How a Poor Kid Who Learned to Fight For Free Burritos Defeated UFC Champ Conor McGregor

Nate Diaz is the American mixed martial artist who took out UFC featherweight champion Conor McGregor last Saturday with a rear naked choke during UFC 196. The two faced off in the octagon at MGM Grand Garden Arena in Las Vegas after Brazilian fighter Rafael dos Anjos injured himself a few days before the event and Diaz agreed to fill in as a last-minute replacement.

Diaz, 30, has a fighting record of 20 wins and 10 losses. He is a true fighter in every sense having grown up in poverty in his rough hometown of Stockton. The city, located in north-central California, topped Forbes’ list twice for being one of most miserable cities in the nation.

Diaz’s fighting career began when he started tagging along with his older brother, Nick Diaz, to jiu-jitsu practice. Diaz told MMA Fighting that he didn’t start learning to fight until he was in high school. He wasn’t really all that interested in jiu-jitsu because he said he wasn’t good at it. 

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Instead, what kept the future fighter coming to practice was the food the older guys in class would often buy for the Diaz brothers from the food truck that stopped near the gym every night. Diaz continued:

“That was actually the main reason I wanted to go train. I didn’t have any money. At home we didn’t have s–t. I was starving all day. So if I went to train I’d get something to eat. Sometimes I’d be sitting at home and it was like, well, if I go train with Nick I’ll get something to eat afterwards. If I don’t I’ll just sit here and be hungry. […] I was going for burritos and dinner, and hey, I wanted dinner every day. Before I knew it I was a blue belt.”

Diaz and Nick, 32, a two-time world champion in Strikeforce and WEC welterweight, chose a life in martial arts over crime and gangs.

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Stockton, a city with a population of 300,000, is comprised of mostly working class residents and was the worst-hit city during the housing crash of the Great Recession. As a result, Stockton suffered from high rates of violence, crime, unemployment, and foreclosures. The city filed for bankruptcy in 2012 and the police force was cut due to a lack of money. 

Diaz explained the influence his older brother had on him to UFC:

“It would have been really easy to be in something like that. It’s hard to be good. But I had Nick to pave the way for me to help stay away from that. I kind of followed the leader. I could have been all (expletive) up and gotten myself messed up with that. But I went a different path, it turned out how it is, and here we are.”

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Diaz is known for his bad-boy persona in the fighting world. In the days leading up to the UFC 196 fight, McGregor made remarks on Diaz’s background in an attempt to soften Diaz’s tough image. FoxSports reported the Irish fighter saying:

“He’s like a little cholo gangster from the hood, but at the same time he coaches kids jiu jitsu on a Sunday morning, and goes on bike rides with the elderly. He makes gun signs with the right hand and animal balloons with the left hand. You’re a credit to the community.”

Diaz responded to McGregor’s attempted ridicule by embracing his upbringing and the hometown he grew up in. During one of his fighting breaks in Vegas last week, Diaz responded:

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“[McGregor] was doing his thing at the press conference, and he was going to try and bust me out and call me a cholo. But, that’s the background where I come from. It’s hardcore where I live. If he would have came from where I come from, he wouldn’t have made it, man. Nobody makes it out of where we come from and you don’t know what I’ve been through.”

“I come from a long lineage of hard-working, top-ranked MMA fighters, top-ranked jiu-jitsu competitors. And then as far as teaching jiu-jitsu, yeah I do seminars. I try to push martial arts out there, inspire people.”

“I work hard. He talks all this work hard stuff. No one works harder than me. If he [McGregor] came with me, he wouldn’t make it halfway through the week.”

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Stockton native Dallas Braden, former pitcher for Oakland A’s and current ESPN baseball analyst, said of the Diaz brothers’ upbringing:

“Nate and Nick let everybody know exactly who they are and exactly where they come from. None of it is fake. There’s a reason why they’ve never wanted to get involved with the glitz and glamour that comes along with being UFC icons.

“That’s not their bag. They just want to fight. You don’t see them touch gloves. You don’t see them hug. They’re there to fight. That’s what we do in Stockton. We fight — literally and figuratively — for everything we have.”

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“So Conor wants to sprout off about Nate teaching kids on Sunday? Well you’re damn right. You know why? He used to be one of those kids, and he never forgot that somebody helped him out. Now we’re squaring off against Conor. And I say ‘we’ because it’s our city and we’re all behind him.”

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