An enigma delivered in spiteful jabs wrapped in victorious clinches, Nick Diaz is a mixed martial arts fighter whose pot-addled bravado ultimately upset the sport’s most powerful overlords in fighting’s most lucrative state.
The Nevada State Athletic Commission effectively ended the 32-year-old California fighter’s 14-year Ultimate Fighting Championship career on Monday, issuing a five-year suspension from fighting in the state as punishment for Diaz’s third cannabis offense.
“They suspended me for a third time,” the weed-smoking welterweight said. “For five fucking years for something that makes the whole world a better place.”
Even under a threshold that Nevada athletic commissioners raised by 300 percent in 2013, Diaz’s urine tested positive for a high level of cannabis metabolites following a fight in Las Vegas in January. Diaz’s urine exceeded allowable metabolite levels in 2007 and 2012. He was suspended for six months in 2007 and for one year in 2012.
Governing “The Fight Capital of the World” from offices in Las Vegas, the Nevada Athletic Commission has a zero-tolerance mandate against fighters using marijuana during a two-week period leading up to bouts. Raising the metabolite threshold in 2013 was supposed to make it less likely a fighter would test positive for in-competition pot use. Earlier this year, the commission doubled down on punishment for a tier of recreational drugs that includes sedatives, muscle relaxants, sleep aids, opiates and cannabis.
Diaz was tested three times on Jan. 31 — once before the fight and twice after the fight. Only the final test detected punishable levels of metabolites.
Diaz’s lawyer, Lucas Middlebrook, questioned the validity of the test results, arguing that two separate tests were conducted by the Sports Medicine Research & Testing Laboratory, a World Anti-Doping Agency-accredited lab, showing results well under the 150ng/ML metabolite limit. The positive test, conducted by Quest Diagnostics, showed more than 700ng/ML of metabolites — nearly five times over allowable limit.
Nevada athletic commissioners didn’t buy Middlebrook’s reasoning. Diaz himself wasn’t much help. Normally prone to stoned ramblings, Diaz repeatedly invoked his Fifth Amendment right not to speak, angering commissioners. The commission’s rules call for three years’ suspension for a third infraction. The commission briefly considered a lifetime ban — a punishment the commission’s rules reserve for a fighter’s fourth offense.
“This not just a case of marijuana,” Nevada Athletic Commission chairman Francisco Aguilar said. “I think this is a case of complete lack of disregard for the sport.”
Middlebrook promised to appeal.
“This is a kangaroo court,” Middlebrook said. “And you heard the commissioner’s decision was not based on the facts, it wasn’t based on the evidence. One commissioner says, ‘Your attorneys were very persuasive, but you don’t respect us so here’s a five-year ban and a ton of money that we’re going to take back.’ And the commission even misinterpreted their own regulations regarding the Fifth Amendment. So we plan to address that with a court with competent jurisdiction and we’re confident that they’ll see the errors of the commission’s ways.”
Reaction from mixed martial arts fighters and pundits was, like Diaz, swift and blunt.
“It’s so not right for him to be suspended five years for marijuana,” fighter Ronda Rousey said. “I’m against them testing for weed at all. It’s not a performance-enhancing drug. It has nothing to do with athletic competition. It’s only tested for political reasons. They say, ‘Oh, it’s only for your safety to keep you from hurting yourself because you’re out there.’ Why don’t they test for all of the other things that could possibly hurt us?”
UFC commentator Joe Rogan tweeted:
“It’s callous, idiotic and sickening,”
“Unless there’s scientific proof that marijuana is a performance enhancing drug that gives an unfair advantage it should not be restricted.”
“I think the suspension was excessive,” fighter Matt Hughes tweeted, “but you can’t walk in there like a punk and expect leniency.”
Some fighters, including a 125-pound former Olympian who has yet to fight professionally in Nevada, said they’ll boycott the Silver State over Diaz’s green bud suspension.
“The issue here is not the magnitude of the penalties assessed to Nick Diaz, it is the process, or lack thereof, in determining Nick Diaz’s guilt or innocence,” Henry Cejudo’s manager, Bill McFarlane, said. “Others may want to roll the dice in Nevada, but I for one do not feel the [commission] is capable of conducting itself in a manner consistent with their mission statement.”
Diaz’s marijuana drama is not without irony or absurdity. Diaz’s opponent in the Jan. 31 fight, Anderson Silva, tested positive for anabolic steroids and was suspended for one year. Earlier this month, Diaz turned himself into his local county sheriff on outstanding drunken driving charges from 2013 and 2014; his lawyer cut a deal and Diaz spent less than two hours in jail.
Nevada has previously reprimanded UFC fighters Dave Herman, Matt Riddle and Robbie Peralta for marijuana use but none as severely as Diaz.
In this week’s ruling, the Nevada Athletic Commission also fined Diaz $165,000, or 33 percent of his $500,000 purse from the Jan. 31 fight. Diaz also faces additional financial penalties to reimburse the cost of his suit incurred by the state. He’s eligible to fight again on Jan. 31, 2020.
Even for a fighter who was born, raised and lives on the mean streets of Stockton, the San Joaquin Valley city that was the hard-scrabble inspiration for the 1969 boxing novel “Fat City,” the suspension could be a staggering blow both professionally and personally. A high school dropout, Diaz has never worked outside the UFC Octagon or his local gymnasium. He will be 36 years old when the suspension lifts in 51 months, a lifetime away for a fighter now in his prime.
There’s an online petition asking the Obama administration’s help in restoring Diaz’s right to fight. Petitioners say the Nevada Athletic Commission ruled against Diaz based on commissioners’ personal views on marijuana. They “used their power to deprive Mr. Diaz of being able to make a living.”
Unless, of course, he can parlay his suspension into the Nick Diaz Ultimate Fighting Cannabis brand.
“I’m pretty pissed off,” Diaz told FOX Sports. “I got into this sport for this exact reason being stuck in a room like that with people like that. Those people are nothing but a bunch of crooks up there.”