Nick Diaz’ Roller Coaster Ride to a Title Match and a UFC 138 Preview
For UFC welterweight contender Nick Diaz, the past few months have been a roller coaster. After countless ups, downs, twists and turns, Diaz finds himself once again penciled in to face champion Georges St-Pierre for the title. BlackSportsOnline.com’s MMA Insider Alex Donno lays out his recent chain of events in timeline form.
to illustrate Nick’s journey as well as a preview of UFC 138.
March 2011- Diaz is under contract with Strikeforce as their welterweight champion. The UFC purchases Strikeforce, and fans begin to wonder if a Diaz vs. Georges St-Pierre super fight will ever take place.
April 2011- GSP successfully defends his welterweight title against Nick Diaz’ teammate and friend Jake Shields. Diaz tells the media he wants to move over to the UFC and fight St-Pierre.
May 2011- Diaz’ manager Cesar Gracie announces that Nick plans to take a hiatus from MMA to pursue a boxing match with Jeff “Left Hook” Lacy. Most members of the media speculate that the announcement is a negotiating ploy to convince the UFC to sign Diaz for a title fight. If it really was a ploy, it worked!
June 2011- UFC President Dana White posts this on his official Twitter account: “U wanted it! U GOT IT!!! GSP vs DIAZ Oct 29th UFC 137 At Mandalay Bay in Las Vegas.” The bout was official, and in September, the press tour began. That’s where things went south for Diaz.
September 6th, 2011- Nick Diaz misses a mandatory press conference in Toronto to hype the fight for Canadian fans and media. His manager promises he will not miss the Las Vegas press conference the following day.
September 7th, 2011- Nick Diaz misses a second mandatory press conference. As punishment for absence, Dana White announces that Carlos Condit will be elevated to main event, replacing Diaz in the title fight with St-Pierre. Later that evening, Diaz posts a video on his official Youtube page, reacting to the day’s events.
September 9th, 2011- Dana White announces that Nick Diaz will remain on the UFC 137 fight card, meeting former welterweight and lightweight champion BJ Penn in the co-main event.
October 18th, 2011- Dana White announces that Georges St-Pierre has suffered an injury (MCL and hamstring) in training, and has been removed from the UFC 137 main event. Carlos Condit will wait to fight GSP when he recovers, and Nick Diaz vs. BJ Penn will be elevated to the main event.
October 19th, 2011- Nick Diaz shows up 40 minutes late to a media conference call. There’s some initial speculation as to whether the UFC will punish him, but Dana White takes the blame, saying Diaz was not properly informed of the call.
October 29th, 2011- Nick Diaz batters BJ Penn to win a unanimous three round decision at UFC 137. During his post fight interview with Joe Rogan, Diaz accused Georges St-Pierre of faking injury to avoid a fight. He challenges St-Pierre in front of the sold out Mandalay Bay crowd. He was successful in getting under Georges’ skin. In the post fight press conference, Dana White reveals that St-Pierre was livid about Nick’s post fight interview. St-Pierre “flipped out” and pleaded with the UFC to fight Diaz instead of Condit, and his wish was granted. According to White, Carlos Condit had agreed to “graciously” step aside and allow Diaz to capture a shot at the title.
Upon being pulled from the title fight in September, it seemed that Diaz had squandered the opportunity of a lifetime. With a little luck, lots of hard work, and a big victory in the Octagon, he’s right back where he started. Of course, there’s one notable victim in the wake of Diaz’ good fortune: Carlos Condit. In September, Diaz’ wasted opportunity was passed over to Condit. Condit admitted he cried tears of joy upon learning he would be fighting for the title. On October 18th, when St-Pierre dropped out of UFC 137 with injury, Condit was promised that he would get his title shot in early 2012. He was also assured that he would not be passed over by Diaz, no matter what happened at 137. Well, promises in the UFC aren’t always kept.
According to Condit’s manager Malki Kawa, the decision to step aside was not nearly as easy as Dana White made it sound. Condit is heartbroken. He agreed to allow Diaz to take his title shot because he’s a company man. He knows the UFC sees bigger money on the horizon with the Diaz fight, especially with the way Diaz publicly called out St-Pierre. Kawa implied to AOL’s Ariel Helwani that Condit could earn a financial award. “Dana always does the right thing and in this case, he’ll do the right thing again,” he said. Kawa and Condit don’t appear angry at the UFC for pressuring them into bowing out. They understand the UFC’s position. However, Kawa did express great displeasure at the way St-Pierre handled the situation. After all, if not for St-Pierre pleading with the UFC, the fight would probably still belong to Condit.
When a beloved champion begs for a change in opponent, the pressure is on the promoter to oblige, especially when the new fight happens to be one that the fans want badly to see. Emotional reactions like that are out of character for GSP. Diaz has been challenging St-Pierre and calling him names for years, yet Georges has never before reacted in such a way. When Diaz was pulled from the fight in September, St-Pierre likely could have saved the bout by pleading to the UFC in similar fashion. But instead, he kept quiet, and allowed Condit to take the fight. He even went on record saying he felt that Condit offered him a tougher challenge than Diaz. Yet now, St-Pierre’s focus lies completely with Diaz, forcing Condit to fade into the periphery.
As long as Condit wins his next fight, he’ll likely finally realize his dream and fight for the title, against the St-Pierre/Diaz winner. But there are no easy fights in the UFC’s welterweight division. Condit’s title shot is very much at risk, but such goes the life of a UFC fighter.
History will be made on Saturday at UFC 138 from Birmingham, England. The main event between Chris Leben and Mark Munoz will be the first ever five round non-title fight in UFC history. Will Chris Leben and Mark Munoz need five full rounds? Probably not, but it’s nice to know the option is there, especially in a main event. In 2011 alone, the UFC has had two main events finish in a draw. One of them, BJ Penn vs. Jon Fitch in February, was a three round non-title fight, and it left fans feeling like they had no sense of resolution. Even before that fight, the UFC had long been working to implement a five round policy for non-title main events, and now they have it.
On paper, Chris Leben vs. Mark Munoz should deliver fireworks. They are considered two of the hardest punchers in the middleweight division. The striking game is Leben’s bread and butter. A UFC staple since his appearance on The Ultimate Fighter Season 1, he’s beloved for his crowd pleasing, brawling style. His looping punches may not be very accurate, but the first time he lands one is usually the last time, before his victim loses consciousness. For Munoz, the striking game has come with evolution. He’s a former National Champion NCAA wrestler at Oklahoma State. His wrestling provides a great base to fall back on, but one can’t help but notice that his kick boxing has improved leaps and bounds in recent outings. Even when Munoz resorts to his wrestling base, he has a knack for keeping things exciting on the floor. He throws stiff punches from top position, and has more than enough power to score a knockout from within his opponent’s guard. Munoz enters this fight with three straight victories under his belt, including a decision win over former top contender Damien Maia. He likely won’t move to the very top of the middleweight ladder, but a win over Leben would probably put him one victory away from a title shot. The same could possibly be said for Leben, who’s won four of his past five. Many view his current run as a career resurrection. Leben has historically been viewed as a scrappy gatekeeper, but his recent performances have shown great improvement in his overall technique. A victory over Munoz could put him in the title mix.
Since there are no guaranteed middleweight title implications, some fans will be disinterested in watching a relatively “low profile” main event. But remember, it’s free on Spike TV. The UFC knows what they’re doing here. It’s a stylistic matchup that will almost certainly provide a steady pace powerful strikes, leading to an eventual knockout stoppage. You can’t ask for much more out of a free fight on cable. If the fight does advance past the third round, expect the superior conditioned Munoz to have an advantage. His cardio, which has only improved since his collegiate wrestling days, should see him out last Leben in the deep water. However, every additional round offers another chance for the hard hitting Leben to score a flash knockout. And some might say the more tired and hurt Leben gets, the more dangerous he becomes. It will be a very interesting fight.
The co-main event will offer a bantamweight clash between dynamic Brazilian Renan Barao, and Great Britain’s Brad Pickett. Pickett will have the UK crowd behind him, and should hold the wrestling advantage. He’s an effective brawler who dares opponents to stand and trade, and does an excellent job mixing in takedowns with his strikes. Pickett has won ten of his past eleven fights, with the lone blemish coming in a decision loss to former top bantamweight contender Scott Jorgensen. Barao, meanwhile, has a spectacular overall record of 26-1. In his UFC debut back in May, he outworked a very tough Cole Escovedo for a unanimous decision victory. Barao is a training partner of UFC featherweight champion Jose Aldo. He possesses an exceptional Brazilian Jiu Jitsu base, an addition to a technical striking game.
UFC 138 will also feature the return of former welterweight title contender Thiago Alves. Alves looks to bounce back after a surprising loss to Rick Story, which capped off a stretch of three losses in four fights. He’s a dynamic kickboxer who once had issues making weight, but now seems to have that issue in check. Recently, his defensive wrestling has appeared to be a glaring hole in his game, but in reality, Alves has only struggled with wrestling against the division’s elite wrestlers (St-Pierre, Jon Fitch, and Rick Story). His opponent on Saturday, Papy Abedi, will not likely have the wrestling chops to give Alves such problems. Abedi is unbeaten in eight pro fights, making his UFC debut. He’s a competent southpaw striker with a judo base, but getting Alves to the ground from the clinch won’t be easy. This fight offers a great opportunity for Abedi to open his UFC career with a monumental upset victory, but debuting against a top ten fighter like Alves puts him in an unenviable position. When Alves has time and space to work with, his technical Muay Thai striking is a pleasure to watch. His low kicks are particularly dangerous.
The remaining main card bouts will be a lightweight clash between Terry Etim and Eddie Faaloloto, and a light heavyweight bout between Cyrille Diabate and Anthony Perrosh.
UFC 138, originating from Birmingham, England, UK, will air stateside on tape delay, at 8:00pm in all time zones for free on Spike TV.