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Nate Diaz stepping out of brother’s shadow at UFC on FOX 3

Younger Diaz handling main-event pressures with ease

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Sam Morris

Nick Diaz and his brother Nate Diaz grapple during the open media workout in advance of UFC 137 Wednesday, October 25, 2011.

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Nate Diaz at Gallery Nightclub in Planet Hollywood on Dec. 30, 2011.

Twenty minutes had passed at the UFC on FOX 3 press conference Thursday afternoon at the Beacon Theater.

This is typically the point when UFC welterweight Nick Diaz loses interest at a pre-fight media event. One- or two-word answers are expected, as the notorious Northern California brawler completely transforms into fight mode.

But Nick Diaz wasn’t the featured guest on the dais this time around. It was his brother, Nate Diaz, who greeted a fan’s question asking for advice on running a marathon with a grin and quick feedback.

“I hope you’re eating organic,” Nate Diaz cracked.

Nate Diaz (15-7 MMA, 10-5 UFC) is breaking perceptions people have about him leading into Saturday’s lightweight main event against Jim Miller (20-3 MMA, 10-2 UFC) at the Izod Center in East Rutherford, N.J. The assumption that Nate’s attitude is a carbon copy of his old brother’s is withering away.

Nick and Nate train together. They look alike. They share the same mannerisms. But those who know the unofficial first brothers of mixed martial arts speak of what separates them.

“Just because they’re brothers doesn’t mean they are exactly the same,” UFC President Dana White said. “They’re both completely different, but they both have each others' backs.”

Younger brother has stayed a few steps behind older brother throughout their careers. While Nick went on a winning streak that extended to 11 fights late last year, Nate compiled an ordinary 6-4 record during the same time span.

UFC on FOX 3 could go down as the moment when everything flipped. Nate will stunningly find himself closer to a UFC title than Nick if he defeats Miller.

White has vowed that a victory would earn Nate the No. 1 contender distinction. Nick failed in his attempt to win the interim welterweight championship in February, and promptly retired after the controversial loss to Carlos Condit.

“(Nick) is pretty much like my MMA coach altogether,” Nate said. “He helps me with jiu-jitsu, boxing, everything. A lot of credit goes to him, but we’re different fighters. We do different things also.”

Nate is more harmonious, according to White. While he’s dealt with several issues regarding Nick — a hospital brawl and missed press tour top the list — White said he had never encountered any problems with Nate.

“He’s a good guy,” White said. “I can’t really explain it, but I have a great relationship with Nate. He’s always been solid and anything I’ve ever asked him to do, he’s done.”

Seeing Nate in a headlining role of this magnitude has White in a reflective state this week. White first met Nate in 2006 when he fought on a WEC card in Lemore, Calif., and fell to UFC veteran Hermes Franca.

A year later, Nate won the fifth season of "The Ultimate Fighter" and the success spring boarded him to five straight wins to start his UFC career.

“I talked to him yesterday,” White said. “I said, ‘It’s a big deal. I saw you fighting in that Indian reservation up in California and now you’re fighting on FOX.’ I’m proud of the kid.”

Looking back or glancing ahead serves no purpose to Nate. Indeed, his disdain for talking about any fight other than the one directly in front of him is similar to his brother’s.

Nate has barely spent any time discussing his UFC 141 upset of Donald “Cowboy” Cerrone before the Miller bout. When asked Thursday if he would prefer to fight again or wait for a title shot after beating Miller, Nate replied with, “I’ve got a fight on Saturday.”

Nate will always give thoughtful replies to inquiries about Nick, though. And he’s gotten one question repeatedly in the last three months — Will Nick stay retired?

“The way things have been going forever, he’s not interested in fighting,” Nate said. “But who knows what’s going to happen in the future. Most people retire, but they don’t got (expletive) to do. They get fat, they get bored and they sit at home and need to compete. Nick is competing in jiu-jitsu tournaments. He just did four triathlons in the last two months. He’s having fun, man. He’s staying busy.”

Because he’s less occupied with preparing for his own fights, Nick has trained with Nate every day during this training camp. If Nate earns a championship bout, no one will be happier than Nick.

Contrary to widespread belief, their personalities aren’t identical. Take Nate’s reaction to another comment from Thursday’s press conference as a final example.

Someone suggested that the Diaz brothers “hated” the media, a statement that Nate rebutted.

“I don’t hate the media,” Nate said before adding a joke. “I think you guys are doing great.”

Case Keefer can be reached at 948-2790 or [email protected]. Follow Case on Twitter at twitter.com/casekeefer.

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