Damaging. Embarrassing. Entertaining.
These words could all be used to describe the events that unfolded on April 10th, 2010, following Jake Shields’ successful title defense against Dan Henderson at Strikeforce: Nashville, where current UFC welterweight contender Nick Diaz was involved in a gang-style brawl involving Shields’ team and Jason “Mayhem” Miller on national television.
Now, keep in mind, this wasn’t the UFC, and Nick was behaving badly under the banner of another organization. However, it is important to note that MMA as a sport was just barely dipping its feet in the waters of live network television at the time, and all eyes were on the event. The most important thing to consider here is that most casual observers refer to any cagefighting event as ‘UFC’, much like a person refers to any brand of tissue as a “Kleenex”, or a cotton swab as a “Q-tip”. Even my 65 year old dad called me after to say “Oh yeah, those UFC guys are real athletes…what a joke.” Though it wasn’t a UFC event and no one was fighting for the UFC brand, it was no doubt a setback for the UFC and, perhaps unfairly, reflected poorly upon cagefighting’s flagship promotion.
The reality here is that Nick Diaz’s attitudes, criticism of modern MMA and out-of-the-cage antics haven’t changed much since that night.
So fast forward a couple years, and the sports web is abuzz with headlines announcing the verbal agreement of a bout between Diaz and current UFC welterweight champion and pound-for-pound mainstay Georges St. Pierre at UFC 158 in March. The majority of speculation surrounding the bout pertains to the matchup itself, and whether or not Nick Diaz can be the one to bring an end to St. Pierre’s in-cage dominance.
However, what worries me isn’t the matchup.
I have St. Pierre winning by a landslide – but that’s not what’s really at issue here, is it? The fight showcased here is the UFC’s own fight for mainstream acceptance, and whether or not potentially embarrassing actions from Diaz could spoil everything Dana White has built so far – such as a 7-year deal with FOX, among other things. There are a slew of things that could go awry here – anything from another missed press conference, to another post-bell scuffle. After all, GSP is the kind of fighter that inspires the worst in Diaz; “Rush” is a top-position wrestler who tends to control and bully his opponents through clean boxing and vicious ground control, rather than slugging it out in a who-drops-first haymaker contest. In the media and in UFC promotional material, GSP is depicted as a morally sound athlete and respectful martial-artist. Diaz, to many, is a polar-opposite to the champion. Diaz is a foul-mouthed, often disdainful and self-destructive fighter who certainly ‘comes to fight’, and criticizes anyone he perceives as not willing to do so. Also, let’s not forget Diaz was already going to be given a crack at St. Pierre, but was yanked from the bout when not meeting promotional obligations.
However, as I said, the matchup is – from a fighting standpoint – not the worst thing that could be thought up by the UFC brass(although one could make a case that UFC welterweight Johnny Hendricks is much more deserving of a title shot than Diaz, who is coming off a loss to the man St. Pierre just defeated), and the fight absolutely will be an enormous gate and PPV success. But what happens if Diaz fails another post-fight drug test? Even worse – what if he doesn’t even show up for the fight at all? With so much at stake, President Dana White must be careful in choosing exactly who should be representing his brand.
However, on a perfect day, the fight will go smoothly, with a ton of coverage, exciting action and a clear-cut winner. Hendricks isn’t going anywhere, and will surely wait and fight the winner or be bested by a more-deserving contender in the meantime. All-in-all, while perhaps Diaz isn’t deserving of the chance he is being given, and is a potential risk to the UFC brand, there is one thing that’s certain if this thing goes down.
It’ll be one Hell of a fight.