Nick Diaz's 18-month drug suspension officially expired on Monday, clearing the path for the UFC welterweight to resume competition for the first time since January 2015.
Originally the Nevada State Athletic Commission suspended Diaz (26-9) five years for testing positive for marijuana metabolites in a fight-night test, his third marijuana-related offense in the state. The circumstances of the test were puzzling, however, as Diaz was tested three separate times on fight night, two of which came back clean. The suspension was ultimately reduced to 18 months.
On Monday, Diaz, 32, said the suspension was actually something of a blessing in disguise and he's in no rush to accept the first fight offered to him.
"What can I say? For me, this is a curse," Diaz told ESPN. "I haven't been fanatical about being an MMA fighter since I turned pro [in 2001].
"There are ups and downs with that, being suspended. People don't understand, I've had 37 fights, three to five fights every year, for 17 years. That does something to somebody. These suspensions are the only vacations I've ever had. It cost me a lot of money to have a vacation, basically. It's nice to step back and see there's more to life. [Before], I didn't do any hanging out, drinking, meeting people, going to different places -- unless it was for a fight."
Despite the fact he'd been suspended 18 months, Diaz already has had one call-out -- and more are certain to follow.
Newly crowned welterweight champion Tyron Woodley (16-3) immediately called out Diaz after defeating Robbie Lawler at UFC 201 last weekend. Former champion (and a previous Diaz opponent) Georges St-Pierre has repeatedly hinted he is interested in coming out of retirement. There would be plenty of fan interest in a rematch between St-Pierre and Diaz, who fought in March 2013. St-Pierre won via decision.
Diaz also has history with Lawler. The two fought a highly entertaining bout at UFC 47 in April 2004, with Diaz winning via knockout. Fans have clamored for a rematch since.
For his part, Diaz said he doesn't believe St-Pierre's claims on coming back and added he didn't believe a fight with Lawler would be next because the former champion is coming off a first-round loss to Woodley.
"We're going to have to see, sit down and have a look at what fans want to see," Diaz said. "I'm on top right now. I'm on top of this game. There ain't no 'giving' me a shot. I'm giving somebody a shot. If anybody's getting a shot, somebody's getting a shot against me, because I'm the guy to beat. These guys aren't doing any money fighting each other, and until they do some money fighting each other, I'm not interested. I'm looking for the right guy to make the right show, do the right numbers. Then we can talk.
"We'll see. I have to talk about these things. I'm not trying to do any 'what I'm going to do, what I'm not going to do' through the media. I'm just here to say, 'Look, I'm not suspended no more.' These guys are talking about me, asking how I feel about it -- I could care less. What are you guys gonna do for me? I can't help you. You can't help yourself. You need to go help yourself. Maybe after you do that, we can have some sort of deal."
Since Diaz's last fight, the UFC has partnered with the United States Anti-Doping Agency to launch a new drug-testing program. The policy calls for year-round random drug testing and requires athletes to inform USADA at all times of their whereabouts.
Diaz revealed he's already run into issues with the program, saying that USADA went to his house when he wasn't home. According to his manager, Lloyd Pierson, the matter was quickly resolved and did not result in a potential violation. Pierson said meeting the terms of the whereabouts policy would be a nonissue regarding Diaz's potential return.
For now, that return remains "potential," according to Diaz. He's not in a hurry to get back into a fight, but certainly the right one would likely pull him back. The question now is, which fight is that?
"I don't need none of this s---," Diaz said. "I walk around -- people know who I am. I've got friends. I can make ends meet. I grew up around people who have been hustling from the start, so I think I've got a bright little future ahead of me -- especially if I don't fight. Why would I want to go out there and fight with somebody, get my face punched and kicked. It's not my idea of a good time."