ANAHEIM, Calif. — Enigmatic UFC star Nate Diaz proclaimed that he didn’t need to do interviews or even fight to stay relevant.
He might be correct as he prepares to end a three-year hiatus from the sport when he meets Anthony Pettis in a welterweight contender bout at UFC 241 on Saturday at Honda Center.
Diaz’s absence from Thursday’s media day was the biggest storyline this week. And the card features a heavyweight title main event rematch between champion Daniel Cormier and former champ Stipe Miocic, two of the best fighters the division has seen.
Diaz will be fighting for the first time since August 2016, when he lost a rematch against Conor McGregor after beating him in their first bout. Both fights were among the highest-selling pay-per-views in UFC history, and Diaz doesn’t think his brand has been affected by the layoff.
“I’ve outdone the whole game,” Diaz told ESPN in an interview that was released this week. “I’m (one of) the top two fighters in the whole game right now — three, (with) Jon Jones. Three, you know what I’m saying, and that’s not fighting for three years. I don’t need to fight. I sneeze loud and everyone hears about it.”
His silence certainly spoke volumes Thursday, as Pettis appeared on stage for a faceoff photo against an opponent who wasn’t there.
Diaz, 34, did speak at Wednesday’s open workouts, but it wasn’t his words that drew attention. The staunch marijuana advocate smoked what he said was a CBD joint before passing it to a friend in the audience.
It’s the kind of display that has made Diaz and his older brother Nick massive stars in the sport even if they do business in their own way.
Nate Diaz has not given a clear answer as to why he hasn’t fought for three years. The prevailing opinion was that he was waiting for a third fight against McGregor, but he denied that this week.
“They’ve been trying to degrade me the whole time I’ve been out, trying to put me low on the card against not very big names,” Diaz said of the UFC. “They also tried to give me huge names, but they fell through. It doesn’t matter. I believe I’m the main event on any card they have.”
UFC president Dana White shrugs off the bluster.
“Nate’s one of these guys that has this personality where it’s like he’s saying ‘(expletive) you to The Man,’ but he never says ‘(expletive) you to ‘The Man.’” White said. “Every time I’m around Nate, he’s a good kid, and I’ve always had a good relationship with Nate, a personal relationship with Nate.
“He’s tough to deal with on the business side, but personally he’s a good guy. And whatever you want to say about the Diaz brothers, when they say they’re gonna fight, they sign the bout agreement and they show up and fight. So I don’t see any problems.”
One of the longest running complaints from the Diaz brothers is that the UFC throws its clout behind other fighters and leaves them to fend for themselves. Nate Diaz points to how he beat McGregor and had to take a rematch, which McGregor won and was granted a title fight and then a massive payday boxing match against Floyd Mayweather.
Diaz also has pointed to Pettis, who was once put on a Wheaties box, though he downplayed the significance of those comments.
“I was not jealous of him, but I was mad they were handing it to him,” Diaz said. “Just like Conor. I did more work than all these guys and they’re pushing them as the guys. If you’re a fighter and they’re pushing this guy as the guy, I’m definitely going to step up and say, ‘(Expletive) that.’ That’s all that was.”
The fight is part of a main card airing on ESPN Plus pay-per-view at 7 p.m.
Saturday’s main card bouts at Honda Center in Anaheim, Calif. The main card is available on ESPN Plus pay-per-view starting at 7 p.m.:
— Daniel Cormier (22-1, 1 No Contest) vs. Stipe Miocic (18-3), for Cormier’s heavyweight title
— Anthony Pettis (22-8) vs. Nate Diaz (20-11), welterweights
— Yoel Romero (13-3) vs. Paulo Costa (12-0), middleweights
— Gabriel Benitez (21-7) vs. Sodiq Yusuff (9-1), featherweights
— Derek Brunson (18-7) vs. Ian Heinisch (12-1), middleweights