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

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The antihero of the Ultimate Fighting Championship was on his patio, neck-deep in training for his first fight in three years. He closed his eyes behind his sunglasses.

Summer in California’s Central Valley was in full heat-blast mode. Landscapers trimmed the vast lawn with their buzzing mowers while Diaz’s father-in-law tinkered with a construction project by the pool. Diaz’s friends were in the shade, smoking marijuana.

The day’s group training would begin in a while — a seven-mile run in the 100-degree heat, a middle-of-the-night session at the gym — but the biggest concern of the afternoon was running out of weed.

“So maybe now I’m hella high, but if I hop in the ice bath it’ll kick me up, wake up my cells,” Diaz said. “It turns me from ‘I don’t want to go’ to ‘let’s go’ real quick.”

U.F.C. brands itself as the counterculture edge of the sports world: brash, bloody and unscripted. But as mixed martial arts have bulled into the mainstream, Diaz remains a reliable mutineer. He is the pot-smoking, straight-talking, Stockton-representing renegade who, at the top of his career, had the gall to essentially disappear for three years.

Diaz stands out in a tent of circus performers by doing nothing but being himself. That much was on display when he strolled into his open workout on Wednesday smoking a CBD joint from his own cannabis business, and proceeded to pass more out to fans. He had planned to stop smoking marijuana a couple of weeks before his fight against Anthony Pettis on Saturday at U.F.C. 241 in Anaheim, because the compound in weed that causes psychoactive effects, THC, remains a banned substance for which fighters are tested.

“Myself and the fans, his fans, have just come to learn that he is very unique,” the U.F.C. president, Dana White, said in a phone interview. “He looks at things completely different than most normal people do.”

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