The Lens: Behind the Scenes and off the Grid at UFC 158: St-Pierre vs. Diaz
MONTREAL, Canada — It was roughly 6 degrees Fahrenheit when I left the Bell Centre in Montreal at 2 a.m. on Sunday. I know this because I know nothing of Celsius or toonies or loonies, and so I try to make my iPhone pretend as though I am still in America when I'm in Canada, where things are more familiar and easily grasped by my now-frigid mind.
My iPhone told me it was 6 degrees. That was ridiculous. 6 degrees? That isn't a real number. That's stupid. That's why I rarely left my hotel room during the entirety of my week here, despite the lure of Montreal's famous smoked meat sandwiches and a culture bordering the fantastical.
But the cold wasn't stupid enough to prevent the Georges St-Pierre brand from continuing its assault on the Montreal populace.
Lined up in the snowy streets outside the Bell Centre—just a kilometer or something away from the street corner where, on Friday, I nearly got caught up in a riot (another story for another day)—street vendors and jovial fellows that look like everyone's uncle were selling St-Pierre headbands for five loonies or moonies or some other coin-based Canadian currency with which I am not familiar.
They were selling St-Pierre t-shirts. They were selling St-Pierre posters. They were selling what appeared to be refurbished Tim Hortons coffee mugs emblazoned with a sticker featuring terrible clip-art renditions of St-Pierre's famed "GSP" logo on the side.
A St-Pierre fight in Montreal is like nothing else in mixed martial arts. I've been to four of them now, so I should know. It's always cold, but the Montrealites don't mind. As the hotel concierge told me when I arrived, "this is not cold. This is just a little bit, how you say, chilly?"
There is also nothing in the sport so remotely close to St-Pierre's personal brand. And the entirety of that personal brand is based on St-Pierre winning, and its continued existence is based on performances that require—no matter what happens over the course of 25 minutes during a championship fight—St-Pierre to come out on top in the end.
Because of that, you can fully expect St-Pierre to never again go for a "finish" or try to "mix it up" or be "exciting;" these are all meangingless terms in St-Pierre's world. He's in rarified air. He's not sponsored by a terrible energy drink company. Not by the atrocious shirt company that sponsors so many fighters per UFC event and yet shocks absolutely no one when they routinely refuse to pay what they've promised they will.
Georges St-Pierre is not moving to Metro.
Instead, St-Pierre is with Under Armour. He's with Coca Cola and with Google. These are not small companies, and they do not offer small checks or small market shares. They do not cater to hardcore MMA fans.
They offer St-Pierre unprecedented security for a mixed martial artist; he's a very rich man who only gets richer with every passing day, especially when one of those passing days features him scoring another easy victory over a top welterweight contender.
I say all of that to say this: It's time to stop waiting for St-Pierre to fight the kind of fight you like to see, because it's never going to happen again. He's always going to wrestle you, and he's always going to take the route safest for his bank account and his future health.
In doing so, he will not end up like the UFC fighters who thrilled fans with classic brawls and now lack the ability to string a coherent sentence together.
This is St-Pierre, and this is what he'll be until he decides to hang it up and walk away.
And you know what? I can't blame him one bit, because in taking the path he's taking, he's proving that he's one of the smartest men in the entire sport. It may not be fun to watch, but it's brilliant all the same.
There was a fleeting period of time, early on Sunday morning, when Nick Diaz was finished with mixed martial arts.
He sort of retired in the cage after losing to Georges St-Pierre, though, as with everything else Diaz ever says, I couldn't really be sure what he was saying or what he was doing. I'm not sure if he was saying something that came close to vocalizing what he felt in his heart.
It felt like we'd never get an answer from Diaz when Dana White stepped up to the podium at the post-fight press conference and informed us he wouldn't be attending. He'd completed his obligations, White said, and would not be attending the press conference.
This was not surprising. It was vintage Diaz. Do the bare minimum, but only when forced, and not an ounce more.
But something that was not quite vintage Diaz happened, because the Stockton native then showed up to the press conference and took a seat next to Johny Hendricks. We all went right back into vintage Diaz territory when he started telling the world all of the reasons he didn't beat St-Pierre before shifting directions and telling St-Pierre directly he could beat him in a rematch.
This despite all the evidence to the contrary.
These were the things that at once made Diaz so infuriating and so intriguing. He was on display shortly after the biggest loss of his life, and after he said he was walking away from the sport, but was perhaps not walking away from the sport after all.
He didn't lose his fight; others lost it for him because they didn't come help him train. But not Jake Shields or Gilbert Melendez, because those guys have their own fights and their own issues and they can't be forced to come train with Diaz to help him prepare. And he's not going to find someplace where he can get some real training because "I can't be jumping camps," despite the fact that Cesar Gracie appears to be just as terrible at the business of managing fighters as he is excellent in training them.
He didn't lose his fight; he was thrown off by this whole "Canada time" thing, which is not really "Canada time" at all, so much as it is just three hours ahead of his usual "America time." He couldn't get enough sleep because the time threw him off and because, well, I'm not sure why. This didn't make much sense to me.
He didn't lose his fight; there was a photographer from Sherdog who took some photos of Diaz breaking off submissions on fools in the gym, and St-Pierre somehow used those photos to avoid those very same submissions. It was the photographer's fault, despite the photographer in question (Jeff Sherwood) noting on a radio show afterwards that Diaz and his lawyer had specifically given him permission—in person, no less—to shoot and publish the photos.
He didn't lose his fight; the Quebec commission allowed St-Pierre to do something nebulous and weird with his hand wraps, or his glove was sharp and cut Diaz open, or something.
And so you can see why Diaz is so maddening. It's infuriating that someone so very talented can be so very laden with excuses for getting beat by the best welterweight in the history of the universe. And yet, I can't help but think of the anticipation that will almost certainly surround the next Nick Diaz fight—if, indeed, there is another Nick Diaz fight—and wonder if most of that anticipation is due, in large part, to just how crazy he is.
As someone who has spent quite a bit of time around T.J. Dillashaw since he joined Team Alpha Male, I can tell you that he's one of the most intense people I've ever met.
And this doesn't just encompass fighters, because I've been around men who enjoyed going to war to being bombed and shot at during my tour of Iraq back in 2003. Those were intense men. They were crazy men.
Dillashaw either rivals them, or he blows them out of the water. I can't be quite sure. What I can be sure of is this: he's different from me. He's different from anyone else I know.
Ask anyone at Team Alpha Male who the most competitive man on that team is, and they'll unanimously tell you that it's Dillashaw. When he first arrived at the gym, Dillashaw came in with the attitude that he could beat anyone in the gym, despite training with the best lighter-weight fighters in the entire sport and despite the fact that, well, he'd never actually trained in anything but wrestling. Dillashaw still competed like a seasoned veteran, or at least attempted to.
These days, when Dillashaw plays board games or horseshoes or anything else, he's going to win. And if he's not going to win, he's going to make you miserable for having the temerity to play with and beat him. You're going to hate life, if only for that brief moment when you're locked in some sort of struggle.
I've seen plenty of fighters in this sport, and all of them have some sort of competitive bent. But none of them rival Dillashaw. Not even close, really.
Which is why, as I stood backstage at UFC 158 and watched him heading towards the entrance ramp and the cage for his fight with Issei Tamura, I shouldn't have been surprised that Dillashaw didn't even see me. Didn't even look at me. He startled me by screaming primally every 15 or 20 seconds. They were loud and guttural, and they were real. They were frightening.
And they made me realize just what it might take to be a fighter, or a special operative in the military, or anyone else who puts their body in the way of physical harm.
You have to competitive. You have to be, for lack of a better term, wrong. And Dillashaw is wrong, to be sure, but he seems to be the right kind of wrong for a mixed martial artist.
At the Pierre Trudeu Elliot Aiport on a Sunday morning, things are fairly calm, at least when you're leaving Canada and going back to the United States. The customs line has 15 or so people in it, which is a lot less than, say, Toronto. It takes little time at all to make the 10-foot journey that logistically separates the province and country of Quebec and Canada from the United States, but that's enough time for me to strike up a small conversation with Dan Miller.
Miller suffered a first-round loss to Jordan Mein, a blitzkreiging young welterweight prospect with far more fights on his resume than years in his life. Mein is what UFC insiders call "the future," a deft blend of all-around mixed martial arts skills and athleticism that could take him quite far in the division.
But you don't see much of that on Miller's bruised and puffy face as he stands in line with others who did not get punched in the face last night and prepares to make his way back home.
I ask him how he's feeling today.
"Not too bad, considering," he says with something that looks like a smile, but I can't be sure if it's not really a wince.
Considering all he went through last night—and more importantly, considering what the last three years or so have looked like for Miller, with his youngest child ill and the entire Miller family going through terrible times—well, I suppose that losing a fight to an opponent who is clearly a very good and young fighter can't be all that bad, considering.
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