For MMA fighter Nick Diaz, marijuana and martial arts go hand-in-hand.
Cannabis use can be controversial, but it’s especially so for athletes. No one knows that better than Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) fighter Nick Diaz.
A martial artist for most of his life, Diaz started training when he was in his teens. First it was karate and aikido, as well as wrestling tournaments. He also trained in Sambo, learning from Valeri Ignatov, the Bulgarian National Sambo Champion. When he was 23 years old, he earned his black belt in Brazilian jiujitsu.
Taunts and Tapouts
It was only natural that Diaz would fight professionally, and he started doing so shortly after he turned 18. His first big fight was in 2001, facing off against Mike Wick at IFC Warriors Challenge 15. Diaz took Wick out with a triangle choke.
His fighting style was unlike anything the MMA world had ever seen – with a large volume of fast, lower-powered punches accented with a few high-powered ones. His training in triathlons makes him a substantial opponent for those who focus only on strength training, giving Diaz the ability to chase and stalk them around the ring. He would use this ability to his advantage time and time again.
Diaz was a natural. Just a year after his first IFC win, he became a champion when he defeated Chris Lytle at IFC Warriors Challenge 17. Diaz won the title of IFC Welterweight Champion.
He continued to have amazing success in the IFC circuit and was signed by the UFC, where he debuted in 2003 at UFC 44. He defeated Jeremy Jackson, the man with whom he had battled for possession of the Welterweight Champion title just a few years before. (Jackson had defeated Diaz, who had returned the next year to reclaim his crown.)
Diaz faced ups and downs in the UFC, winning against Elite XC Middleweight Champion Robbie Lawler at UFC 47, but also suffering a series of stunning losses. Well-known for taunting opponents in the ring, he continued the trash talk outside of the ring. After losing UFC 57 to Joe Riggs, Diaz got into a post-match scuffle when the two men were sent to the same hospital for post-fight medical testing and observation.
Other organizations have signed Diaz to take part in their events – including Pride FC, EliteXC, Strikeforce and DREAM. In his debut at Pride 33, Diaz defeated Japanese Lightweight Champion Takanori Gomi by using a Gogoplata foot choke – only the second time the move had been used successfully in PRIDE’s history.
Diaz’s fiery temper was on display during his second fight for EliteXC. After the doctor stopped the match against KJ Noons and called it a loss for Diaz (who had a series of bad cuts on his forehead), Diaz flipped the doctor off as he stormed out of the arena. He later had the bones on his eyebrows filed down in an attempt to prevent future match-stopping cuts.
His temper hadn’t improved by the time he faced Noons again at the EliteXC “Return of the King” event. After Nick and his brother Nate (also an MMA fighter) got into a scuffle with Noons, event organizers asked Diaz to come onstage and talk about the potential for a title rematch against Noons.
Ever the one to taunt, Diaz told Noons, “Don’t be scared, homie.” The result? Noons’ father lunged at Diaz, prompting Diaz to throw a water bottle at him. A brawl ensued in which the Diaz brothers were removed by security, flipping off Noons’ supporters and fans as they went.
Diaz’s success and controversial behavior continued through a series of Strikeforce events, where he became the Strikeforce Welterweight Champion and defended his title a record-breaking three times. Diaz and his nemesis Joe Riggs met up once more at Strikeforce: Carano vs. Cyborg, where they fought in the ring and…no surprise…yet again at the hospital afterwards.
In 2011, Diaz returned to UFC. He initially got off to a rocky start and was booted from UFC 137 when he kept missing flights to do a press junket for the event. UFC president Dana White finally included Diaz, and the fighter defeated B.J. Penn via a unanimous decision.
After being defeated by Carlos Condit at UFC 143, Diaz wasn’t pleased and expressed thoughts about retiring from fighting. He was back for UFC 158, however, but lost against George St-Pierre. He “officially” retired from MMA on July 28, 2013, but returned for UFC 170, as well as UFC 183.
That last fight would be problematic, though, as something that had plagued him for his entire career would appear yet again. No – we’re not talking about Joe Riggs. We’re talking about drug testing.
Nick Diaz Battles Drug Testing
Diaz’s fights haven’t been limited to his opponents. He’s also constantly had run-ins with MMA officials when it comes to drug testing.
The Nevada State Athletic Commission harshed the buzz after Diaz’s win against Gomi when they determined he’d had marijuana in his system at the time. They declared the fight a “No Contest,” gave him a six-month suspension and a fine of $3,700.
By Commission standards, a test result of 15 or higher is a positive indication of THC. 50 is the threshold for athletes. Diaz tested a whopping 175.
Why is this a problem? According to officials, because it may have made him less affected by pain during the match. Dr. Tony Alamo, the Commission Chairman, said, “Mr. Diaz was 175. This creates a unique situation. I was there at this fight and believe that you were intoxicated and… that it made you numb to the pain. Did it help you win? I think it did.”
Diaz denied smoking weed before the fight, but his marijuana troubles were far from over. He was suspended for a year in 2012 after testing positive for marijuana metabolites.
One of the biggest weed-fueled blowups in his career came in September 2015 when the Nevada State Athletic Commission suspended Diaz for 5 years – an potentially career-ending ban for a MMA fighter. He passed the first and last of the series of three drug tests before his UFC 183 fight, but failed the second one.
The reason for his suspension, Diaz told Snoop Dogg in an interview on the GGN News Network, wasn’t related to the actual drug test results, but an error in the paperwork.
“The thing is, I never tested positive,” he said. “I never, you know… And that was the verdict in the end—‘cause then you go and make an appeal and you say ok… So in the end it was ‘you filled out the application wrong.’”
A huge volume of supporters petitioned for the commission to lift the ban, including music legend Cher, who tweeted a link to the petition with the comment, “Lift the NSAC ban from MMA fighter Nick Diaz.” He eventually reached an 18-month suspension agreement with the Commission and is now free to participate in combat sports again.
On the Record about Reefer
For his part, Diaz has remained unapologetic about his cannabis use.
“For the record, right now, I think someone needed to come out and say it: I think smoking pot is good for mixed martial artists. It’s a new day and age, this is, uh, the year…fuck year is it? I don’t know, because I’ve been training and smoking pot like I should, instead of paying attention to other bullshit, which I don’t do,” Diaz told MMA website Sherdog in 2007.
His feelings hadn’t changed much when he gave an interview to High Times magazine in 2016.
“If I’m at home and I’m training – doing my same things every day – then I’m definitely going to want to use cannabis,” he told writer Dan Skye. “It’s gonna help. I’m trying to stay focused on what I’m doing. I don’t want a whole lot of things going on – people to call back, or text messages or whatever. I chill out, relax a little bit, and then I don’t have those issues. If I’m going to train all day, when I get done, I’m gonna want to smoke. If I have to go and train all day, before I go, I’m gonna want to smoke. If I wake up in the morning and feel beat to shit, and it’s going to take me forever to wake up, I smoke some weed and I wake right up. Then I have breakfast and I go do a workout.”
What this will mean for his future in professional fighting remains to be seen. In the meantime, as always, Nick Diaz is doing his thing – and he’s doing it his way.