Diaz looms large in more ways than one

December, 19, 2012
12/19/12
6:49
AM ET
Gross By Josh Gross
ESPN.com
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The poster for UFC 158 -- have you seen it?

Looming, scowling, lording over UFC welterweight champion Georges St-Pierre, the effect makes Nick Diaz appear as subtle as the shark from "Jaws," mouth agape, torpedoing toward a clueless swimmer.

The visual sells Diaz as the intimidating presence for his March 16 fight in Montreal, but where it matters most, inside the cage, the metaphor misses the mark. With due respect to a dangerous challenger coming off a loss, St-Pierre is the predator -- even if he’s made to look like a guppy in front of an ocean blue backdrop.

Other interpretations of the poster don’t feel such a stretch from reality, which is why Zuffa’s art department deserves a proper pat on the back for conveying subtle truths, intentional or not.

For starters, the possibility that Diaz will cast a shadow over UFC 158, or St-Pierre himself, for the wrong reasons is very real. So much so that the UFC has backup plans -- namely fellow UFC 158 fighters Johny Hendricks, Jake Ellenberger, Carlos Condit and Rory MacDonald -- if Diaz finds a way to screw up again.

As UFC president Dana White mentioned over the weekend, there are “no guarantees with Nick Diaz.”

This uncertainty runs counter to St-Pierre’s sure-handedness. It’s nothing but guarantees with GSP, the King of pay-per-view, who continues to deliver in all ways worthwhile for Zuffa.

So rather than facing a perceptibly tougher task in Hendricks, who begged for a shot most fans and pundits feel he deserves, St-Pierre was allowed to choose Diaz. A move that came with the rare acknowledgement from Zuffa that, sometimes, UFC champions can do this.

“The champ wants to fight Diaz,” White said. “[Hendricks] can be as frustrated as he wants to be. When he’s got the belt and defends it and breaks records as long as GSP has, then I might listen to him.”

Champions aren’t supposed to determine who gets next. Not in the UFC or anywhere else. Diaz’s hanging visage tells another tale. So, yes, as advertised, Diaz looms large because he has been made to do so.

Just remember, if something stupid happens and Diaz can’t make the date, it was the French-Canadian champion and his promoter who made it all possible. Note that GSP is not being magnanimous by giving Diaz a shot. It’s little more than the smart play, which he admits.

Why risk so much against Anderson Silva?

Why dance with a steamrolling contender who hasn’t moved the needle?

Why do these things when fighting Diaz should produce plenty of interest, a quality payday, and assumes a clash of styles that sets up well for the champion?

It had to be Diaz -- whom St-Pierre said he already has a blueprint to beat after watching Benson Henderson dismantle Nate Diaz.

Diaz also takes up so much space on the poster because he’s compelling, particularly when stacked up against a bland St-Pierre. By showcasing the fighters the way Zuffa did, it speaks to the fact that there’s not much overly interesting about St-Pierre. He’s consistent. Consistently great, even. This we know and appreciate. And Zuffa has gotten about as much promotional mileage as it can out of airing footage of the man train. He’s understated in his mannerisms, the way he speaks, and to the chagrin of many fight watchers, the way he goes about his business in the cage. That’s certainly not always true, but it has been the trend. There’s nothing wrong with that except it hasn’t been terribly fun to watch.

Whether he means it to be this way or not, Diaz has never been accused of any of those things. He’s demonstrative. He’s unpredictable. St-Pierre doesn’t so much dislike attention as he repels it. For as much as Diaz dislikes attention, he’s often consumed by it, a magnet for controversy.

The poster makes sense in most ways. It’s a striking image, a work of art that, by extension, falls open to interpretation. What it foretells, exactly, won’t be known until it happens. But rest assured, something will happen and when it does I can’t imagine the poster being wrong.

One way or the other, no one associated with UFC 158 will loom larger than Diaz.

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