Sunday, Dec. 1, 2013 | 2 a.m.
Cashing checks and snapping necks beats chatting friends and shaking hands any day.
That was Nate Diaz’s takeaway at “The Ultimate Fighter” 18 finale, after he manhandled Gray Maynard in a bout he was hesitant to accept because it fell on the same night as his high school reunion.
“It would have been cool to go there,” Diaz said, “but I was broke so I had to show up (here).”
Memories give way to money, as Diaz banked quite the prize Saturday night at the Mandalay Bay Events Center. He earned one of the most significant wins of his career by beating Maynard via TKO at 2:38 of the first round in the card’s main event, getting a $50,000 Knockout of the Night check to go with it.
“I feel like I’m a lot more accurate puncher,” Diaz said. “But if I slow down and try to hit you hard, I’m going to hit you hard.”
No one ever doubted Diaz’s striking ability, but with just three career knockout victories, his reputation was as more of a volume and precision puncher. At “TUF” 18 finale, his power arrived with the extravagance of an outcast-turned-millionaire pulling up to the class reunion in a personal limousine.
Diaz sent Maynard stumbling into the cage like an intoxicated dance floor reveler the first time he landed a clean combination. He whirled punches until the referee had no option but to step in and call the fight.
Diaz credited his big shots in part to his older brother and corner man Nick Diaz. The recently retired UFC veteran pulled Nate aside before he walked out for the final chapter of a trilogy against Maynard — Diaz won the first by submission and lost the second by split decision — with a directive to hit with “solid and hard stuff, not just overwhelming” strikes.
“It’s good sometimes if you get a little reminder,” Nate Diaz said. “It helps.”
Nate takes after Nick in more ways than one. Nick is known for post-fight antics and bizarre interviews, both of which Nate provided after dispatching Maynard.
Although the win was his first in more than a year to break a two-fight losing streak, Nate proclaimed himself one of the two best lightweights in the world while still in the octagon. Nate warned competitors, including champion Anthony Pettis and Josh Thomson, that he and teammate Gilbert Melendez would “beat your asses.”
It drew mostly cheers, and UFC President Dana White was among the contingent that enjoyed the outburst.
“The guys who are real fighters believe they can always win and always believe they are the best and don’t ever doubt themselves,” White said.
The only doubt Diaz ever had about the Maynard fight was whether he should take it in the first place because of the conflict. Getting Diaz to compete was a battle the UFC won without much of a fight, but one the organization may face again.
The future plans Diaz announced were as peculiar and illogical as a professional fighter skipping a bout for a nostalgic party.
“I’m thinking maybe I’ll sit on the sidelines for a good long minute until someone gets injured and I’ll fight for a title like everyone else is doing,” Diaz said.