Melendez and crew arrived first at the “Trap House” — the name given by Nate Diaz to a small, two-bedroom guest house across from his property — where they chatted with Diaz’s team and watched YouTube videos on the big screen.
Diaz’s first fight with Conor McGregor ended up being shown, and right at the beginning of the second round, Diaz showed up at the guest house. He opened the door, looked to his right at what was on the TV and chuckled.
“I f—ed him up,” Diaz said, emphasizing the last three words.
Despite the UFC’s desire and attempts to make a Diaz vs. McGregor trilogy fight, it won’t happen anytime soon. In fact, any UFC fights that involve Diaz aren’t in the cards for the foreseeable future after this weekend.
On Saturday, Diaz will fight up-and-coming star Khamzat Chimaev in the main event of UFC 279 in Las Vegas (10 p.m. ET on ESPN+ PPV). It will be the final fight on Diaz’s UFC contract, as he is poised to do something that has never been done before in MMA: depart the UFC voluntarily at the height of his fame.
Diaz said this moment is simply the “halftime show,” now that he will have the freedom to do whatever he wants after this fight.
Two weeks before UFC 279, the famously private Diaz allowed ESPN unprecedented access to his Northern California training camp. Diaz, 37, has finished McGregor, headlined Madison Square Garden in a fight for a mythical BMF title and been a part of some of the most significant pay-per-view events in UFC history. What’s next, he said, will trump all of that.
“The second half is gonna be bigger than anything I’ve ever done and bigger than anything that’s expected,” Diaz said. “I have endless ideas.”
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DIAZ SITS DOWN in a chair at a desk and smiles. He’s wearing his usual attire: a plain black T-shirt, shorts and Vans skate sneakers. Light illuminates the right side of his face from the front window.
Through that window and across the street is the home where Diaz lives. In this particular instance, 18 days before a watershed fight in what has already been a legendary combat career, Diaz is relaxing in the living room of the Trap House, a nickname commonly used for places where drugs are either used or sold.
Over Diaz’s right shoulder is a desktop computer playing Mike Tyson highlights from YouTube. Above his head is a framed piece of art, a colorful illustration with depictions of Albert Einstein and Amazon owner Jeff Bezos and the logos of companies such as Netflix, NASA, Facebook, Uber and Instagram.
“Ideas mean s—,” the text below Einstein reads. “Execution is everything.”
The piece doesn’t quite fit the Trap House aesthetic, which includes marijuana paraphernalia — a bong, Backwoods rolling papers and lighters — strewn about haphazardly. A custom pillow adorned with the image of a bloody Diaz choking out an opponent with a triangle submission while flipping a pair of middle fingers sits in the corner of a worn-out pleather sofa.
On the wall behind the black sofa is a drawing of Brazilian jiu-jitsu pioneer Rickson Gracie. Under the television, there’s a large painting of reggae icon Bob Marley, and in the hallway between the bedrooms hangs art of Diaz in sunglasses with former opponent Jorge Masvidal (nicknamed “Street Jesus”) behind him on a crucifix.
Diaz chose the Einstein design himself. To him, it’s emblematic of how he used martial arts to lift himself from the hardscrabble streets of Stockton to become an elite fighter and how he has emerged as one of the most popular and highest-paid athletes in the UFC. He believes that he, like Einstein and Bezos, saw something others in power did not — in Diaz’s case, his market value — and turned it into something lucrative.
In 2014, ahead of a Conor McGregor-headlined fight card in Dublin, Ireland, UFC president Dana White said Diaz “is not a needle mover.” At the time, Nate’s older brother, Nick, the former Strikeforce welterweight champion, was considered the bigger star in the family.
In 2022, Diaz says maybe he’ll fight McGregor while being out of contract with the UFC, and White will have to make a deal for the trilogy bout with Diaz’s own promotional company.
“That’s what could happen, too,” Diaz said. “You want me to fight Conor? Now we’re gonna do the Conor versus [Floyd] Mayweather deal.”
Before he accepted the Chimaev bout, Diaz told the UFC he wanted to fight heavyweight champion Francis Ngannou or middleweight champion Israel Adesanya because they’re “cool.” That “cool” factor will be something that informs Diaz’s decision about a UFC return in the future.
“When there’s a cool guy who comes in and beats all these fools up and he becomes champion, that’s when I want to fight in the UFC because he’s actually a cool guy,” Diaz said. “And he’s not there now. But when he does [get there], you’ll know it. Because I’m gonna say, ‘What’s up now, motherf—er?’
“I don’t want to not fight in the UFC, because that’s where all the best fighters are in the world. But I do not want to fight in UFC for a while, because while I’m here I’m either doing nothing or I have to fight some f—ing lame ass and build him up for him to fight somebody, for somebody to be somebody for me to fight. Does that make sense, though, or no? It’s f—ing completely logical, I believe.”
Diaz said his relationship with the UFC and White is still solid. There is no ill will. The one thing other fighters get wrong, Diaz said, is they don’t understand that the UFC represents competition to them as much as their opponents in the cage. Diaz has always believed he was going up against the UFC to get the best possible deal for himself, in the same way the UFC would do that, too, from a business perspective. It doesn’t have to be emotional or personal.
“I like Dana, too,” Diaz said. “I like and respect him. Still, my fight is with you, too. We’re competing, too. I’m onto you. Nobody else is. Nobody is even coming close.”
White will be cageside Saturday night, watching one of the stars of his company perhaps make the final walk. He understands what a Diaz departure might mean for the UFC.
“He’s fought in incredible wars for us,” White said Tuesday. “He’s been a big part of this company for a very long time. What more could I ask of Nate Diaz? If Nate is 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 dealing with those two [Nate and Nick].
“If [leaving the UFC is] what Nate wants, then yeah, we wish him the best.”
DIAZ IS BEHIND the wheel of his black Chevy Tahoe with teammate Luciano Ramos in the passenger seat. He takes a quick left turn down a residential street in a working-class area of Stockton and points to a house on the right as one where he spent many of his childhood years. Diaz patterned the Trap House after this home, complete with a heavy bag hanging from a tree in the front yard, like the one he and Nick punched when they were kids.
The childhood home is less than a five-minute drive from where he lives now in Morada, between his residence and the team’s Nick Diaz Academy gym. Diaz’s mother and sister live just a block from that former dwelling, and his father lives nearby, too. Diaz has made millions from his fight career but has barely strayed from his roots.
“I still do the same runs I used to do when I was 15,” Diaz says. “This is for sure going to be homebase forever. … Home is where your mom is at.”
Stockton, though, “will drive you f—ing crazy, too,” he says. According to U.S. News, the city has nearly double the violent crime rate as the national average. Diaz, his brother and his team are well known in the area, which has its positives and negatives. Diaz said he and his group will go elsewhere for training or seminars to escape and reset every three weeks.
Early in this camp, Diaz and company traveled to Belgrade, Montana, to train with Brazilian jiu-jitsu royalty Kron Gracie. About three weeks from the fight, Diaz, his brother and his teammates competed in a triathlon in Lake Tahoe. Sometimes, they all go downstate to Los Angeles to train with coach Ernie Reyes Jr., a lifelong martial artist with a bevy of Hollywood acting credits.
Diaz pulls his SUV into a strip mall parking lot en route to Starbucks for a mid-afternoon espresso pick-me-up. Three days earlier, Leon Edwards, the man who was Diaz’s most recent opponent in June 2021, became the UFC welterweight champion with a fifth-round head-kick knockout of Kamaru Usman. Diaz sees a lot of significance in that result because he believes it reaffirms his status in the UFC and the greater combat sports world.
Against Edwards, Diaz was losing for most of what was a lackluster fight, but Diaz caught Edwards with a big left hand in the fifth round, wobbling him. Diaz couldn’t finish, instead opting to point a mocking finger at a stunned Edwards, but that was the most significant offense of the 25-minute bout. In Usman vs. Edwards, the scenario was very similar. Usman dominated most of the way, but Edwards won with less than one minute left with a KO.
“That’s enough for me,” Diaz said, referring to his fight with Edwards. “If you get your ass whipped, you’re the loser; I’m the winner. The only thing that happened in that fight with me and him was [the big fifth-round punch].
“I don’t care how the fight was going. This is war. We’re fighting for f—-ing cities and families and b——. Your city, family and b—— are all mine. I just killed you. And that’s the champ.”
In Diaz’s mind, Edwards followed what had become a pattern. For three of Diaz’s past four opponents, their next fight was for a title: McGregor, Masvidal and Edwards. Diaz believes the UFC is setting Chimaev up for that very thing — a chance at the belt — if he can beat Diaz.
“It makes perfect sense, because they want him to have a title fight,” Diaz said. “So who do they have him fight? I’m the champion. Anybody I fight gets the f—ing title fight. I’m the guy.”
Diaz vs. Chimaev is a polarizing matchup that analysts and even other UFC fighters have blasted. Chimaev is 28 years old and one of the hottest rising stars in the UFC, a dominant wrestler from Chechnya via Sweden with a 5-0 UFC record and four finishes. He is very likely on the cusp of a title shot. Diaz, meanwhile, is nine years older, has 14 more years of pro-MMA wear and tear, and has lost three of four.
The UFC’s reason for making the fight is transparent: Before Diaz departs, the promotion wants to use his star power to build the profile of Chimaev. It’s an old pro wrestling business strategy applied when wrestlers were on their way out of the region — they first were made to lose to that territory’s next big star. Chimaev is a -1100 betting favorite, while Diaz is a +700 underdog, per Caesars Sportsbook.
None of this is lost on Diaz, who referred to the fight as something of a “punishment.” Diaz initially turned down the Chimaev fight last winter, causing the UFC to extend his contract. But after Chimaev beat Gilbert Burns at UFC 273 in April, Diaz’s team told the UFC that Diaz was willing to fight anyone to fulfill the final fight on his deal. The UFC again offered Chimaev, and Diaz accepted.
“I’ve gotta just go in there and fight him for you real quick,” Diaz says. “I’m unmotivated for that, but I’m gonna do what I gotta do and no one ain’t gonna stop me. I’ll never sit back and let no one whoop my ass.
“The way they’ve been pumping him up and the way I’m supposed to lose, he better f—ing kill me. He better kill me,” he continues. “Let’s just say he does, right? He’s the next best thing and he’s ranked No. 3 [in the official UFC rankings]. The guy I beat [Edwards] is No. 1. If I lose, I’m still just No. 2 or No. 3.”
BACK ON THE road, Diaz drives the Tahoe to OMG Wraps in Stockton. He drops it off to get the outside redone with a custom dark green matte finish and picks up his Ford Raptor that just got a black matte wrap. The Raptor, Diaz said, will eventually be a gift for his father. For now, the truck will be used to schlep Diaz and teammates back and forth from the gym to the Trap House and a nicer apartment building, the University Lofts in downtown Stockton, where Diaz put up teammates and coaches from out of town.
The team is an eclectic one with a wide variety of personalities. From the soft-spoken, college-educated UFC middleweight prospect Nick Maximov to the sarcastic, babyfaced ladies man MMA vet Chris Avila. There’s the disciplinarian “gym cop” Lucas Gamaza, the face-and-neck-tattooed Nicholas Kohring and the soon-to-be-mayor of Lodi, California, Mikey Singh Hothi.
Ramos, a bantamweight fighter from Argentina, showed up at the gym three years ago unannounced and without being able to speak much English. A few months after his arrival, the team was partying and someone tried to pick a fight with Diaz, but Ramos stepped in and knocked the aggressor out with a right hand. After that, Diaz let him stay at the Trap House, where he has lived since.
“He earned his keep,” Diaz says.
Diaz takes a FaceTime call from his representative, Zach Rosenfield, on the drive back to his home. Rosenfield wants to discuss future business opportunities, and McGregor’s name came up. It was announced last month that McGregor would have a role in the remake of the 1980s cult film “Road House,” which will star Jake Gyllenhaal as the character played by Patrick Swayze in the original. Diaz said film reps initially reached out to him for a part in June, but he wasn’t interested in pursuing it.
“I’m not gonna fight f—ing Jake Gyllenhaal and lose,” Diaz said, explaining his rationale. “If I’m getting beat up — and I’m not trying to get beat up by nobody — it ain’t gonna be against Jake Gyllenhaal. I’m Patrick Swayze if I’m doing that movie.”
The list of actors whom Diaz would let beat up his character in a movie is short but headlined, he said, by Brad Pitt, Leonardo DiCaprio and Robert De Niro.
Diaz finds it ironic that McGregor took a gig that was first offered to Diaz, considering how their careers have intersected. Diaz believes he was the catalyst for McGregor achieving superstardom as the biggest money-drawing star in UFC history. Diaz choked out McGregor at UFC 196 in March 2016, raising his profile exponentially. In the rematch five months later, McGregor won by a very close majority decision, with one judge calling it a draw.
The UFC, Diaz said, has been trying to book the trilogy fight between him and McGregor. But Diaz doesn’t want to “bring him back to life.” McGregor has just one win since 2016 and is trying to return from a broken leg he sustained in a loss to Dustin Poirier in July 2021.
Diaz said the UFC offered him a complex, multifight contract extension for a great deal of money — he wouldn’t say how much — that included the McGregor trilogy bout and potentially a fourth McGregor fight. Diaz turned it down, opting to become a free agent after the Chimaev fight.
The way Diaz sees it, he has been the driver for some of the biggest things that have happened over the past few years in the UFC. Four months after he stopped McGregor in a huge pay-per-view headliner, Lorenzo and Frank Fertitta sold the UFC to Hollywood talent agency Endeavor for more than $4 billion. After McGregor won the rematch, McGregor’s next fight was against Eddie Alvarez for the lightweight title, which McGregor won.
Then, in August 2017, McGregor leveraged his stardom into a boxing match with Mayweather, which stands as the second biggest pay-per-view event of all time, just behind Mayweather’s 2015 fight with Manny Pacquiao. Diaz said McGregor getting the Mayweather fight made him “f—ing hot,” because it’s one of the fights Diaz wanted, as someone who has been boxing since he was a kid and has sparred with the likes of boxing Hall of Famer Andre Ward.
Diaz returned in August 2019, beating Anthony Pettis, which set up the mythical “BMF title” fight with Masvidal at New York’s Madison Square Garden. The massive UFC event, attended by then-President Donald Trump, was the first time a sitting U.S. president had ever attended an MMA fight.
“I saw the market,” Diaz said. “You’re a G, I’m a G. I can make a gangster fight out of that. I’ll do it off the Pettis fight. Follow the blueprint, motherf—er. It’s right here.”
Masvidal won that bout via doctor stoppage due to a Diaz cut and went on to get back-to-back title shots against Usman.
If Diaz can be involved in all that for the UFC and some of the other prominent stars in the sport, he believes he might as well control his destiny and start something new as a free agent.
“How can I not create my own organization?” Diaz said, who added he went into the Masvidal fight with a torn meniscus. “I created all this s—. I made the Conor fight. I made the biggest thing out of the Masvidal fight. The president was there. That was all done by me. I don’t care what nobody says. The UFC and people can promote it like I’m a hater. No, no, no. I made all that happen. I’ll write my own organization. I’ll write my own story then.”
Diaz said one of his counteroffers to the UFC was the promotion had to sign five of his teammates. Diaz is exceptionally close with his team, and with the future staked to Real Fight Inc., the name of his new promotion, he can bring them along for the ride.
He is about to take the gamble that he’ll make more money fighting outside of the UFC than in it, saying he might even be able to pull in $1 million for a grappling match. Boxing is intriguing to him, and he brought up the names of potential future opponents, such as Mayweather, Canelo Alvarez and Jake Paul. However, he’s not sure how he feels about the YouTube-star-turned-prizefighter.
“If I fight Jake Paul, he ain’t paying me, I’m paying him,” Diaz says. “I don’t want or need to fight Jake Paul. He needs and wants to fight me.”
For his next fight after Chimaev, Diaz would like to compete in mixed martial arts, not boxing, under his promotional banner. But, Diaz said, if history is any indication, everything changes for him after every fight. So, nothing can be made definite until after Saturday.
“I would like it to be MMA,” Diaz said. “I’m a fighter. But I also would like to be able to participate in whatever I want. The coolest thing is a motherf—er who can do whatever the f— he wants.”
It’s possible, though unlikely, that none of this will come to fruition. That wouldn’t bother Diaz. It’s a risk he’s willing to take.
“If I can’t, I don’t give a f—,” he said. “I’m willing to go see. Let’s do this.”
DIAZ SITS IN a beanbag chair in the living room of the home of Nick McDermott, his childhood friend, drinking water out of a red Solo cup and ripping hits from a bong. The marijuana use with Diaz and his team doesn’t really start and stop. It’s perpetual. Before practice, the crew will hang in the parking lot and pass around a joint, which gets placed on the corner ring post once inside the gym.
At McDermott’s house, it’s after midnight and Diaz is talking with McDermott and Elijah Gutierrez — the pair that makes up his multimedia team — about a host of topics, including what videos and photos they plan on dropping before the Chimaev fight. Diaz said UFC 279 shouldn’t be promoted as presented by the UFC because Real Fight Inc. is actually putting it on.
McDermott has been with Diaz since grade school and witnessed one of his early fights at a Stockton baseball field, when an 11-year-old Diaz took on an older teen and his friends. Diaz won, of course, but it took more than a half-hour. Gutierrez is a 23-year-old who started at Nick Diaz Academy as a teen. Diaz convinced Gutierrez not to enlist in the Army after high school because Diaz saw his potential as a videographer and photographer.
Diaz is fiercely loyal to his friends and teammates, whom he regularly flies out on private jets to fights, seminars and vacations. They smoke, train and party together, and have what appears to be an inseparable bond.
“I ride with them, because they ride with me,” Diaz said.
Backstage at UFC 276 in July, a reporter from the Nelk Boys podcast attempted to interview Diaz. After agreeing, Diaz realized who the interviewer was — someone who had posted memes mocking Maximov a few months earlier. Diaz slapped the man’s microphone with his left hand and smacked off his hat with his right, ending the interview full stop. Diaz said he regrets doing that now — not because he didn’t want to teach the reporter a lesson, but because they used the clip of the slaps for views.
“I lost, because they won,” Diaz said. “I was pissed.”
That loyalty extends to family, too, of course. A few years ago, Diaz was out in Stockton and ran into a man who said hello and that he was friends with the boss at Diaz’s mother’s job. Diaz became enraged. As soon as he got home, he told his mother to quit and she’d work alongside him, on his payroll.
“I was disrespected by it,” Diaz said. “No one is my mom’s boss. My mom is the boss. F— you.”
Diaz left McDermott’s house around 1:30 a.m. to head back to the Trap House. Inside, he gathered some sheets and blankets for his journalist guest’s couch stay. Diaz realized he hadn’t eaten dinner and started warming up a leftover vegetarian stir fry — his diet is primarily plant-based, but he eats some fish — in a pan on the stove. Diaz then sat down to eat and talk, and our conversation extended past 4 a.m.
Diaz talked about his still-evolving strategy with money and plans for investing in real estate. He thinks fighters who spend excessive amounts on clothes and jewelry are fake, though “once in a while I’ll buy some dope s—,” referencing his massive collection of Jordan sneakers. Diaz told stories about how he was an early adopter of social media for marketing purposes, spurred on by his brother, who had a YouTube channel back in 2007, just two years after the platform launched.
His distinct Northern California intonation and street talk give off the wrong impression to many. Diaz is business savvy in his own way and has a sharp memory, going back to his early days of MMA and his childhood.
Nick, he said, was always a fighter. One time, they were at a family dinner with a friend of Nick’s, who is Black. Nick was about 8 or 9 years old at the time, Nate said, and saw a white man and his son sneering at their table, specifically Nick’s friend. Nick jumped up on said table and challenged the adult man to scrap then and there.
“He’s doing better than he has in a while,” Nate said of Nick, who is now back living in Stockton after more than six years away from MMA, which mainly consisted of partying.
As far as his own legacy in fighting, Nate Diaz doesn’t think about that much at all.
“I don’t want to be in the UFC Hall of Fame,” Diaz said. “I just like making fun of mother f—–ers who think they’re tight for being in the Hall of Fame.”
RICHARD PEREZ, DIAZ’S boxing coach, helps him take his headgear off as Diaz pours water over his own head. Diaz is in the ring and reaches out above the ropes to give a fist bump to his brother. It’s after 9 p.m. on Aug. 24, and a sparring session — five rounds of kickboxing against former Bellator and PFL light heavyweight Jason Butcher — has just finished. Grappling is up next.
Butcher did well initially but had trouble with Diaz’s pace and body shots as the rounds wore on, a situation not foreign to past Diaz opponents.
“When he wanted to hit hard, it landed,” Butcher says. “It landed. Some of those knees to the body, he was being nice because we don’t have the pad on. But if he threw some of those, they would have dropped me for sure.
“Any of [the body shots], if he would have put more on it, would have dropped me, I would imagine. A couple of the head shots wobbled me, too.”
Perez, who has coached Diaz for nearly 20 years, is excited about the idea that his pupil could step into a boxing ring in the future.
“I’ve been waiting to do it for a long time, because I know he could do it,” Perez says. “I’m for it all the way. He’ll do really good. He’ll be in the top two [in his division], I bet you. He could win a belt. When he’s training just in boxing, he’s tremendous. People talk about him all the time. We go to professional boxing gyms … [and] he whips guys’ butts.”
Melendez watched Diaz’s sparring session with their longtime Brazilian jiu-jitsu coach, Cesar Gracie. Both have known Diaz since he was a teenager. Melendez was brought to Gracie’s gym in the Bay Area back then by Jake Shields. Nate was Nick’s student and always the young guy in the room. Melendez, Shields and Nick all had excellent MMA careers, winning titles in multiple promotions.
The four have remained close, and Melendez can’t help but marvel about where Diaz is now — one of the most well-known fighters on the planet — compared to where he was as a kid coming out of Stockton.
“It shows he’s more than just a fighter,” Melendez says. “He’s a businessman. Just a strategic person in life and everything. Everything he plays, the moves he makes. Almost manifests it. It’s pretty impressive. He just sticks to the course. It’s always impressive to see that. Things always work out. He’s like the guy that was quick to the stock market before anybody else. He saw it early, and now it’s gonna pay.”
Nick adds: “He’s a grown-up. I still feel like he’s my baby brother, like when we were just kids. Time flies. I’m proud of him.”
With his knowledge of Hollywood and marketability, Reyes sees a bright future for Diaz in whatever he does next.
“All athletes strive to get to free agency,” Reyes says. “And he’s done it. It’s an amazing thing, because it’s very, very rare [in MMA] — if ever — that anybody has been able to build their brand and then be able to go, ‘Now I want to be able to move the way I want to move.'”
First, though, comes this fight with Chimaev. Diaz isn’t too excited about it. He knows Chimaev is known for his wrestling and believes Chimaev’s game plan will likely be to take Diaz down. Diaz said he’d rather fight “killers” or “anybody trying to knock fools out.”
“When you fight wrestlers, they devalue [themselves] and they devalue you, because then you have to be boring, too,” Diaz said. “I can’t just go over and kill this motherf—er, because he’s gonna grab me and not let me go.”
Matchmaking is one of the reasons Diaz believes he has to break from the UFC, even if it’s temporary. He wants to see how much money the Nathan Diaz brand is worth on the open market, and he wants to do it his way — forge his own path, write his own blueprint for success. Diaz never felt the UFC marketing machine was behind him, so why not?
Diaz is unconventional — his pre-training routine involves a protein smoothie in one hand and a joint in the other — and that’s very much a part of his appeal to the masses. He believes those fans will follow him on whatever journey he takes next.
“I’ve wrote enough stories already,” Diaz said. “Why not just f—ing write my own? Then I can see other ones when I’m watching. We’ll make our own s—.”
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