By now, you’re probably familiar with what happened two weekends ago, but let’s refresh your memory. On the evening of April 22nd, Nate Diaz got into an altercation with Rodney Petersen, a YouTube personality and amateur MMA fighter. Videos show various angles of the former UFC fighter choking the Logan Paul impersonator out on Bourbon Street. After the New Orleans Police Department issued Diaz’s arrest warrant, he surrendered, posted bond, and was cleared to go home to Stockton.
Here come the videos, the commentary, the tweets. The reactions to the videos, the reactions to the responses. Was it self-defense? Was it something else? From Dana White to Conor McGregor to Daniel Cormier to Jorge Masvidal to Mike Perry—everyone has an opinion on what happened, including you. You’ve probably thought about it, said it out loud: If I were him, I would’ve…
So, let’s take that thought and run with it. If you were a professional fighter and put in his position, what would you do?
To begin the story, continue to Inciting Incident.
You’re at a bar, or a pub, or a nightclub. The point is, you’re in an establishment that serves alcohol—always, there is alcohol. No matter where this inciting incident begins, you are at a specific location, and that specific location is slinging drinks to its patrons: beer, wine, cocktails.
And you are there, partaking of the selection: you, a combat sports athlete—someone who fights for a living, regardless of whether you’re in a ring or a cage, regardless of whether you wear 10 ounce gloves or 4 ounce gloves or no gloves, just hand wraps. And let’s just say, for the sake of this essay, that you’re well-known—that A-list celebrities have paid to sit in the audience and watch your fights.
At the bar, or pub, or nightclub, you’re not alone. You’re with your wife or your friends or your training partners. The rest of the night continues to go well, and then, in an instant—that’s how you would describe it, how anyone would describe it: in an instant—something happens.
A shove, a push, a challenge. Or, not a challenge. Maybe someone misreads the interaction completely. Maybe this person has been annoying you the whole night, and vice versa—maybe you have been in each other’s periphery so that you could avoid each other, because if you collided, it could be explosive.
It eventually happens, this collision. And someone in this audience pulls out their phone.
If you want to stay, continue to Record.
If you want to leave the altercation, skip ahead to Walk Away.
The video will be chaotic. Doesn’t matter: it’ll go viral, anyway. The display will swing from one side of the room to the other—or, if you decide to take it outside, the screen will show the ground, then the sky, a blur of surrounding buildings before focusing on you and your opponent already entangled, with no indication of who approached whom first.
In the aftermath, you will say that you were fighting in self-defense; the other person will say that they were fighting in self-defense. And the bystanders, who are just as inebriated, will not say anything. At this moment, they’re less focused on who started what, more focused on pulling out their phones and having enough battery left to capture the fight.
You fight for a living. A large part of your schedule is training for a fight or recovering from a fight. You have scar tissue on top of scar tissue; ears flowering at the cartilage; and a nose so broken, it collapses at the first jab. And you have done this longer than you haven’t; there are Wikipedia pages, YouTube videos, article upon article that document your lineage in this sport, that name moves and techniques after you. In other words, you’re at home in this situation: one-on-one and in-your-face, nothing but tunnel vision towards victory, whether by knockout or submission.
If you want to fight, continue to Choose Your Weapon.
If you decide that fighting this person actually isn’t worth it, skip ahead to Walk Away.
Choose Your Weapon
Without the tunnel vision, you would have noticed the cameras materializing around you. Flashes go off: they’re also taking pictures. You can hear sounds of drunken encouragement: whooping, voices shouting, Are you guys going to do this or not?! Among them, there are a handful of voices saying, Stop, no, let’s just leave.
Bodies encircle the two of you: a makeshift cage (or ring).
Your body moves to its familiar stance.
What’s up, then?
If you choose to be a striker, continue to Strike.
If you choose to be a grappler, continue to Grapple.
If you decide to leave, to the dismay of the bystanders, skip ahead to Walk Away.
You’re light on your feet. Even drunk, you can move swiftly: while the person in front of you doesn’t bounce, doesn’t back up—a sharp contrast to the other strikers you’ve fought before. Here, wherever here is, he’s transparent with each movement. You avoid his clumsy swing, his sloppy jab. It’s almost laughable. One-two. That’s all it would take to end this. You wouldn’t need to exercise that much effort out here, where there are no commentators, no referees, no judges. One-two: a jab, a cross.
He isn’t even really looking at you. So, it’s no surprise that he doesn’t see it coming.
There is nowhere to go but Results.
You watch him lumber towards your direction. Or, you’re already so close, your foreheads are this far away from each other. In one fluid motion, you duck, wrap your arms around his legs, push him to the ground. You’re on top of him, and he doesn’t know what to do. He doesn’t shrimp, doesn’t bump you off. But remember: you’re not in the gym, he’s not your training partner. His legs flail. So do his arms. He bucks, but doesn’t do it successfully, and you mount him without much opposition.
You let him stand up, because you think it’s over. Only, he charges at you again. With your left hand, you grab the back of his neck and pull it underneath your right armpit. Easy. He doesn’t even know what’s going on until you start to squeeze.
There is nowhere to go but Results.
You’re pissed off, but you walk away. Fuck this guy, you know? He’s just not worth the trouble.
But his friends continue to heckle you: No wonder you lost your last fight! You see a flash, because someone is still recording this. They call you out of your name. You are walking away, and—well, maybe it’s paranoia, maybe it’s the alcohol, maybe it really is that this person is following you, and the group of people are encouraging him to do it.
There is nowhere to go but Record.
It’s the aftermath. The incident goes viral and joins one of the many videos with similar tags: regular guy, fight, mma fighter, pro fighter. The image for the video is the moment before the fight, with your name, in all caps, written across it for clicks. You’re the top hit.
Every second is picked apart by the media. The main question: Should he have done it? Was it really self-defense? Interview requests flood your inbox, your DMs, and they’ve spread to your family and your gym, your promoter. There’s the possibility, people are saying, that you will be sued because of this. That you’ll be arrested.
Obviously, this is one outcome of many. Let’s say you choose not to fight, that you walk away. Let’s say you decide to stay home that night. Let’s say, the next day, you are hosting a barbecue in broad daylight, and a friend of a friend of a friend confronts you.
Or. You are at a bar, or a pub, or a nightclub. Someone is overzealous in meeting you, or accidentally bumps into you, or drunkenly mistakes you for someone else, someone they dislike. Whatever the case may be, the two of you are pulled into this too-familiar setting.
It’s almost cheap to theorize, because at this point, the fight or flight point, any result would put anyone—Nate Diaz, Joe Schilling, Ryan Hall, and so many other known fighters—at a disadvantage.
If you walk away or attempt to defuse the situation, you could be celebrated, or jeered at, or called disparaging terms: for falling short of the expectations of a fighter. You get paid to do this, don’t you? What happened to anyone, any place, any time? Here’s your anyone. Are you scared that he’s finally going to show the world that you’re washed up and weak?
If you fight and you win, you could be celebrated, or jeered at, or called disparaging terms: for falling short of the expectations of a professional. You get paid to do this, don’t you? So why are you giving the sport a bad reputation by scrapping with regular guys out on the streets? Don’t you know you’re making the rest of us look bad?
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