The private jet rolled into its hangar in Phoenix shortly after 5 p.m. on Sunday. Local time. It carried passengers who had boarded a few hours earlier in Stockton, California. But they have been on a long, strange journey for years.
Nate Diaz came to UFC 263 with friends who remember showing up in a bullet-riddled Honda or driving a friend’s ’95 Chrysler Sebring. The mode of transportation is different these days, but Diaz is essentially the same – the rare superstar who has managed to maintain an authenticity that holds this team’s bond.
You know it’s going to be a BIG week of fighting, though @ NateDiaz209 arrives in a private jet 🛩
– UFC_Asia (@UFC_Asia) June 8, 2021
Diaz, 36, started practicing Brazilian jiu-jitsu at the age of 14, also knowing that the gym would offer hot meals after workouts. Under the guidance of the renowned Cesar Gracie and following in the footsteps of his brother Nick Diaz, Nate became a BJJ black belt, and he became known for creative submissions and a branding hit that is symbolic of his combative upbringing: the Stockton Slap. His success on the Octagon, including winning The Ultimate Fighter 5 in 2007, and his lack of pretense made him popular with a large and loyal fan base. Now one of the most popular fighters in the world, he’s rubbing up against celebrities like Leonardo DiCaprio and Post Malone.
On Saturday he will fight Leon Edwards in a crucial five-round welterweight bout at UFC 263 in Glendale, Arizona. It’s not the Main Event or even the Co-Main, but Diaz-Edwards is arguably the most anticipated competition on a stacked pay-per-view card with two championship bouts. The winner could get a chance at welterweight champion Kamaru Usman.
When Diaz got off the plane, he was surrounded by teammates and friends who know the UFC superstar on a different level than his public figure as Nick’s mean, weed-smoking little brother. You know the guy with the great sense of humor who was a good sport called a “Jimmy Kimmel Live!” Sketch went back to him. You know the loyal friend who once filled a unlucky fellow’s refrigerator. And they remember the guy who knew when it was time to take over. These are their stories.
[Editor’s note: Some content was edited for brevity and clarity.]
The early days
“My first time seeing Nate fight”
Nick McDermott is one of Diaz’s oldest and closest friends and is currently his photographer.
As a child he argued a lot. If someone had something to say, they would say, “Well, let’s fight.”
Once upon a time on the baseball field in Morada. An older child and Nate were talking to each other. Nate was probably 11 or 12 years old. The guy was with a couple of people.
Nate got all of his friends together and said, “This guy is talking s —.” They all went, and this boy and Nate fought for about half an hour. This kid was about three or four years older than Nate, but it was a pretty insane fight. That was the first time I saw Nate fight. I would say Nate won, but it was a long, crazy fight.
“These guys were really poor”
Cesar Gracie is a legendary Brazilian jiu-jitsu trainer and was Diaz’s first martial arts trainer.
He started with me when he was about 14. I think Nick was 16. These guys were really poor. Nate didn’t have the money to get food or anything. He started jiu-jitsu training because we all went out to eat after training. We bought food – tacos or something. It was pretty cheap. The taco trucks were pretty common in Stockton.
It was a way to go, “Well, I’m hungry, and if I just have to do jiu-jitsu and boxing, will everyone be eating? Great.”
“There was blood everywhere in the car”
Rudy Hernandez is a childhood friend of Diaz and a long-time training partner.
We hung out on Charter Way, which was not a nice area in Stockton. We got into an argument and one of our friends was shot in the arm.
Everyone ran away. We threw our friend in the car and are going to the hospital. Me, Nathan and our friend. It was just crazy. There was blood all over the car, but it made it.
Nathan was calm. I think he saw a lot grow up. He doesn’t talk about it.
“We were kind of weird relief”
Gilbert Melendez is a former Strikeforce lightweight champion, a UFC veteran, and Diaz’s longtime training partner. He remembers grappling sessions under the watchful eye of former Strikeforce champion Jake Shields, who coached Melendez, and Nick Diaz.
My first encounters with Nate were wrestling with him on the mat. The sessions were very quiet and calm and we just followed the instructions from our trainers.
As it went on, we really bonded because we had a lot of fun and we could laugh, and we were just alike. We enjoyed the ride.
I don’t think our goals back then were to be the toughest in the world. We were kind of weird relief that Jake and Nick were so damn serious. That’s Nate. He’s a great leader, he’s a great captain. But it also just keeps everyone really connected. It lights up a room when he comes in. Not just because he is or what he did, but before. He just had that with his boys and his team. He sticks to it to this day.
“The Stockton Slap is real brother”
Andre Ward is a retired boxing champ and current ESPN boxing analyst who started training with Diaz around 2010.
I’ve worked with him for years during my professional boxing career, especially when I’ve fought a left-handed man. He did some of the hardest work I’ve had as a professional. He’s left handed and I don’t usually have problems with left handed, but Nate is embarrassed. He throws a lot of punches from awkward angles.
And the Stockton Slap is real, brother. It’s not like it hurts. It’s just disrespectful. Did you really hit me with it? And then boom, boom He hits you with more shots. It’s more volume than power.
And he doesn’t get tired. He can take it, he can hand it out. I had to bring my A game every time.
“They didn’t know he was gone”
Joe Lauzon is a UFC veteran and former castmate with Diaz in The Ultimate Fighter 5.
He obviously doesn’t like doing media, but he’s gotten better. I remember when we had to do the UFC photo shoots for The Ultimate Fighter. The UFC used to be terrible in terms of photos. Now it takes about 15 minutes from surfacing to leaving. But it took about two hours if you were lucky.
Nate was right in front of me, tired of waiting. So he went and ran about 6 miles back to the hotel in Las Vegas. They didn’t realize he was gone for a while and had to track him down, and he had them send another car to pick him up. I died of laughter and knew exactly how he felt.
“He threw me around like a rag doll”
Maynard James Keenan is a multiple Grammy Award winning singer, songwriter, and musician. He is best known as the lead singer for Tool. It’s also a Brazilian jiu-jitsu purple belt.
I rolled some Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu with Nate. Well he rolled on top of me. He tossed me around like a rag doll. We did what was like rolling.
If you play with someone like Nate Diaz – and I would imagine someone like Demian Maia – that’s a completely different understanding of art. I could do special things, but really just watch the transitions. You have to learn and feel it.
It was all the “holy s — I have so much to learn.” Nate didn’t have to send me. You can see whatever he’s up to, there are five submissions and he didn’t even bother to include them. It just stared at all of us and it was like, “Oh God.”
‘Turn off the clock’
Daniel Roberts is a UFC veteran and former Diaz training partner.
I stayed at his guest house for a couple of weeks to help him before his fight with Benson Henderson in 2012. I’m a pretty good wrestler too. So we kind of went and it was a stalemate. He said, “Who is this guy?” Then he said, “Turn off the clock.” And finally he passed my watch. He’s got crazy stamina. That was funny. No clock. I thought, “Oh man.”
And he eats really healthy. It was after the fight; I went to McDonalds. Nick came over and said, “Whose McDonald’s is this?” It was such a shock. Like I just committed a crime or something. “Who eats this crap?” I think I have a Gatorade as if Gatorade is healthy. They said, “Who has a gatorade?” I thought I was fine. Nate eats a lot of gluten-free things. Very clean. Bio. I could taste the difference too, and felt the difference when I was out there.
“Everyone needs a friend like Nathan Diaz”
Hernandez recalls a time when Diaz showed the depth of his friendship.
I was run over by a car in Las Vegas in 2012. I’ve got a titanium bar in my leg and I’m here thinking I wasn’t walking anymore. I had to have an operation because it was a complicated fracture of my right femur. I was in the hospital for a couple of days.
Nathan shows up. I didn’t tell him; He found out. He took the next flight and brought me a bunch of whole foods vitamins. He said, “Don’t take that. Don’t take the pain pills. Take this because it does. If you’re feeling any way, take some weed or something.” He brought me a whole bunch of natural herbs, such as medicines.
It was good to see him. Everyone needs a friend like Nathan Diaz – everyone. I struggled, worked part-time, and paid rent in a Vegas apartment that same year. He could have got his own hotel room, but he stayed with me. He wanted to see what was going on, see how I was doing.
“He’s a great leader, he’s a great captain. But it also really keeps everyone connected. It lights up a room when it comes in. Not just because of his person or his work, but even before that. He just had that with his boys and his team. He sticks to it to this day. ”
He saw that my refrigerator was empty. He went to Smith’s and bought some groceries. I thought, “Oh, he’s just going to be chilling all week.” And then he left the next day. I thought, “You can take it.” He said, “Dog, don’t trip. It’s all good.” Just take care of me. He doesn’t have to tell you, he’ll just show you.
‘Nate will set you up like this’
Gracie recalls the day Diaz introduced one of his trainers, Steve Heath, to Kron Gracie, Cesar’s cousin and a UFC fighter and standout BJJ.
Nate knew what was going to happen and that was the fun part.
Kron had never met Steve in his life and Steve said: “You Gracies, you are overrated.” Kron says, “Who the hell is this guy?” Steve says, “You have that rear-naked choke. You think it works. I bet I can get out of there.”
Kron is an accomplished gripper. He grabs Steve and puts him in the choke and says, “OK, on three. One, two …”
Steve had a taser with him and he felt Kron’s leg. Nate is at the side and laughs. Kron lets go of the choke and starts chasing Steve through the gym. They go back and forth like in a sketch comedy show. Nate will set you up like this.
“You need to buy some new belts”
Mikey Singh Hothi is a member of Lodi, California City Council, a student of Nate Diaz and a Brazilian jiu-jitsu brown belt.
Our Brazilian jiu-jitsu gym at Nick Diaz Academy is notorious for belts and how difficult it is to get one. Lots of people from other gyms switched to ours because they obviously wanted to work out with Nate and Nick. So we had a lot of those blue belts from smaller gyms, and we were kind of notorious for downgrading them.
There were three of us white belts on the mat and there were three blue belts from different gyms that were there. He had a white belt roll with each of the blue belts from the other gyms. And every single blue belt was knocked off a white belt.
Then he let everyone stand in line and said, “OK, everyone takes off their belts.” We all put our belts on the floor. I thought, “Oh my god, that’s when I get my blue belt.” I was really excited. He came over and picked up the three white belts that were on the floor and handed them to the blue belts, like “OK, you have to wear these now.”
And he picked up the three blue belts from the floor, looked at us and said, “You have to buy new ones [white] Belt “and just walked off the mat.
The turning point
“He found out”
After arguably one of the biggest callouts in UFC history, Nate Diaz explains to reporters why he decided in 2015 to call the then featherweight Conor McGregor.
Randy Spence is a trainer, longtime training partner and friend of Diaz.
Nathan was a soldier. He just did as he was told. I think it helped him in the long run because he could see all the intricacies to see how it all worked.
When it was time for him to get out of his shell and make his move, he was a little ahead of the game. When the time was right for him, he said: I can’t be a soldier, it’s time for me to be the boss.
He took this step around the fight against Rafael dos Anjos in Arizona on December 13, 2014. He’s ready to fight dos Anjos but the circumstances weren’t great [Diaz lost by unanimous decision]. He was kind of hurt and said, “I’m going to fight one of the best guys in the world and I don’t really get paid.” I think that was a hidden blessing. I would say that he really took his own reins in hand and kind of walked with it. And he found out.
When we fought Michael Johnson a year later, it sounds clichéd, but he wrote everything that would happen. He knew what he was going to do. He knew he was going to win. He knew if he won he would be calling Conor McGregor in an undeniable way. It was cool to see him go on a mission and make it a reality. If Nathan could impersonate anything outside of the Octagon, it would be this week.
Nick didn’t fight that much anymore and Jake didn’t fight that much anymore. It was a bit of a changing of the guard. It was like: I sat back and waited and let it run its course. He sort of internalized it like: It’s my turn to go out and do what I can. Nobody ever held him back. All he knew was that it was wide open to him.
The McGregor fights
“Nate lets them eat out of his hand”
Dave Sholler is the former UFC vice president of public relations, athlete marketing and development and is currently the executive vice president of communications for the Philadelphia 76ers. He recalls the first press conference for the fight between Diaz and McGregor in March 2016. It happened at the UFC Gym in Torrance, California, and it came together shortly after Diaz accepted the fight to replace an injured Dos Anjos.
What I always noticed about Nate Diaz was that some guys in the fighting game are really good at summarizing it and knowing when the red light on the camera is on. You will always receive 100 percent authentic Nate Diaz.
I remember there was a specific question someone asked about the payday they would get from pay-per-view, like, “What are you going to do with this career-high payday?” Nate said, “I don’t know, will probably just buy a lot of s —.” I don’t think people realize that Nate is really funny. And some of his natural performances are organically funny, but if he wants to activate the comedic factor he knows how to do it too.
If you are in the sports and entertainment business, you can feel the moment when there is some gold. I looked into the UFC gym and saw all these fans showing up on short notice and Nate let them eat out of his hand. Conor did the same.
Then comes the star-down. It’s one of the coolest stardowns I’ve ever done. You have these two guys who are full of emotion, there is clearly hostility. It’s a full house, two crews get together – Ireland versus Stockton, California. I remember thinking, “If something goes down here, not only will it be one of the weirdest things in UFC history, but I’m not sure we’ll regain control.”
“I get death threats from fans”
Jon Anik is the UFC’s lead play-by-play announcer and was the No. 2 broadcaster in the role prior to Diaz’s UFC 196 fight with McGregor in March 2016. Anik recalls the excitement that built up when he talked about it on his podcast prior to that fight, a 209 tattoo in tribute to the Diaz brothers, whose hometown Stockton has the 209 area code.
I said on the podcast that if Nate Diaz can hit Conor McGregor with no real preparation, I’ll get this 209 tattoo. Then on the show I said I could get it out of respect for what these guys mean to the martial arts anyway.
I didn’t expect this to spread like wildfire. I certainly didn’t expect this to be seen on Nate Diaz’s radar during pay-per-view week. What started as a fun podcast was interpreted as a tough prediction by the backup player against Nate Diaz.
I’m at home and he says at the post-fight press conference, “Jon Anik better get a motherf — ing tattooed or I’ll gasp his little ass.” I get death threats from fans. For example, “If you don’t get that damn tattoo, I’ll come over there and give it to you myself.”
In all honesty, as soon as it caught Nate’s anger, I got the tattoo, whether I win or lose. So it was obviously a better story that he won the fight. The tattoo on my left arm was inked five days later.
I remember seeing him for the first time since I got the tattoo a few months later and he wanted to see it. I think it was a quick hatchet burial. He understood that I hadn’t shot him in the end. He couldn’t have treated the whole thing more warmly and heartily if he could have easily taken it personally.
“Maybe Hollywood Boulevard Superman will be beaten up”
Sal Iacono is the writer and personality on Jimmy Kimmel Live! who is best known as Sal’s cousin.
We have a bit of where we interview people on the street and get them to say bad things about someone and then someone is there to pat them on the back. Usually they turn around and say, “Oh-oh, I’m sorry, I didn’t mean it” or “I didn’t say anything.” But we got it on tape and we’re doing it back.
When we did it with Nate before his second fight with Conor McGregor in 2016, it was insane. We kind of called each other coldly and got people from gyms and local MMA academies. We had people on Hollywood Boulevard. So we’ve had a lot of brave gym rats. Lots of talk about Nate. Then Nate comes from behind, perfected down to the smallest detail, and taps the guy on the shoulder. And they carried on – like idiots. Like, “Yeah, I said that, and I’m serious. Yeah, I said you’d get your ass kicked. You won’t get out of the first round.” I’m like, “What the hell is going on here?” If Nate patted me on the shoulder, I’d be in traffic, hoping to get hit by a double-decker tour bus right on Hollywood Boulevard. These people resist him even more.
The first he was a good sport, and the second he said, “Hey, what’s going on here?” And the third is like, “I’m not going to do this all day unless I meet her.” Then it turned me on. I’m the prankster from “Jimmy Kimmel Live!” I remember saying for a good 30 minutes, “Dude, no. I’m sorry. I have no idea why this is going the way it is.” I didn’t know who he was going to take it out on. I thought maybe Hollywood Boulevard will get Superman punched in the jaw.
I felt sorry for Nate because he didn’t know what to do. His natural instinct when someone calls him out is to just poke the guy’s elbow in the jaw and then be done. He was smart enough to see that this was not the way to go in this situation. For a minute he thought we had made her do it. “Kimmel Live!” do a joke show and he might think it was ambiguous. So now I’m the guy in danger and I try to explain to him, “No, no, no, these are a bunch of A-holes. I don’t know why they seem so brave in this situation.” I never thought that would be the result for the bit.
“Let’s start the show”
Chris Avila is a former UFC fighter and Diaz protégé.
I remember going to the UFC 202 press conference and Nate was on time. They said Conor was late. Nate said, “I don’t care, let’s start the show.” Dana White said, “We have to start; it doesn’t matter who is late.” The press conference has started and Nate agrees. Conor tries to pull one of Nick’s or Nate’s moves [by being late], obviously. Nate leads the conference and Conor walks in.
Then I see Nate get up. Conor sat down and said, “Oh, I’m here.” When Conor sits down, he tries to act cool and fun like he’s on the show. I saw Nate get up and walk out like, “F — this s —.” He went out and made Conor stupid.
Nate had a water bottle once and I think he threw it at McGregor teammate Dillon Danis and hit Danis. They threw us a bottle back. Then someone else threw a bottle, then they threw another bottle. For some reason there were only water bottles everywhere.
Moving the needle
“The nicest guy ever”
Travis Barker is the drummer of the punk rock band Blink-182 and a longtime MMA fan.
I was doing a video with TrippyThaKid and Lil Wayne, and Nate happened to be in L.A. He just hung out and was in the video. Didn’t need any special care, didn’t ask for anything.
These are my favorite people. They aren’t the loudest people in the room. Just a great slope.
It would be so different if I didn’t know Nate because I would just say, “I bet this guy has a chip on his shoulder.” He’s just so misunderstood. But I think the worst mothers are like that. You won’t talk a lot or get out of hand or be aggressive. It’s only when you push your buttons or do something out of your pocket that you will experience that. He is the classic example of this. Seriously, the nicest guy ever. The cutest guy.
“I let the president come here”
Spence recalls the time when President Donald Trump visited UFC 244: Jorge Masvidal vs. Nate Diaz at Madison Square Garden.
It was the first time the President of the United States came to a UFC fight. Nathan said, “I had the president come here; this is a big deal.” Nathan loved it.
We had to take the long way to the arena because they had to cordon off a few blocks for the president. In order not to keep us waiting, they wanted him there at 3 o’clock. Nathan doesn’t work that way. He said, “Nah.” He wouldn’t have fought until midnight. It wasn’t worth it so we just did it. We have a large police escort. We walked to the arena about three blocks. On his way he stopped and talked to everyone.
When we got there, we were about to go to our locker room, but the President came. So we had to wait in the hallway for almost 40 minutes for the president to come through. I don’t know what his political views and all that, but the president basically came to watch Nathan fight. That’s pretty great.