It is the spring of 2012. Nick Diaz has finished the final fight of his Strikeforce contract by defending his belt for a record fourth time, defeating Tyron Woodley by second-round technical knockout.
In October of 2011, Diaz made a successful transition to boxing by thoroughly outpointing former IBF super middleweight champion Jeff “Left Hook” Lacy in a 170-pound catchweight bout en route to a lopsided unanimous decision win. Diaz even showed good power in a boxing bout by flooring Lacy with a sneaky lead right hook in Round 8.
On March 2, 2012 Nick Diaz boards a plane in Indianapolis, Indiana. He was leaving an autograph signing to attend a meeting in Las Vegas. Diaz and his manager reach an agreement on a three-fight preliminary deal with the Ultimate Fighting Championship.
A clause in the deal stipulates that he will get an automatic title shot if he defeats his first opponent. In addition, the contract would not take effect until June of 2012, opening the door for another venture into the sweet science.
Two weeks later, on March 16, 2012, a press conference is held. Dana White announces that Nick Diaz is now back on the UFC roster and will be allowed to fight a boxing bout before his MMA contract takes effect in June.
White then shocks the sporting world by announcing that the Diaz bout will be broadcast on the undercard of an early summer UFC mega-card. It will be the first ever boxing-rules bout to be contested in the Octagon.
Diaz and former middleweight world boxing champion Kelly Pavlik both sign an agreement to box 10 standard rounds at 170 pounds.
Unlike the Randy Couture-James Toney debacle of 2010, this fight is taken very seriously by the entire world. The media instantly gives UFC 145 more exposure than the sport of mixed martial arts has ever seen.
This leads to a one-hour ESPN special, a Sports Illustrated cover story, an agreement with Showtime to air the boxing match as a preliminary special and an unprecedented marketing campaign with new sponsors.
White and the UFC also announce that the bout is to be the first UFC return to Japan in a decade.
As the Diaz and Pavlik affair begins to gather steam, the UFC announces the co-main event bouts. UFC light heavyweight champion Jon Jones is squaring off against contender Phil Davis, and in a middleweight showdown, Chael Sonnen will fight Anthony Johnson.
As March comes to a close, the fight is eight weeks away and Diaz trains in southern California with trainers Cesar Gracie and Freddie Roach.
On April 17, 2012, Diaz hits the heavy training stage of his camp and brings in current and former boxers to help him spar.
Roy Jones, Bernard Hopkins and Antonio Tarver all are brought in to help Diaz sharpen his game plan before his training camp convenes. In an interview with Inside MMA, Diaz seemed very confident in his plan, saying that Freddie Roach was brought in to help him sharpen his boxing basics.
On May 4, the Diaz camp ends and Team Cesar Gracie heads back to Stockton for a few days of rest. After a few days at home to recharge their batteries, the Diaz team heads to Japan a few days before the press conference to get acclimated to the time difference in Japan.
On fight night, May 13, 2012 the air is electric. The arena is packed with a UFC-record crowd of 60,000 rampant fans.
The frenzy surrounding the event is felt everywhere. The event begins early in the afternoon. An all-star commentating team of Max Kellerman, Bas Rutten and George Foreman are set to cover the boxing match live on Showtime, to be followed by UFC prelims live on Spike and a stacked eight-fight main card live on pay-per-view.
Joe Rogan and Mike Goldberg take over for the UFC mixed martial arts card that follows and each sits at ringside.
The air is electric, the whole world is watching and Jimmy Lennon Jr. enters the Octagon to announce the boxing super fight.
Here is a breakdown of how I would see this match going down:
Nick Diaz: Diaz has a great chin, a ton of heart, a good left jab, smooth combinations and a sneaky lead right hook. He has many strengths and is on an emotional high following recent wins in MMA and boxing. His training camp helped to develop his boxing skills. But will it matter against an elite boxer who is still in his prime?
Diaz has far less boxing experience, is a bit slower than Pavlik and may possess less power in his shots. The fact that Diaz was able to get Kelly to agree to fight with 10-ounce gloves may help with that, or it may simply help Pavlik to be more powerful. Did Diaz beat a spent fighter and now is going to be embarrassed by a world-class boxer in his prime? Diaz enters the cage with far more questions than answers.
Kelly Pavlik: Pavlik is only 29 years old. Lacy was a fighter who was past his prime and had lost some of his speed and power. Pavlik is still very much a threat to be a champion. Diaz will have his hands full.
Pavlik put a rematch with Sergio Martinez on hold to fight Diaz. One of the reasons that Pavlik wanted to take the fight was that he has planned to move up in weight in the near future. Even if he beats Martinez, he is likely to move up to the light heavyweight class.
Pavlik has 36 wins out of 38 career bouts with 32 knockout wins. He has a reach advantage on Diaz and a confidence advantage, as well. He is a very durable boxer who has a punishing right hand. He may be underestimating the Stockton native and that could be his Achilles heel.
The Fight: As both men enter the cage, it is surreal to see an MMA champion and a boxing champion in the Octagon. The arena and the entire combat sports world is nervously waiting.
Preliminary estimates predict that 2 million viewers will watch on Showtime and other cable outlets across the world.
The UFC card that follows is expected to eclipse 1.5 million buys. Both champions are introduced and receive a generous ovation. Herb Dean brings the men into the center of the Octagon and the instructions are reviewed. The fight will consist of 10 three-minute rounds and features no three-knockdown rule.
A fighter cannot be saved by the bell and there will be a standing eight count. Diaz is in blue and white trunks adorned with many sponsors. Pavlik chose to enter the cage in only plain red shorts with a white stripe.
The bell sounds and the epic showdown begins. Pavlik looks focused and Diaz appears stern and very confident. Diaz begins to use his long jab and tries to baffle and bewilder Pavlik in round one.
Pavlik lands a powerful overhand right with 15 seconds left in the round and Diaz is forced to tie him up and clear his head until the round is over.
Diaz continues to showboat in Round 2 and pays for it by being floored by a left hook to the ribs followed by crushing right hook that sends Diaz to the canvas. Clearly dazed, he slowly rises to the count of six, seven, eight. Pavlik continues to dominate the third and fourth rounds, easily blocking the desperate combination attempts of Diaz and then using a counter overhand right and a stiff jab that left the MMA champion frustrated and his left eye nearly swollen shut.
Round 5 begins and Diaz regains some steam. He begins to land a pawing jab and inside left uppercuts when he gets close. Near the middle of the round he even manages to back Kelly into the cage and land shots to the body.
Round 6 was an even round and the most exciting of the fight until that point. Pavlik landed a right uppercut on the jaw of Diaz that rocked him and sent him into full retreat. Later in the round, Nick was able to land a three-punch jab and right hook combination that made Pavlik grimace and circle away to recuperate. Rounds seven, eight and nine were very closely contested with Pavlik landing more punches and Diaz landing booming body shot combinations when Pavlik got near the fence.
In the corner of Nick Diaz, Cesar Gracie and Freddie Roach each gave the MMA champion a pep talk. They tell him that he is down on the scorecards and needed to go for the knockout if he could hope to win. Diaz and Pavlik each glared across the cage at each other. The men lock eyes for a brief second and Diaz winked across the Octagon.
The bell sounds for the 10th and final round. Pavlik came out slugging, seemingly forgetting that Diaz is dangerous when he is cornered.
Initially, Pavlik had luck by rocking Diaz with a hard right hand shot, but soon after Diaz landed a hard left hook to the liver and Pavlik starts to retreat. Diaz then lands two jabs followed by a stiff lead right hook that drops Pavlik. Kelly rises at the count of five.
Only one minute remains in the bout. Pavlik returns fire against Diaz and they go toe to toe. With 15 seconds left in the fight, with the capacity crowd on its heels, Diaz weaves to avoid a right hand and lands a thunderous left uppercut that knocks Pavlik into the cage and down to the canvas. With only four seconds left in the fight, Pavlik shows his warrior spirit by rising at the count of eight to survive the barrage.
The crowd is so loud that Jimmy Lennon must practically yell at the top of his lungs to read the result. The result is a split decision. Pavlik receives the nod from the first judge, the second judge sees it for Diaz. The third judge scores it for Diaz six rounds to four.
Diaz leaps in the air in celebration. Before he is interviewed after his victory, he whispers to Kelly Pavlik and hugs his brother and training team. The UFC fight that follows is historic, but this boxing match was something that will be remembered forever as a display of guts, determination and an example of the diverse skills set that a martial artist can possess with devoted training.