PHOENIX – If there was any concern that Nate Diaz’s star power has waned in the 19 months since he’s stepped into a UFC cage, it likely vanished in a puff of marijuana smoke at Thursday’s UFC 263 pre-fight press conference.
With a raucous crowd at Arizona Federal Theater, Diaz was every bit as in-demand as headliners Israel Adesanya and Marvin Vettori, or co-headliners Deiveson Figueiredo and Brandon Moreno – if not more.
Diaz (20-12 MMA, 15-10 UFC) meets top welterweight contender Leon Edwards (18-3 MMA, 10-2 UFC) in a five-round contest on the pay-per-view main card Saturday at Gila River Arena in Glendale, Ariz. As the six fighters in attendance looked for one last opportunity to build interest in the event, Diaz’s presence seemed more important than any words.
The 36-year-old Stockton, Calif., native admitted the fan support was impressive.
“It makes me happy to be back and be on a great card,” Diaz told MMA Junkie.
That was the full length of his response, and it wasn’t even his shortest answer of the day. That honor would fall to this detailed reply when asked how training camp went: “Camp went good.”
Diaz’s demeanor stood in stark contrast to the full-volume tirades laced between middleweight champ Adesanya and challenger Vettori. Yet the fan support for his every word was no less emphatic, especially as he took a few puffs of a joint – first half-hiding it under the dais and then later out in the open as the ceremony wore on.
“There’s love everywhere I go,” Diaz said. “I love the support, and I love the whole sh*t man. This is great. This is great that these guys are getting it, doing their thing, too. Real fight, so that’s cool.”
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Flyweight champ Figueiredo tried to stoke his budding rivalry with Moreno by shoving him as the two came together for faceoffs. Diaz did no such thing, instead offering a compliment to his opponent and comparing Edwards to the legendary Georges St-Pierre.
“I believe that just how GSP was doing his thing back in the day, I believe (Edwards) is doing the same thing, and he’s not getting no love for it, so I’m pumped to fight a worthy opponent, and that’s what I’m here for,” Diaz said. “I’m coming to win.”
Accomplishing that certainly won’t be an easy assignment. Oddsmakers currently have Edwards installed as a -600 favorite, implying a nearly 86 percent expectation for the Brit to hand Diaz his second straight defeat, a result that would drop him to 1-3 in his past four appearances.
But as it’s been for much of his career, Thursday’s press conference proved once again that Diaz has reached the rare status of boasting a career that isn’t completely dependent on victories, nor does it require a boisterous push of pre-fight hype. When Diaz is on the card, fans already know exactly what they can expect.
“Every fight is going to be the baddest motherf*cking fight you’ve ever seen,” Diaz said.