The complicated return of Nick Diaz

Nick Diaz claims he doesn’t think he should fight Robbie Lawler, but rather should challenge Kamaru Usman to the title. (1:50).
LAS VEGAS -- Nick Diaz's return is complex.

Since 2009, I have been speaking to professional fighters. But I have never had an interview like the one I had with Diaz this week. Diaz, 38 years old, will be facing Robbie Lawler on Saturday at UFC 266 after a six year absence. His media activity has been minimal in the lead-up to the event. One can understand why, considering the interview he gave to ESPN.

Four days before the fight, Diaz admitted that he doesn't really want to do it. Diaz said that he tried to avoid fighting for six years but it always pulled him back. It's the only thing that he can do for his family and others. He instantly replied, "No." Absolutely nothing.

UFC 266 takes place on Saturday and features two title fights as well as the return of a MMA legend. Alexander Volkanovski will defend his featherweight title against Brian Ortega, while Valentina Shevchenko will be defending her flyweight title against Lauren Murphy. Robbie Lawler takes on Nick Diaz in a rematch that has been 17 years in the making. UFC 266 available on ESPN+ PPV UFC 266: Volkanovski against Ortega

Saturday, T-Mobile Arena, Las Vegas

Main card: 10 p.m. ET on ESPN+ PPV

Prelims: 8 pm ET on ESPN/ESPN+

Preliminaries: 6 p.m. ET on ESPN/ESPN+ Subscribe ESPN+ to receive exclusive live UFC events and weigh-ins; Dana White's Contender Series and other exclusive MMA content.

Diaz claims that he feels like this before every fight. Diaz claims he doesn't feel confident and he doesn't look forward to fighting in the same way that many fighters do. MMA has a common saying, "Camp is where the work is done, but the fight is what's fun." Diaz doesn't find any of this fun, and it never was. This is how he has felt his whole career.

It's clear that there's a new weight to all this than it was earlier in Diaz’s career. Many people feel that weight both behind the scenes and from the outside.

Diaz's return to MMA is a cause for celebration. After testing positive for marijuana traces, Diaz was removed from MMA for 18 months. The suspension, originally for five years, was reduced upon appeal. UFC athletes won't be tested for marijuana in 2021. In fact, earlier this year USADA "essentially” removed marijuana use from the list of punishable offenses. Jeff Novitzky, UFC senior vice president for athlete health and performance, stated that marijuana use does not affect their ability to fight.

Diaz is a key figure in this sport. Diaz is a pioneer in MMA and a favorite of its fans. People love him. He has a difficult relationship with fighting and sharing it makes him more human and more relatable. UFC 266, which features two title fights, will be headlined by Diaz.

Play 4:43 How Nick Diaz’s marijuana suspension changed UFC’s drug policy. Since Nick Diaz’s 2016 suspension, the UFC has dramatically changed their drug policy.

Lawler is glowing about Diaz, even though he has cause to be unhappy with him after requesting a weight change for their bout this week.

Lawler stated, "I have a lot respect for Nick and all he has accomplished and who he truly is." He seems to march to his own beat, which I respect. He doesn't tolerate crap. He is the person he is and I respect that.

On the other hand, it is hard to not wonder if Diaz's candid interview Wednesday night was a good idea. Diaz didn't look like he missed fighting during his six-year absence. He was content to be left alone, in fact.

Diaz was asked in a lengthy interview with ESPN 2019 if he would like to return to fighting. He replied, "Absolutely no." Although he was eligible to return to the sport sooner than he did now, he never did.

All of this is topped off by the success of Diaz’s younger brother, Nate. Nate Diaz, the sport's most successful star and highest-paid athlete has been a part of this success story for five years. Nick is obviously happy for his younger brother but it raises the question whether there's still money for him to cash out. After many years of hard work, Nate finally got the sport to return his money. It has not done so for Nick. His disclosed purse for UFC 202 was $2 million when Nate fought Conor McGregor. Nick's highest disclosed purse was $2 million for his fight against Anderson Silva at UFC 183.

Above, Nick Diaz will fight Robbie Lawler, whom he defeated 17 year ago at UFC 47. Steve Marcus/Getty Images

Diaz is now in a fight that he doesn’t want. As he approaches the Octagon, the last thing on his mind is "Why am I doing it?" After a long break from MMA, that feeling will return on Saturday.

Is Diaz still fighting? It's easy to see the positive impact that fighting has had on Diaz's entire life, including his rise from Stockton streets, his success with his own MMA academy and the admiration he received from UFC fighters. It makes it seem like he shouldn't do it again after hearing his talk about it.

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It's possible to be excited about Nick Diaz returning. It's possible to want him to fight Lawler this weekend and to even see him fight after that. You could want him to make a few more bucks and then retire from the sport with financial security.

It's difficult to feel happy about the situation once you have experienced some of his pain. This is why Nick Diaz's comeback and this story are so complex.