Really, it is ok to say Nick Diaz quit.
This is one of those where I hope people read the article not just the headline
NICK DIAZ WILL FOREVER BE AN OUTSTANDING FIGHTER and mixed martial artist. In some distant part of the universe, it is still February 24, 2007 and he is using a gogoplata to vanquish the formerly unstoppable PRIDE FC champion Takanori Gomi.
But it wasn’t 2007 in Las Vegas the other week when he rematched with Robbie Lawler at UFC 266.
You saw it just as clearly as I did.
Diaz’s orchestra conductor’s sense of timing was still there but he couldn’t remember the overture. His punches were powered by gunpowder stored too long in damp air. His kicks - the few he attempted - were delivered via dial-up. Diaz was also startlingly easy to hit in the opening minutes and, despite landing plenty himself in the later half of the first and throughout the second, never found a way to make it harder for Lawler to tee off on him.
Nick has a pronounced sincerity and vulnerability that are endearing. Many people who’ve been around MMA a while feel protective of him. I was one of those who felt nervous about what would happen to him at UFC 266. I expected Nick to be a shot fighter… mostly because Nick made it obvious that he expected himself to be a shot fighter.
Which brings to why it is absolutely fine to state the obvious: on September 25, 2021 Nick Diaz quit in the third round vs Robbie Lawler.
IT IS AN ACCIDENT OF LANGUAGE that it is kosher to note the toughest athletes on Earth ‘submitted’ while simultaneously profane to express the same view as them ‘quitting’. Check the dictionary – both “quit” and “submit” can and do mean ‘to admit defeat’.
Etymology isn’t the only reason that it is accurate to state Diaz quit, though; I’m not merely playing with words. To deny what happened in the final seconds of the fight – when a spent and hurt fighter make the decision to pull himself out a fight he was no longer competitive in – is to deny the both fighters their due. Robbie Lawler forced Diaz out of the fight by landing shot after shot, and by taking more than the other guy. Meanwhile, Diaz only succumbed after a heroic struggle.
The tip-toeing around the word ‘quit’ is yet another example of the weird awkwardness we have in MMA about the realities of hand to hand combat. Yet what do we imagine we are agreeing with when we nod our heads at the old cliché that “fighting is 90% mental” if not that the fighter who’s mentally stronger usually wins?
This timidity is based on a falsehood only those who “made that walk” have any right to question the emotional fortitude of professional fighters. Wrong! The chance to see raw bravery and mental resilience beyond what most of us will be required to muster is the very best part of MMA. It is the part most worthy of discussion and this insipid reluctance to do so is not only wrecking our understanding of the sport but also robs fighters of their full credit.
DIAZ HIMSELF INSISTED THE UFC MAKE the Lawler fight a five rounder. The latter two would be, he’d surely hoped if not quite believed, the deep waters where he’d drown Lawler. Instead it was ‘Relentless’ who set a pace that set Diaz’s lungs ablaze. It was undeniable by mid-way through the second round that Diaz, who’d fought only 15 stanzas in the last decade, simply could not match Lawler for volume or violence.
From that moment on Diaz was fighting a long defeat. That phrase was coined during World War One and describes when the weaker side holds the line as long as possible despite knowing victory is impossible.
Three time UFC title challenger Chael Sonnen, now safety on the civilian side of the cage, fought several long defeats.
“There were fights where I knew how it was gonna go,” he told me a couple years back. “You’re not supposed to think that as a competitor. I’ve never said it out loud before, but I felt it. The Fedor fight (October 13, 2018) comes to mind. Fedor’s the greatest heavyweight of all time. No matter how good I could be on the night, I was never going to be more than a middleweight in that cage. I walked out into that arena and I knew there was no way I was winning.”
Nevertheless, Chael fought Fedor. He fought him.
On Saturday, September 25, 2021, Nick Diaz fought Robbie Lawler. He fought with everything he had. He emptied every bag of tricks. He tried everything he knew and a few things on the fly. Then, when he had nothing left to fight with, when he was out of ideas and his reserves were gone, when he’d been hurt over and over and then dropped and – who knows, maybe reflected on how the IRS was getting a check that night and not him – then and only then did he quit.
For me, Diaz’s defiance was humbling. Every passing second, Sonnen once said, is another chance to just tap and get out. Diaz didn’t get out for a long time.
And when he finally did it was honorable, in the way a chess grandmaster knocking over his king in capitulation rather than dragging out the inevitable is honorable. It was perfectly fine in the same way tapping to a choke rather than passing out is perfectly fine.
No-one in the audience had any right to ask any more from the man.
So, yeah, you can say Nick Diaz quit. But only if you do so in the context of what it took to get him to do so and how hard and long he resisted the end.