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Nate Diaz continues growth in UFC
Melissa Diaz took exception the characterization that her two MMA standout sons, Nick and Nate, grew up “on the mean streets of Stockton.”
“We lived in a Morada,” Diaz told FOXSports.com. “It’s a small residential area out in the country. There were orchards all around. I wanted to keep them out there so they couldn’t get in trouble.”
Morada is fairly affluent locale a few miles northeast of Stockton, a downtrodden city that has one of the worst gang problems in the nation. That’s not to say Nick and his younger brother, Nate — who takes on Jim Miller in the UFC on FOX 3 main event Saturday — grew up under ideal circumstances. Melissa raised both sons and a daughter largely on her own and worked two jobs to provide for the family.
And there were some, well, unfriendly streets, like where the gym they first trained at — a facility that in nearby Lodi that closed after the owner was convicted of sex crimes after fondling a 17-year-old girl.
“When you grow up in the Central Valley, you usually don’t come from privilege,” said Cesar Gracie, who eventually trained the Diaz brothers at his gym. “There is an advantage to that, believe it or not. They don’t take anything for granted. They worked hard since nobody has ever given anything to them. They know what’s there for the taking — not that they’re stealing anything.”
The Valley — as in California’s Central Valley — is still the Valley, Nate Diaz said.
“I grew up in a good neighborhood,” he said Thursday from New York. “To a lot of people, it’s all just Stockton. That’s all anybody at school or anywhere else would call it. The gangs don’t (mess) around there. Right now, I hear a lot of honking. You don’t do that around where I’m from. You’d likely beat up or shot.”
Nick, 28, began training as a teen in MMA about a year before his brother (known at the time as Nathan), who was flippant about the sport at first.
“When Nathan first went to the gym, he was just goofing around with his friends,” Mellissa said. “Nick was serious about the Jiu-Jitsu. Nathan stopped going for a while before he got back into it.”
Nate Diaz, 27 denied he fooled around at the gym but said he didn’t buckle down until he was 16.
“That’s when I got serious about it,” Diaz said. “I started sparring at that point.”
Neither Diaz boy went to college, but that doesn’t mean there hasn’t been any post-secondary education. Nate earned his black belt in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu at the Gracie Sports Center Pleasant Hill, Calif., last month. Nick ascended to the same level in 2007.
“It’s a huge accomplishment,” Gracie said. “I keep the standards that I grew up with. I didn’t water down my standards. Achieving a black belt is like going to college and getting a master’s degree, maybe (more impressive) since it takes four or five years.”
For Nate Diaz, it was a realization of a dream that begin with a documentary he watched on the legendary Gracie family when he was 15.
“That movie was the beginning for me,” he said. “That’s what motivated me (to become a black belt). Obviously, it’s taken some time to get it. There have been obstacles. When you’re training in MMA, you’re not teaching classes or in the gym all day (working toward the belt). I was learning the sports of boxing and wrestling. That slowed things down.”
And Nate could certainly advance his career with a victory over Miller on Saturday. UFC president Dana White confirmed on a Wednesday conference call that a win by Diaz would make him the No. 1 contender for lightweight titleholder Benson Henderson. White said a Miller win would place him one or two victories away from a title shot.
As expected, there have been many comparisons between the Diaz brothers, especially since Nate won the fifth season of "The Ultimate Fighter" in 2007. His older brother turned pro in 2001, three years before Nate.
“There are a lot of similarities between the two,” Gracie said. “You see prolific ground games in both, but Nate has better fast-twitch muscles. That gives him a little better reflexes and he throws more punches than Nick. Nick, however, is the more durable fighter and he might be a little harder puncher.”
Nate is the better of the two in MMA at the moment by default. Nick retired after losing a decision — one in which he vehemently disputed — to Carlos Condit at UFC 143 in February.
“He doesn't have an interest in fighting right now,” Nate Diaz said.
Gracie said don’t expect Nick to stay retired.
“He’s always training, so he’s not retired in that regard,” Gracie said of Nick. “If a fight interests him in a couple months — like fighting GSP (Georges St. Pierre) — make no mistake, he’ll take it in a heartbeat. I think he’s just tired of all the games and the politics of the sport.”
Nick Diaz is currently suing the Nevada State Athletic Commission, which suspended Diaz after marijuana metabolites were found in his system during a test at UFC 143. He claims in the lawsuit that his due process rights were violated by the commission. A hearing in front of the commission hasn’t been scheduled.
There is one family member who will certainly stay away from the Octagon: their mom. Although she has never watched a fight in person, Nick has questioned why she even watches them on TV.
“He said, 'Mom, when did you get into violence,' " Melissa said. "I didn’t let them play with guns and I taught non-violence."
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