DALLAS — Jake Paul was answering a question about 35 minutes into the news conference when his forthcoming opponent, Nate Diaz, put his hat on backward, got up and walked off the stage.
“Is this man leaving?” Paul asked.
MMAFighting’s Ariel Helwani, who was moderating the festivities at American Airlines Center, told Paul that Diaz was “going to the restroom.” Paul put his head down and rubbed his right hand around his forehead.
“Jesus Christ,” Paul said. “I’ve never seen anything like it.”
The Paul vs. Diaz leadup and the fight itself are sure to have many uttering those exact words.
On one side is Paul, the YouTube-star-turned-prizefighter who has made a living getting under people’s skin on social media and turned the sport of boxing on its head. On the other is Diaz, a grizzled former UFC star with a massive cult following who has choked out Conor McGregor and built a reputation as someone who will fight anyone at any time in any location — a distinction he does not mind backing up time and again.
Paul and Diaz will fight here in a boxing match on Aug. 5. But the first news conference between them went down Tuesday, and there was plenty of interesting news, notes and observations.
Paul sees a Diaz win as stepping stone to McGregor
Paul said in interviews right after he knocked out former NBA player Nate Robinson in November 2020 that one of his primary goals was to box UFC superstar Conor McGregor one day. McGregor, Paul said, was kind of like his final boss.
Some rolled their eyes at the time. But Paul has made himself into one of boxing biggest stars over the past three years. And now Paul believes he is closer than ever to making his dream fight happen.
“I see a road map where I knock out Nate and then go to Conor McGregor,” Paul told ESPN. “To do what Conor couldn’t do — knock out Nate [Diaz] — and then that’ll be the biggest fight in combat sports that could possibly be made.”
Diaz and McGregor fought twice in 2016. The first time, Diaz finished McGregor by submission. The second time, McGregor won a majority decision.
The Paul vs. Diaz fight is only happening now because Diaz fought out of his UFC contract in September and became a free agent. McGregor has said he still has two fights left on his UFC deal. But Paul said he thinks he could come to an agreement with McGregor and the UFC for a boxing match, the way McGregor was able to box Floyd Mayweather in 2017. Paul’s relationship with the UFC, particularly UFC president Dana White, has been antagonistic.
“We’d have to work with them for sure,” Paul said of the UFC. “And I think at the end of the day, [the UFC] is a publicly traded company that has to produce revenue and if the business opportunity is large enough, which I think it will be, then at some point Dana has to put his ego aside and say, ‘Hey, let’s do this.’ And Conor’s going to want to make a bunch of money and he probably thinks it’s going to be an easy fight.”
Diaz also likely has a possible trilogy fight with McGregor in the future. Before agreeing to this fight against Paul, Diaz’s team was in very preliminary discussions with the UFC about Diaz and McGregor coaching against each other on “The Ultimate Fighter” and then fighting at the end of the season. Michael Chandler was tabbed to coach opposite McGregor and fight him, though a fight date has yet to be hashed out.
Eight? 10? 12? How many rounds for Paul vs. Diaz?
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Paul vs. Diaz is contracted for eight rounds right now. But the two men got into it a bit during the news conference about the length of the bout.
Diaz would like the fight to be longer, which should be no surprise to anyone who followed his MMA career. Diaz, known for his incredible cardio, negotiated for his most recent UFC fights to be five rounds, even if they were not the main event as is typical protocol. Diaz said he’d like the fight to be 12 rounds because he thinks of this as a championship-level fight.
“I’ve been fighting championship rounds forever,” Diaz said. “This seems pretty championship material. So, I don’t know why we’re not going 12.”
McGregor fought Mayweather in a 10-round boxing match, so Diaz figures this fight should at least be that long. Paul, during the news conference, said he’d agree to do the fight over 15 rounds. Diaz quipped: “Brother, that’s illegal.”
“Well, I know he is f—ing capping,” Diaz said, using slang to say Paul is lying. “You’re over here acting like ‘oh, 15 rounds’ I’m like, you’re f—ing trying to blend it in so everybody forgets about it so it’s a joke and it goes away. Right now, let’s do 12 rounds. It doesn’t matter to me.
“If I’m going to get knocked out, it’s going to be right off the gate or the next three f—ing rounds. But if not, then it’s like you’re in big trouble and I’m already willing to get knocked out. Are you willing to get tired and get your f—ing ass whipped and knocked the f— out?”
Paul not a fan of Diaz’s legal drama and persona
Diaz is facing a felony second-degree battery charge in New Orleans, stemming from an incident last month where he was caught on camera choking unconscious a social media influencer named Rodney Petersen, whose shtick is that he is a lookalike of Jake’s brother Logan. Diaz’s team has claimed self-defense. Diaz deflected questions about the situation Tuesday.
No one involved with the fight believes Diaz’s legal proceedings will have any bearing on the contest. Diaz’s next court date is scheduled for June 28.
Paul, though, had some pointed words about what he saw on the video.
“I think he’s a bully,” Paul said of Diaz. “I think he picks on people in the streets and likes to beat up people who can’t defend themselves. I don’t like that. And he walks around, I guess being a tough guy until he meets someone who is actually down for the smoke, like today when he just didn’t say s—.
“He’s going around bullying all these people who he thinks he can pick on, but then he gets in front of me and my security team today and doesn’t say s—.”
In one of the funnier moments of the day, Diaz was informed by a reporter during a media scrum Tuesday that Texas Combative Sports, which oversees fights in the state, has a zero-tolerance policy for marijuana in competition.
“For real?” said Diaz, who lit up joints several times during news conferences in the UFC. “Man, let’s go to California.”
Diaz’s representative Zach Rosenfield clarified that drug testing for the fight would be done by the Voluntary Anti-Doping Agency (VADA), which does the programs for many major boxing matches.
“We’re talking with the commission and VADA about how it’s going to work,” Rosenfield said.
Rosenfield said getting Paul and his team on board with VADA testing was easy. There were some accusations thrown around by both fighters about performance-enhancing drug use on social media. But Diaz said he didn’t care about drug testing, either way.
“Everybody I’ve been fighting my whole career has been on steroids,” he said. “They know how to pass the tests.”
Diaz added that he might come up positive for one particular substance.
“There’s a lot of weed in mines,” Diaz said. “There is.”
Sugar teams up with the Problem Child
Paul has shaken up his coaching staff, adding Theo Chambers and legend “Sugar” Shane Mosley. Paul trained with the latter before he embarked on this groundbreaking boxing career.
Diaz is, for the most part, sticking with what he knows. He said he’d be working with Richard Perez, his boxing coach since he was a teenager. Diaz said he plans to bring in pro boxers as sparring partners and will reach out to retired boxing great Andre Ward, with whom Diaz has sparred several times in previous Ward training camps.
“To anybody out there, anywhere from 170 [pounds] to 210, call me and let’s f—ing go,” Diaz said. “Pro level please. Let’s get the best of the best. I’m f—ing paying for rounds, too. Holler at me.”
Diaz finally gets control, which includes sneaker selection
Diaz was with the UFC for 15 years, but this will be the first time he promotes himself under his Real Fight Inc. banner. Diaz and Paul are 50-50 partners on the fight, and the money involved is undoubtedly lucrative, though they are not saying how much they stand to make.
Diaz said the money is less important than the control he has. Before, when he was with the UFC, he had to contend with its schedule, the opponents the promotion wanted him to fight and even what he could wear. Before his last UFC fight in September against Tony Ferguson, Diaz complained in an interview about the Under Armour “Project Rock” sneakers he had to wear due to The Rock’s deal with the UFC.
“I like The Rock, too,” Diaz said. “I just didn’t like being ordered by somebody to wear an outfit. And I’m trying to walk out to weigh-ins and then they put red shoes on me. I’m like, ‘Can I have black ones?’ [They said] ‘There is no black ones.’ F— these red ass f—ing McDonald’s ass shoes I’m going to wear.”
On Tuesday, Diaz wore the highly sought-after Air Jordan 1 Travis Scott “Black Phantom” sneakers to the news conference.