Strikeforce: Diaz vs. Daley in San Diego was an unmitigated success when viewed through the lens of the new, UFC-Strikeforce joint venture.
Strikeforce Welterweight Champion Nick Diaz showed exactly why he's won 10 straight contests and stopped nine of those unfortunate souls. The pound-for-pound beast made effective use of his granite skull while ripping through a game challenger in Paul "Semtex" Daley.
Additionally, Strikeforce Lightweight Champion Gilbert "El Nino" Melendez savaged Tatsuya "Crusher" Kawajiri on the way to his fifth straight win and second successful title defense. Melendez justifiably proclaimed himself to be the best 155-pounder in the sport, and it's hard to argue with him after the elbow-driven first-round TKO of Kawajiri, a man who pushed Gilbert the full 15 when they met in Pride back in 2006.
The Cesar Gracie Jiu-Jitsu teammates represent the biggest jewels in the just-acquired stables who aren't plying their trades at 265 pounds (heavyweight), so resounding victories for both is just what the doctor ordered for Dana White, et al.
In fact, it doesn't even matter that another brutal effort by the judges resulted in a lopsided draw between Gegard "The Dreamcatcher" Mousasi and Keith "The Dean of Mean" Jardine.
Even that battle was entertaining, as were Shinya "Tobikan Judan" Aoki's 93 seconds of work against Lyle "Fancy Pants" Beerbohm, which ended in the latter's submission to a neck crank. Consequently, everyone atop the nebulous new hierarchy has to be smiling from ear to ear.
Nevertheless, on a night littered with good news, the most exciting item came courtesy of welterweight kingpin, Nick Diaz.
No disrespect to the Dean of Mean, who took the bout on one-week's notice.
That's borderline reckless when you consider that his Iranian counterpart is supremely dangerous, but it also proves the type of competitor the 35-year-old American is beyond the shadow of a doubt.
And true to reputation, the tough-as-nails Jardine weathered barrage after barrage from Mousasi while dishing out some limited punishment of his own. The American was also able to take down the Dreamcatcher almost at will, largely because Gegard took no punishment on the ground and was able to scramble to his feet with equal ease.
Despite the gutsy performance, there's no rationale argument in support of Jardine taking a single round against his 205-pound adversary.
His face was a gory mess by the end of the third, and the CompuStrike numbers were even worse.
Regardless, the fallout from the judging incompetence is further defused by the awesomeness that is the UFC light heavyweight division. Not to mention its current monarch, UFC Light Heavyweight Champion Jon "Bones" Jones.
Jardine is no longer equipped for serious contention in those blue waters, and Mousasi clearly has some miles to go before he's ready for the task. I.e. only a Gegard loss would've been a downer and a minor one at that.
Still, another embarrassing decision by the judges.
When you have a personality like Nick Diaz does (not to mention the apparent mental demons), there will always be detractors, so let's not be naive and trust that his performance against Paul Daley will silence them.
However, the more impressive trips to the cage the Stockton native strings together, the more insane and rambling the negativity becomes. On Saturday night, Nick added another link to his triumphant chain.
I'm no huge fan of the brash Semtex, and there's ample evidence to suggest Daley might not have the mentality required to be an upper-echelon mixed martial artist, but you cannot deny the warheads on the end of both arms. The 28-year-old Brit has his namesake in both fists and isn't shy about using either to go for the kill.
He tried on several occasions against the Californian and even connected a couple times.
Diaz said he was never hurt in his postfight interview with Gus Johnson, but forget that—the tape shows otherwise. Nick was either dazed twice, or he deserves an Academy Award for his acting skills under heavy fire.
Those shots from Daley probably would've ended the evening for a lot of fighters, but Diaz is blessed with a hell of a chin (both literal/figurative versions) and manages to keep his wits about him even when trouble breaks the horizon.
He demonstrated both assets before finishing the challenger with his others—debilitating hooks to the body, followed by deceptively powerful straight lefts and right hooks plus a few uppercuts for good measure.
Dislike him if you must; not even I will argue his public persona is warm and cuddly.
But Nick Diaz is making it harder and harder to doubt him.
Harder, not impossible.
The anti-Diaz brigade and general contrarians are latching onto the stoppage as an early foothold from which to begin the assault on Nick's latest victory. It's easy to do because it came with only three seconds left in the first round, and—as almost every competitor does—Paul Daley eventually insisted he was fine and dandy.
The key word there is "eventually," as in "not immediately."
Semtex was anchored on Queer Street for a good minute after the stoppage—he was utterly bewildered in the moments after Big John McCarthy saved him, he needed help to get onto the postfight stool and all of this came with the benefit of the ref's mercy.
Had he taken punches for three more seconds, it all would've been much worse because Diaz can throw a lot of accurate evil at you in that window.
Furthermore, anyone who saw the right hook-straight left combination that Diaz landed with about 23 seconds left knows Daley was in serious trouble from that point on. The flurry left Semtex bobble-headed as he staggered into the cage, then the American followed with another ferocious left hook to the body that landed completely flush.
Finally, a minimum of five more malicious blows landed to the Brit's noggin. Some with more original intent than others, but they all got through Daley's defenses to some degree.
And if the punch-drunk, face-first flop into the canvas doesn't convince you Daley needed rescuing, I've still got my trump card: Big John McCarthy.
Nobody is infallible, but I'll take BJM's discretion any day of the week and twice on Saturdays.
Following his third successful title defense, the welterweight champ gave one of his trademark interviews with Ariel Helwani—nothing says Nick Diaz like a flurry of surgical strikes and pseudo-psychotic paranoia.
How can you not love the dude?
Anyway, his mercurial personality is only one of the many reasons Diaz makes an intriguing welterweight division even more exciting as the UFC and Strikeforce ranks bleed together.
Most of the serious profiles belong to Dana White's armada, but Scott Coker will be anteing several 170-pound chips worth watching. Obviously, Diaz is one and the other two are Tyron "T-Wood" Woodley and "Relentless" Roger Bowling.
T-Wood more or less untested, but he comes complete with a stellar wrestling pedigree and a dangerous submission game (on paper). Furthermore, his frame looks conducive to a nuclear striking arsenal if he can polish it up.
Bowling doesn't get the pulse racing quite as much, but the 28-year-old could make some waves in the welterweight division if his early promise continues to develop.
The names in the UFC are more familiar, more daunting and more battle-tested—UFC Welterweight Champion Georges "Rush" St-Pierre, No. 1 contender Jake Shields, B.J. "The Prodigy" Penn, Anthony "Rumble" Johnson, the resurgent Thiago "Pit Bull" Alves, Carlos "The Natural Born Killer" Condit, Rick "The Horror" Story, Nick's younger brother Nate Diaz, Josh "Kos" Koscheck, Jon Fitch, John "The Hitman" Hathaway, Johny Hendricks and the list goes on.
Woodley and Bowling would be at the bottom of the list, making it even deeper.
But Nick Diaz belongs somewhere near the top, which creates numerous and delicious story lines.
What you're staring at is a picture of the Cesar Gracie Jiu-Jitsu team or, rather, its most prominent members—(from left to right) Gilbert Melendez, Nate Diaz, Jake Shields and Nick Diaz.
Nate and Nick are, obviously, brothers, but you could very accurately describe all four as kin. This bears emphasis because both Diazes and Shields are all welterweights. What's more, Jake and Nick are arguably two of the top three 170-pounders when you blend the UFC and Strikeforce stables.
And Jake Shields is fighting GSP for the welterweight belt on April 30th at UFC 129.
So you see where this is headed.
If Shields can upset St-Pierre—not as crazy as Vegas and the casual fan would have you believe—that sets up a fascinating clash between principles. If Dana White and Scott Coker are serious about giving the fans what they want and unifying the organizations' titles, then a matchup between Cesar Gracie teammates would be the next logical step.
Of course, it's hard to imagine Nick Diaz or Jake Shields turning down a fight, but it's equally difficult to picture them fighting each other.
Conversely, if GSP adds Shields to his list of vanquished opponents, it will set up a collision between night and day—the squeaky clean face of MMA with unassailable technique against the former bad boy who's about as orthodox as a Jew eating bacon at Christmas mass.
Adding more fuel to the fire, Nick would have a score to settle since GSP would've dispatched with his homey in this scenario.
Think that pairing might sell some tickets and pay-per-view packages?
Whatever happens, the powers-that-be are looking at a license to print money which means those grins should last for months.
Now, if only Nick Diaz would crack one.