Nick Diaz’s disappearing act is the best thing he ever did

In Sports on September 16, 2011 at 5:15 pm

Last week Stockton’s Nick Diaz shook up the world of mixed-martial arts when he was pulled from the much anticipated main event of UFC 137 against Welterweight champion Georges St. Pierre after missing multiple flights to press conferences to promote ticket sales. Diaz was replaced by Carlos Condit, who was to fight BJ Penn in the co-main event of the same card. It seemed that Diaz’s UFC comeback had stalled before it even started after UFC President Dana White spent a majority of the press conference criticizing Diaz’s professionalism and Diaz responded with a rambling, expletive-laden YouTube video in which he sarcastically apologized for not making it to the “beauty pagent”.

For roughly a day, journalists and bloggers speculated on Diaz’s state of mind and his future. Did he suffer from anxiety as many supposed because of his admitted prescription for medicinal marijuana? Would he return to boxing as he repeatedly claimed in his video? Could he even do so because of his recently signed exclusive 3-fight deal with the UFC? Dana White provided the answer to at least one of those questions when he reinserted the fighter he had expressed extreme reservations about just 24 hours earlier into the same fight card he had pulled him from. Instead of a reported $2 million payday against St. Pierre, Diaz will now fight former lightweight champion BJ Penn in the co-main event, replacing the fighter that replaced him in the main event. While Diaz will earn less money than he would in the title fight he’s been begging for for years, White’s willingness to even entertain the possibility of doing business with him has to be seen as a victory for the enigmatic fighter.

White is generally regarded as one of the most business savvy figures in all professional sports. He’s also a hothead loudmouth, much like the fighter he spent a majority of last week’s press conference criticizing, but if there’s one thing he’s not it’s stupid. While he was completely in the right to pull Diaz from the main event of UFC 137, he would have been flat out negligent had he just let one of the best welterweights in the World walk and released Diaz from his contract. White’s job is to make the UFC the most dominant brand in mixed-martial arts and he’s doing a very good job. Diaz would be a nice feather in the cap of any fledgling organization trying to carve out some space in the MMA world. He was a featured competitor in the Strikeforce organization that Zuffa (UFC’s parent company) just purchased. Whether White wants to admit it or not Strikeforce was purchased with guys like Diaz in mind. Diaz hadn’t lost in 10 fights and, as the Strikeforce Welterweight Champion, seemed to pose a legitimate challenge to the best welterweight in the world crown as Calaveras’ Jake Shields did before him. If White were to just let Diaz walk away from the UFC, Diaz would still be able to have somewhat of a justified claim to being the best welterweight in the world. That’s the appeal of MMA, everything is settled mano y mano in the cage. So White did the best thing for both parties, Diaz wanted to fight so he gave him another fight. It may not be for the Welterweight Championship, but it actually might end up being more lucrative.

Diaz vs. GSP would have been an interesting fight for sure. Diaz, despite having a black belt in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu loves to stand up and box. Despite his consistent role outside of the 209 as a heel (pro wrestling vocabulary for “bad guy”), he generally puts on fights the fans can enjoy. He likes to end fights whether it be through knockout or submission. Of his previous 10 victories, only one fight (his unanimous decision over KJ Noons) went to the judges scorecards. St. Pierre on the other hand tends to leave his fights in the hands of the judges, winning 5 of his last 6 title defenses by 5-round unanimous decisions. Often he would use his superior conditioning to break down opponents in the later rounds. That strategy wouldn’t have been effective against Diaz, who runs triathlons in his free time and has legendary conditioning.

It would have been a tough fight for both competitors, but if we’re being objective here Diaz was facing a major uphill battle. St. Pierre has been spending the past couple years disposing some of the best welterweights in the world and Diaz has been fighting guys like the aging Frank Shamrock and Evangelista “Cyborg” Santos. To say Diaz could have used a tune up fight would be an understatement. Dana White was essentially throwing Diaz to the wolves by throwing him in against St. Pierre in his first UFC fight since 2006. Had Diaz come in and lost this first fight, proving his critics right (in their mind at least), he would have lost any momentum he had. Who knows what would have happened after that, but given Dana White’s shrewd business tactics, it’s not a stretch to say that White wouldn’t want to deal with a fighter he has admitted reservations about after he’d gotten what he wanted out of him. White had Diaz jump from Strikeforce to the UFC (the two are still technically considered separate entities…for now) specifically to give him the fight he’s been jawing about for years and, ideally (in Dana’s mind) to shut him up.

Of course, none of that happened. Diaz had misplaced his passport which caused him to miss a press conference in St. Pierre’s home country of Canada and claims that he underestimated the importance of his obligations in Las Vegas the next day and now he’s fighting BJ Penn in October. The situation’s still basically the same, Diaz absolutely needs to win to stay valuable to the UFC, but he has a much better chance to do so against Penn. A victory over Penn would be the biggest win of his career and doing so on UFC PPV instead of the relative obscurity of Strikeforce or EliteXC would help his career immensely more than immediately jumping into a fight with GSP would. When was fighting St. Pierre he was just the guy from that other promotion to many casual MMA fans. Their exposure to him preceding that fight would have been a series of press conferences (if, you know, had attended them) and a bunch of clips in a video package. Now, people get to see what Nick Diaz does best, fight.

A victory over a recognizable name like Penn would prove to people that Diaz is more than just that guy that likes to run his mouth in inferior promotions against inferior opponents. He’ll be able to show people he has the skills to back up his mouth. Plus, he’ll be able to continue preparing for a potential fight against St. Pierre because it’s not like GSP has a long line of fresh contenders to face. As long as Diaz keeps winning, and I can’t see too many people in the welterweight division that could stop him, a title shot against St. Pierre is inevitable. When that happens he’ll be more prepared, and more focused than ever. With the way GSP was brushing off Diaz as a challenger at the infamous press conference, the champion has no idea what he’s in for.


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