Nick and Nate Diaz can look back on 2011 with some satisfaction. After a year capped by respective Fight of the Night performances, the Diaz brothers stand near to what most MMA fighters can only dream of- competing for UFC gold.
If they are successful, it will mark the first time two brothers have held UFC belts, much less held both belts at the same time.
But things haven't always been so rosy for Nate and Nick in the UFC.
Rewind to the start of 2011. On New Year's Day younger brother Nate Diaz was struggling with a frustrating, grinding decision loss to Dong-Hyun Kim, after opening his welterweight career with two straight wins the year before. Followed by another decision loss to rising welterweight star Rory Macdonald in April, it might have seemed like Diaz's year was going nowhere. Nothing could have been further from the truth.
Reevaluating his move to welterweight, Diaz dropped back to the lightweight division, where he had debuted in the UFC after winning season five of The Ultimate Fighter. It proved to be the right decision, as he ran off impressive wins against Takanori Gomi and Donald Cerrone and vaulted himself right back to the top of the division.
The last fight against Cerrone also proved to be enough to earn him a number one contender match with fellow lightweight standout Jim Miller; scheduled for May, the winner will earn the right to fight for the lightweight title. Still, in the stacked lightweight division, that one last win for a title shot can be hard to pin down. Just ask Anthony Pettis, Clay Guida, or George Sotiropoulos, who all had their own UFC title dreams crushed in 2011.
Nick Diaz followed a different and convoluted path in 2011 to his own top contender status.
Beginning the year as the reigning Strikeforce welterweight champ, Diaz defended his belt two times before making the move to the UFC. Although originally scheduled to fight for the title against UFC champ Georges St. Pierre at UFC 137, Diaz confounded fans and management alike by missing a key pre-fight press conference and being pulled from the fight. Afterwards he was matched against BJ Penn at the same event and took away a dominant decision win.
Despite his win over Penn, Diaz found himself on the outside looking in at a title shot until St. Pierre pulled out of a delayed title match against top contender Carlos Condit with an ACL injury. St. Pierre's injury proved to be Diaz's opportunity, as the UFC decided that with nearly a year having passed since a welterweight title fight, Diaz would fight Condit for the interim title, to be decided at UFC 143 on February 4.
Nick and Nate Diaz have overcome a lot since their tough beginnings in Stockton, California, and a lot has been written about their competitiveness, their street fighter spirit, and their occasional inexplicable behavior. Through it all, no one has ever questioned their ability or their will to fight. Together they have accounted for 17 wins in the Octagon, of which almost half have won either Fight of the Night or Submission of the Night awards.
Now that they are on the edge of doing something no one has ever done before, maybe it's time to admit that behind their tough guy personas, the Diaz brothers give MMA fans a lot to love.