Of all the opponents Nick Diaz has faced in his career—many of whom are world class fighters—I think we always knew that the hardest obstacle for Nick Diaz to overcome would be Nick Diaz.
The story of Nick's MMA career reads like a recurring, cyclical narrative about great potential cut down by bad personal choices.
Mention his first stint in the UFC, and most people will tell you about the fight he had at the hospital with Joe Riggs and not the all-out wars he put on in the Octagon. His most signature win—over Takanori Gomi in one of my favorite fights of all time—today shows up as a "No Contest" on Diaz's record after his post-fight urinalysis contained enough THC to get Willie Nelson and Snoop Dogg high off the fumes.
And then this.
Coming over from Strikeforce, Diaz was given everything a fighter in his position could ask for. Money. Top billing on a PPV. An immediate title shot against the most popular fighter in the sport. All he had to do was "play the game" as Dana White put it.
After no-showing two back-to-back press conferences to promote his UFC 137 fight with GSP, White pulled the plug on Diaz as a title challenger, and gave Carlos Condit a shot at St. Pierre's strap. It looked like it was "game over" for Diaz (see what I did there?).
Now we get word that Diaz is back on the 137 card again, this time in the co-main event slot, ironically filling in for Carlos Condit against BJ Penn. It's like the top guys at 137 played a game of musical chairs, and this is what we were left with.
St. Pierre vs. Carlos Condit. BJ Penn vs. Nick Diaz. If I went back in time 6 months and told any MMA fan these fights would be happening on the same card, I'd guarantee they'd start salivating like Pavlov's pooches at bell ringin' time.
So of course, fans are pissed off about it now.
Why is the UFC "rewarding" Nick Diaz for missing press conferences by keeping him on as the co-main event? Why go through all the hassle and "scandal" of shuffling your main event, only to keep the guy you just booted fighting on the same card? Why is Nick Diaz not being punished for so royally screwing the pooch on this one?
Here's a little newsflash for the howling, vigilante mob that MMA fans so quickly become: Diaz has been punished. See that event poster that used to have his face on it? Notice how it's not there anymore? See that highly visible, heavily promoted, highly lucrative PPV main eventing world title match that was the culmination of everything he's ever worked for in his whole career? See how he doesn't have that anymore?
To go by most fans, what Dana White should have done was cut Nick from the UFC, expunge his name Frank Shamrock-style from the UFC history books, then drive up to Stockton and strangle Diaz to death like Tony Soprano.
Cutting Nick Diaz outright is the UFC cutting off its nose to spite its face. The UFC would lose a visible, well-known face in a division increasingly dwarfed and overshadowed by GSP. Nick would go on fighting on the small circuit, in Japan, or would take a boxing match like he originally planned. Life for all parties would go on.
The only people "punished" in that situation are the fans, who lose out on some potential Nick Diaz classic wars in the UFC welterweight division. Does him skipping a press event really irk you enough to make you pass fights like Diaz vs. Alves, Diaz vs. Diego 2, or—wait for it—Diaz vs. Penn?
Talk about shooting yourself in the foot. Besides, the way the 137 card worked out is, to my mind, the closest thing you can get to "justice" in MMA matchmaking.
Carlos Condit has built his UFC resume on tough, gritty wins mixed with spectacular finishes. He remains to my mind the only "UFC grown" challenger left for GSP's belt, meaning he earned his shot by fighting his way up the ranks. After he starched Dong Hyun Kim, I actually believe he had a better case for a title shot than Diaz did. Him getting a crack at the belt is both fitting and should result in a heck of a fight.
And Diaz? Well to me, a fight with BJ Penn is a form of punishment in and of itself, since "The Prodigy" represents a horrible stylistic matchup for him.
Is it a worse matchup then GSP would have been? That's debatable, however there are a couple factors that potentially make this fight more dangerous for Diaz. Against the Canadian, Diaz knew he had only one thing to fear, expect, and prepare for: the takedown. Sure, it may have proven his downfall, but at least he knew what to train for and (hopefully) defend against with his BJJ.
GSP's standup might have been effective, but it would only have set up the takedown. Against Penn, Diaz has to worry about a fast opponent with great technical boxing and proven one-hit KO power. As a high-volume puncher, he also has to worry about Penn's legendary chin and un-cut-able skin, Finally, Penn has the sort of killer instinct that some of Diaz's past opponents (and possibly even GSP) lack.
Put another way: if Diaz had flopped to the canvas like he did against Paul Daley against BJ Penn instead, the fight would have ended a minute later with Penn licking Diaz's blood off his gloves.
So to all you angry fans out there: relax. No one has any right to be angry here. Not Diaz, who's lucky he still has a place on this card at all. Not Penn, who traded one exciting, winnable fight for another. Not the UFC, which gets to keep it's blockbuster October event (mostly) intact. And not the fans, who will be treated to a great fight and a (supposedly) routine GSP title defense, just like they were before all this went down.
In fact, the only person with a legitimate gripe is St. Pierre himself, who took time off training, dusted off the old pinstripe suit, and got his “best GSP you've ever seen” stock answers ready only to be rewarded with frustration, and 11th hour change of opponent, and the loss of his head coach. Talk about a burr in your saddle.