Nate Diaz is a professional athlete in that he earns money to compete in sports, but really he's not so much an athlete as he is a fighter.

From the time of his youth in the hardscrabble neighborhoods of Stockton, Calif., to Saturday's UFC lightweight title fight against Benson Henderson at Key Arena in Seattle, Diaz, 27, has had to fight for everything he's gotten in life.

Stockton is one of the toughest towns in the country, and Diaz is one of the toughest guys in Stockton. That toughness came, in part, out of necessity. He grew up in the roughest area of town in a home with curtains instead of doors to keep the world out, with a father who was rarely around and with a mother who had to work multiple jobs to provide.

"There wasn't a lot going on for me [other than fighting]," Diaz said.

His older brother, Nick, turned pro as a mixed martial arts fighter in 2001, when Nate was 16. He used Nate as his sparring partner, a move that toughened the younger Diaz for the career that was to come.

He's literally fought his way to the top, beating the likes of Melvin Guillard, Takanori Gomi, Donald Cerrone and Jim Miller en route to the title shot against Henderson on Saturday in the main event of UFC on Fox 5.

And though he's had nothing but flattering things to say about Henderson – Diaz called Henderson a "great fighter" no less than eight times in 12 minutes during an interview with Yahoo! Sports – he also noted that there is a substantial difference between them.

"I have a lot of respect for Benson Henderson and what he has done in his career," Diaz said. "But he's what I call a round-winner. That's not me. I am a fighter."

Few are as well-conditioned as Diaz, who runs triathlons as a hobby. Saturday's bout will be his first 25-minute match, and usually the length of a title match is one of the champion's edges against a first-time challenger.

No one who knows the fighters, though, thinks the 25-minute length is going to be a factor at all. Diaz is the type of guy who will be going as hard in the 25th minute as he is in the first.

It's that fighting spirit which drives him and it is that tenacity that thrust him into the spot as the No. 1 contender in the UFC's deepest division. He made himself into a title contender through sheer force of will, rebounding in a remarkable manner to a surprisingly lopsided defeat.

Competing at welterweight, Diaz met hot prospect Rory MacDonald in one of the key bouts at UFC 129 in April 2011. MacDonald won the fight after, as Henderson notes, "kind of rag-dolling" Diaz in the second half of the fight.

It was a stunningly one-sided defeat.

Even more stunning, perhaps, is how quickly Diaz turned his career around. He dropped back to lightweight after losing to MacDonald and met Gomi, a noted striker, at UFC 135. Gomi was on the back side of his career, and it wasn't outlandish to believe that Diaz should have won easily.

The manner of the win, though, is what raised eyebrows. Diaz out-struck Gomi, using his boxing to set up a submission victory. Diaz essentially beat Gomi at his own game.

"This kid has really gotten so much better and become an amazing fighter," UFC president Dana White said. "His boxing is now one of his strengths."

Part of that improvement comes from training sessions with boxing superstar Andre Ward, the unified super middleweight champion. Ward is arguably the best technical boxer in the world and, as Diaz notes, training with that kind of talent forces one to improve.

But the relentlessly loyal Diaz gives most of the credit for his striking improvement to coach Richard Perez.

Judging by the development of the boxing skills of both Diaz brothers, Perez obviously is an elite coach. But Nate's improvement is also a tribute to his own perseverance and commitment.

Since he was 17 and an amateur who was very green, Diaz trained boxing year round with the finest fighters in the Bay Area.

"We don't play around and just box anybody who walks into the gym," Diaz said. "We work with legitimate professional boxers who can help us improve. I've been doing that since I was 17 and it makes a difference."

Whether it makes a difference in Saturday's bout remains to be seen. Diaz has his plan, but he isn't particularly concerned about one aspect of the game more than others.

The goal isn't to submit Henderson or outbox him or anything other than win.

"It's a fight, man, and that's what I'm going to do: fight," Diaz said. "I don't worry about all that stuff. I just go and fight."

Other popular content on the Yahoo! network:
Birth mother still trying to connect with new 49ers starting QB Colin Kaepernick
A-Rod's hip injury reveals fragile state of Yankees' aging roster
Y! News blog: Government promises world won't end on Dec. 21

view original article >>
Report here if this news is invalid.

Related News

Nate Diaz Wants to Box Because UFC Put Him on the Shelf | MMAWeekly.com

  • 27 days ago
  • 432 views

Nate Diaz recently applied for a boxing license because he is "being put on the shelf" by the UFC. read news >>

Raphael Assuncao Wins Split Decision Over Aljamain Sterling (UFC Denver Results) | MMAWeekly.com

  • 24 days ago
  • 1 views

Two bantamweight contenders fought on the UFC Denver preliminary card with one advancing closer to a title shot and the other moving further away. read news >>

Conor McGregor Comments on Nate Diaz's Conversation with Floyd Mayweather

  • 22 days ago
  • 26 views

UFC lightweight champion Conor McGregor has lashed out at rival Nate Diaz, criticising his former opponent for lending his support to retired boxer Floyd Mayweather. McGregor and Diaz faced off twice read news >>

Nate Diaz Responds to Dana White's UFC Fight Offer | MMAWeekly.com

  • 14 days ago
  • 1765 views

UFC president Dana White recently said that Nate Diaz had been offered a fight, and he was awaiting a response. It appears that he now has one. read news >>

UFC 208's Dustin Poirier wonders if Nate Diaz wants to wait for Conor McGregor, or if he'll throw hands

  • 7 days ago
  • 40 views

UFC lightweight Dustin Poirier has to heal his leg after a “Fight of the Night” slugfest with Jim Miller at UFC 208. When he’s ready to return, though, he knows who he wants to fight. Filed under: Ne read news >>

UFC boss Dana White says Nate Diaz has fight offer – and Nick Diaz turned down a pair

  • 18 days ago
  • 59 views

HOUSTON – UFC President Dana White says he’s offered Nate Diaz a fight. Against whom, exactly, is anyone’s guess.Filed under: Featured Videos, News, UFC, Videos read news >>

Medical Issue Forces UFC Fighter Aisling Daly to Announce Retirement | MMAWeekly.com

  • 19 days ago
  • 27 views

Aisling Daly hasn't fought since October of 2015, and she won't be fighting again any time soon. read news >>

Gavin Tucker feels he could've fought better despite nearly flawless UFC debut

  • 23 hours ago
  • 7 views

HALIFAX – It was Gavin Tucker’s big UFC debut, and it was happening in front of his home crowd. He should’ve been nervous and not been able put out a nearly flawless performance Sunday at UFC Fight N read news >>

Marcus Edwards Believes LFA 5 Victory Puts Him at the UFC's Door | MMAWeekly.com

  • 22 hours ago
  • 3 views

Marcus Edwards has a tough fight ahead of him at Friday's LFA 5 in Colorado, but believes a win puts him at the UFC's doorstep. read news >>

Rory MacDonald Wanted Title Shot, but Settles for Paul Daley in Enemy Territory | MMAWeekly.com

  • 12 hours ago
  • 10 views

Former UFC title challenger Rory MacDonald wanted an immediate title shot upon signing with Bellator, but will settle for Paul Daley in enemy territory. read news >>