After nearly six years away from MMA, Nick Diaz returns for UFC 266 not just as a fan favorite, but one of the faces of marijuana activism in sports.
One of mixed martial arts’ biggest stars finally returns to the octagon Saturday evening after more than five years away from the sport. Stockton, California’s Nick Diaz returns at UFC 266 to battle an opponent he first faced 17 years ago, Robbie Lawler.
And despite everything he’s known for — unreal toughness, gas tank for days, steely trash talk, unorthodox fighting style — Diaz represents something bigger this weekend: the sporting world’s evolving stance on cannabis. Truly, Nate Diaz’s older brother is mixed martial arts’ resident marijuana martyr.
After his fight with Anderson Silva in 2015, it was revealed that Nick Diaz tested positive for marijuana. The Nevada State Athletic Commission (NSAC) collected three samples — two of the three came back negative and one was positive. Diaz was not only fined $165,000, but suspended for five years by the NSAC as a repeat offender.
A year later, the suspension was reduced to 18 months, with the fine knocked down to $100,000. Even so, it remained one of the harshest cannabis-related penalties the sports world had ever seen. His eligibility has been long since restored, but the Silva fight still marks the last time fans got to watch Nick Diaz fight inside the cage.
Let’s take stock of this iconoclastic fighter’s journey to UFC 266.
MMA & Marijuana: The Nick Diaz Timeline
Aug. 21: First professional MMA win vs. Mike Wick at IFC Warriors Challenge 15
March 27: Wins first major pro title as WEC welterweight champion vs. Joe Hurley at WEC 6
Sept. 26: Makes UFC debut, defeats Jeremy Jackson by submission (armbar) at UFC 44
April 4: First fight with Robbie Lawler. Wins by second-round TKO at UFC 47
Feb. 24: Defeats Takananori Gomi by submission (gogoplata) at PRIDE 33. Win later overturned after testing positive for marijuana.
Jan. 30: Defeats Marius Žaromskis by first-round TKO for inaugural Strikeforce welterweight championship at Strikeforce: Miami.
Feb. 4: Loses to Carlos Condit for UFC interim welterweight title at UFC 143. A positive marijuana test is subsequently revealed.
Jan. 31: Loses to Anderson Silva at UFC 183. Fight later rendered a no-contest after Diaz tested positive for marijuana and Silva tested positive for banned substances drostanolone and androsterone.
Jan. 1: The US Anti-doping Agency (USADA), the drug testing partner of the UFC, removes cannabidiol (CBD) from its list of banned substances.
August: Nick and Nate Diaz co-found CBD company Game Up Nutrition
Jan. 14: UFC announces removal of the psychoactive ingredient in cannabis, carboxy-THC, from its banned substances list.
Sept. 25: Nick Diaz scheduled to fight Robbie Lawler at UFC 266.
Upon his return to the UFC, marijuana policies have shifted drastically, and not just in MMA — from the major US sports leagues to the Olympic Games and beyond, the landscape is liberalizing.
There’s still tons of progress that remains to be made. But as things stand, let’s take stock of the UFC’s situation regarding cannabis and its related products compared to other top leagues and organizations.
The State of Marijuana Policies in Sports
UFC: After moving to permit CBD in 2018, the UFC again updated its anti-doping policy earlier this year to no longer punishing positive marijuana tests unless a fighter is believed to have used it to enhance their performance.
Notable suspensions: Nick Diaz, Chris Barnett
NFL: Earlier this year, the NFL relaxed its policy on marijuana by not testing players during the offseason period from April 20 through Aug. 9. The start date of 4/20 relates directly to the cannabis-related holiday celebrated by those who choose to partake in smoking it. The August end date is centered around the start of training camps.
Under football’s current collective bargaining agreement, the NFL will no longer suspend players for testing positive for marijuana, and will instead will issue fines up to three weeks’ pay. Under the previous CBA, penalties ranged from fines of multiple game checks to a possible one-year ban from the league.
Notable Suspensions: Ricky Williams, Josh Gordon, Darren Waller, Randy Gregory
NBA: Last season, the NBA temporarily stopped testing players for cannabis. “Due to the unusual circumstances in conjunction with the pandemic, we have agreed with the NBPA to suspend random testing for marijuana for the 2020-21 season,” league spokesperson Mike Bass said in a statement, “And focus our random testing program on performance-enhancing products and drugs of abuse.”
While the substance will remain on the league’s banned list per se, there are no plans for athletes to be tested during the upcoming season. Previously, NBA players were subject to four random tests during the season and two each offseason.
Notable Suspensions: Malik Beasley, Larry Sanders
MLB: Major League Baseball removed cannabis from its list of banned substances in 2019. “Going forward, marijuana-related conduct will be treated the same as alcohol-related conduct under the Parties’ Joint Treatment Program for Alcohol-Related and Off-Field Violent Conduct, which provides for mandatory evaluation, voluntary treatment, and the possibility of discipline by a Player’s Club or the Commissioner’s Office in response to certain conduct involving Natural Cannabinoids,” MLB said in a press release.
Before the change, players who tested positive for THC were required to enter a mandatory treatment program. If they failed to complete the program, they could be fined up to $35,000.
Notable Suspensions: Minor leaguer Jon Singleton
IOC: The latest infamous case of a high-level marijuana suspension in sports occurred over the Summer following the USA Track and Field Olympic Trials. Star sprinter Sha’Carri Richardson legally smoked marijuana in the state of Oregon, but THC remains on the World Anti-doping Agency’s list of prohibited substances, forcing Richardson to miss the Tokyo Summer Games.
Back in 2009, legendary swimmer Michael Phelps was also suspended for three months after a picture emerged depicting him smoking from a bong.
Notable Suspensions: Sha’Carri Richardson, Michael Phelps
UFC 266 takes place Saturday, Sept. 25, from the T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas on ESPN+ pay-per-view. Early prelims begin at 6 p.m. ET, prelims are at 8 p.m., and the main card begins at 10 p.m.