On day two, reality started to set in.
Tuesday’s confirmation that Anderson Silva and Nick Diaz will fight next January at UFC 183 was pure joy, pure wonder. Despite the fact MMA fans had already been buzzing about the possibility for nearly five days, hearing UFC President Dana White actually say the words during an afternoon edition of SportsCenter set off a kind of punch-drunk bliss in fight circles.
Did that just happen? Could this be real life?
It was a nice feeling.
But we move pretty fast around here.
By the next morning, initial betting lines made Silva a bit more than a 4-1 favorite, and a Wednesday afternoon conference call with Diaz reminded us that—as the guy who actually has to step in the cage against the greatest of all time—he’s not nearly as excited as we are.
“I don’t enjoy fighting,” Diaz said at one point, via MMAjunkie’s John Morgan. “I don’t use that word (excited) in this sport. ... I’m excited to fight somebody? I don’t know if people are confused with that term when it comes to fighting. Would you enjoy fighting Anderson Silva?”
So, immediately we're mired back in the muck of pragmatism, slapped from our revelry by the hard truths that Diaz is just here for big fights and big money, and Silva is merely looking for a high-profile but winnable return bout.
A day ago, it would’ve taken a pretty serious killjoy to point out the UFC’s super-duper superfight might not actually be all that competitive. But if Diaz is only interested in talking about his upcoming meeting with Silva in the most practical possible terms, it’s tempting to follow his lead.
Does the former Strikeforce welterweight champion have a prayer here against a bigger, more dangerous, altogether greater fighter? Doesn’t he run the risk of getting posterized a la Chris Leben at UFC Fight Night 5?
And does it even matter?
Much of the talk about this fight over the next six months will likely center on Diaz's chances, but no matter how soberly we try to approach it, the small matter of who wins and who loses still seems decidedly secondary.
This one exists outside nearly every normal fight-game construct. It’s only happening because Diaz and Silva are both in really weird places right now, because it was guaranteed to bring some sizzle back to the UFC product and because it’ll likely post a sky-high pay-per-view buyrate.
And yet, it is strangely perfect. A dream fight that is no dream.
It’s a reminder that every now and then the wild world of the UFC makes good on its status as a place where the rules don’t apply. Amid all our kvetching and criticisms, there are isolated incidents when the fight company hits it right on the sweet spot, stopping to strike a pose as the best possible version of its weird, wonderful self.
As Bleacher Report’s Jonathan Snowden ably pointed out on Tuesday, this is an interesting—albeit potentially one-sided—matchup of styles. Silva is a notoriously deadly counterpuncher, and Diaz’s high-volume offense will no doubt oblige him with copious punches to counter.
We all expect Silva to win, but there are way too many unknowns to say so with any certainty. By the time the two men enter the cage on Jan. 31, the former middleweight champion will be just two-and-a-half months shy of turning 40. He’ll also be returning from a catastrophic leg injury and coming off back-to-back losses for the first time in his illustrious career.
There will be questions about ring rust. There will be questions about his fitness, about his speed and the chin that seemed to be on the wane during two appearances against Chris Weidman in 2013.
Diaz, too, enters after consecutive defeats, though for him, it’s not the first time. He’s been away from the sport since March 2013, but he’ll be just 31 come fight time and still in the heart of his athletic prime. He’s lost most of his bouts against elite competition, but the two fading legends he's faced before—Frank Shamrock and B.J. Penn—ultimately wilted under his pace and pressure.
The true genius of this fight is its out-of-the-box splendor. It matches up not only two popular and exciting fighters (from different weight classes) but also a pair of the sport’s most intriguing—if difficult—personalities.
Strangely, the actual outcome doesn’t feel like it matters much. Simply putting them both in a bottle, shaking it up and seeing what happens is enough to get us all excited.
Well, most of us.