Other than being a professional fighter, UFC superstar Nick Diaz wouldn’t appear at first glance to have a ton in common with legendary boxing champion Muhammad Ali. However, a closer inspection of the two stars reveals the MMA legend and the all-time boxing great actually do share some important attributes.
Diaz returns to action for the first time since 2015 at UFC 266 on September 25.
The five-round undercard bout will see Diaz face Robbie Lawler in a rematch 17 years in the making. Diaz defeated Lawler by second-round stoppage way back in 2004 at UFC 47. Now, the two stars are climbing back inside the UFC’s Octagon in 2021.
But before Diaz heads back into the cage, Heavy on UFC is here to shine a light on how the 38-year-old MMA star compares to the late, great Hall of Fame boxer, Ali.
Boxing was the king of combat sports when Ali entered the professional ranks in 1960. Known then as Cassius Clay, Ali went on from there to enjoy one of the most successful runs in history.
Already proclaiming himself to be “The Greatest”, he first captured gold against Sonny Liston in 1964, and Ali won the immediate rematch a year later after changing his name as part of his conversion to Islam.
From there, Ali went on to earn one of the most remarkable careers in the history of boxing.
But Ali was more than just a decorated champion who won fights against the likes of Liston, Joe Frazier, George Foreman, and other champs.
Ali was also a tremendously popular champion, and that’s something that helped set him apart from his peers.
Today, MMA is the king of combat sports, or at least co-king, according to most pundits. While Diaz hasn’t quite achieved inside the Octagon the same level of success Ali experienced inside a boxing ring, the MMA star has at least enjoyed a similar type of popularity amongst the fans.
Like Ali was during his boxing career in the 1960s and 1970s, Diaz is today one of the most well-known stars in his sport.
People either love him or hate him, but they at least respect his work. But the point is that the MMA world knows who Diaz is, and that doesn’t happen the same way for every fighter who climbs up the rankings.
It’s a real rarity. It happened for Diaz, and it happened for Ali, too.
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Ali famously lost some of his prime years in boxing due to his stance on an important issue. In 1967, Ali refused to be inducted into the U.S. Army after he was drafted in support of the Vietnam war.
“I ain’t got no quarrel with those Viet Cong,” Ali said.
Ali cited his religious beliefs for the move, but he was subsequently stripped of his heavyweight title and convicted for draft evasion anyway. Ali was sentenced to five years in prison for his choice and banned from competition.
Eventually, Ali won in the court of public approval, and he returned to boxing three years later. His prison sentence was overturned by the U.S. Supreme Court, and he became a cultural hero to some due to his anti-war rhetoric.
Regardless, Ali wasn’t able to fight for three and a half years, and it means the world was robbed of his talents.
A similar thing happened to Diaz.
While it was a much different issue that derailed the MMA star, Diaz also ended up losing a substantial amount of time in his professional fighting career due to his stance on an important cultural issue.
Following his 2015 bout against Anderson Silva, Diaz was suspended five years by the Nevada Athletic Commission after he tested positive for marijuana.
“I’m pretty pissed off,” Diaz told the commission. “First of all, this sport, this commission, and everybody, they’ve done everything they can to keep me from being all the way on top where I should be. They’ve been doing everything they could to keep me from proving that I’m the best fighter in the world, which I am.”
Public support eventually helped Diaz get his suspension reduced to 18 months.
Still, things have changed enough in the years that followed regarding drug testing in the sport, that some have wondered why one of the most popular stars in the UFC had to have his entire career careened off the tracks over marijuana, a recreational drug with no known performance enhancements capabilities.
Diaz officially lost 18 months off his career due to his suspension, but he unofficially lost even more time after he remained on the sidelines despite being eligible to compete.
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Some fighters just mean so much to their sport that one simply can’t imagine the culture without them.
There’s no doubt Ali is one of these athletes. He’s easily the most popular boxing champion of all time, and his contributions to the sport overall have basically become immeasurable at this point. There’s no way to picture boxing without Ali. He won’t be forgotten by those who follow the sport anytime soon.
While Diaz doesn’t at this point in his career exactly carry the same kind of weight in MMA that Ali did in boxing, that is to say, that Diaz isn’t someone on the very short list of most important fighters of all time in his sport, Diaz is at least among the slightly larger group of names who helped MMA become the mainstream success it is today.
Diaz has enjoyed a tremendous MMA career. He was one of the sport’s biggest stars during arguably its most important era, and his ability to generate continued interest from fans and media all these years later is something that continues to help make MMA a growing community.
There aren’t many people who have done that in any sport, but Diaz is definitely one of them.
UFC 266: Volkanovski vs. Ortega on Sept. 25
You can see below the main card fights scheduled to happen at UFC 266 on September 25 in Las Vegas.
Main Card (PPV)*
Alexander Volkanovski (c) vs. Brian Ortega, UFC featherweight championship
Valentina Shevchenko (c) vs. Lauren Murphy, UFC women’s flyweight championship
Robbie Lawler vs. Nick Diaz, middleweights
Curtis Blaydes vs. Jairzinho Rozenstruik, heavyweights
Jessica Andrade vs. Cynthia Calvillo, women’s flyweights
The rest of the fights are listed below.
Prelims and Early Prelims (ESPN+, UFC Fight Pass)*
Marlon Moraes vs. Merab Dvalishvili, bantamweights
Dan Hooker vs. Nasrat Haqparast, lightweights
Shamil Abdurakhimov vs. Chris Daukaus, heavyweights
Roxanne Modafferi vs. Taila Santos, women’s flyweights
Ricky Simon vs. Timur Valiev, bantamweights
Uros Medic vs. Jalin Turner, lightweights
Manon Fiorot vs. Mayra Bueno Silva, women’s flyweights
Karl Roberson vs. Nick Maximov, middleweight
Matthew Semelsberger vs. Martin Sano, welterweight
*card subject to change
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