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U.F.C. Needs an Antihero: Nate Diaz Returns Just in Time

Diaz took a deep tug from a pipe.

“I’m a little politically incorrect, but on accident,” he said.

Moments later, he stood up without a word, trailed by his English bulldogs, Machiavelli and Liz. He climbed a ladder to the 10-foot roof of a pool house under construction, paced off his approach, then ran and flung himself over a stretch of concrete into the pool.

For most of a decade, Diaz was better known for taking abuse while outlasting opponents in action-filled fights. Officially, his U.F.C. record is 20-11, but only two of those losses did not go the distance.

He credits his endurance to triathlons. He was training for one in the spring of 2016 when McGregor’s next scheduled opponent, Rafael dos Anjos, backed out with an injury. U.F.C. was desperate to keep McGregor atop the card. Diaz stepped in as a replacement 11 days before the fight.

Triathlons teach you about pace, controlling exertion, Diaz said. He stood to pantomime his swim, bike and run at a recent race near Lake Tahoe. He talks with his whole body.

“You got to know not to redline,” Diaz said. “That’s what happened to Conor.”

The two quickly agreed to a rematch, set four months later, but Diaz said he instantly regretted signing the contract, feeling undervalued. When White canceled the fight over McGregor’s questions about promotional obligations, Diaz saw an opportunity. He raised his asking price when U.F.C. called again, and forced White to treat him to a steak dinner to hash out a deal, the same as White had done with McGregor. Diaz also persuaded White to let him deliver a Stockton Slap, which the fighter promptly posted on Instagram.

“That’s what this culture loves,” White said, explaining that Diaz gives the finger to “the man” and does his own thing. “Nate Diaz is absolutely difficult to deal with, but I don’t dislike Nate Diaz.”

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