Wednesday, October 19, 2011
UFC 137 officially enters bizarro world
By Josh Gross
Maybe Jason Parillo has it nailed.
Said B.J. Penn's lead trainer: "I guess the universe worked it out where the 'main event fight' is supposed to be the main event fight."
The universe, then, is ruthless and has no qualms about mangling Georges St. Pierre's knee to get its way. That we learned Tuesday when UFC president Dana White shared on Twitter that his welterweight champion was forced out of an anticipated title fight against Carlos Condit that was less than two weeks away.
St. Pierre, you remember, was originally scheduled to fight Diaz. But, much like the Universe, Diaz operates in mysterious ways; so, it didn't happen. He no-showed a news conference in Las Vegas and was promptly demoted. He and his handlers surrendered the biggest paydays of their careers. Diaz gave up a chance to prove he's the best welterweight in the world. It was unnecessary drama in every sense, and the episode called into question Diaz's professionalism.
Up with Penn, out with St. Pierre: UFC 137 took yet another turn Tuesday.
From the beginning, Diaz has been a focal point of UFC 137 -- Zuffa yanked him out of Strikeforce, renegotiated his deal, stopped him from boxing, and secured exclusive rights for a hefty pay increase. No one knows this story better than Cesar Gracie. After years of vigorously defending the Stockton, Calif., native in spots that were sometimes indefensible, Gracie finally had enough on Sept. 7, 2011.
But I remember the tone of his voice that afternoon. He was like a father succumbing to the idea that his son is a lost cause. Maybe not yet. Six weeks after the fact, Gracie has reconciled his anger and suggested that Diaz is heading in the right direction.
"I mean, seriously, who wouldn't have learned from it?" Gracie said. "I'm hoping he did. It was a big deal. He truly wanted that fight. I don't think he thought the consequences would be what they were."
How is Diaz different? Take this week for example. Medicals and paperwork needed to be filed with the Nevada State Athletic Commission. Gracie said Diaz took care of it without any problems. Now that Diaz is back in a main event, Gracie said the 28-year-old fighter was committed to proving to the UFC that he can deliver as advertised, which also means doing the media rounds.
"He was really on it," Gracie said. "Very professional about it. So that might be an indication" that he learned a lesson.
Unless your last name is Condit, there wasn't much of a reason to celebrate when Diaz was pulled from the championship bout for blowing off back to back media events. Over time, Condit stood out as the more credible opponent. He was tabbed as a tougher test for St. Pierre, and the pair were on track for a war until the 30-year-old champion sprained a medial collateral ligament while doing Shootbox training in his hometown of Montreal on Tuesday.
"Georges himself told me he is having trouble walking and is going to hospital for an MRI," said John Danaher, St. Pierre's New York-based jiu-jitsu coach who was set to travel to Quebec on Wednesday to begin the camp's final push. Now Danaher's trip is postponed and St. Pierre is out of action for the foreseeable future.
"I have trained for over a decade in mixed martial arts with the clear goal of becoming the best fighter in the world at my weight class," Condit said in a statement. "I have worked this long to become the UFC welterweight champion. I will work a little longer.”
So Condit waits for St. Pierre, in turn forcing Diaz, should he beat Penn, to sit on the sidelines for months as the top of the ticket sorts itself out.
That's the bad news, Gracie said. The good? Six weeks after Diaz, 28, appeared lost in the wilderness, he's spotlighted in a pay-per-view main event against Penn.
On the fighter's behalf, Gracie lobbied for the reassigned fight to go 25 minutes instead of 15. Gracie said the request comes in part to help Diaz earn points with Dana White, who was apparently very disappointed by the delay of St. Pierre-Condit.
"I told him we're going to do everything it takes to show how loyal we are," Gracie said. "We want to do the right thing. I think a five-round fight is exciting for the fans."
Hard to argue otherwise. But is it wise for the fighters?
Penn's trainer Parillo doesn't think it's such a hot idea. "As a coach I think we've been preparing for a three-round fight," he said. "I think we should stay with the three rounds. Cesar wants the five rounds because he has the triathlete with him."
Nick Diaz seems like a changed man since being bumped from a main event bout with Georges St. Pierre.
Still, Penn is the boss and the former UFC champion told his trainer he was ready and able to go five if the UFC wanted.
"There was no stutter in his voice," recalled Parillo, a former boxer. "I said 'What if we end up doing a five-round fight?' He said 'You know I'm ready for that, Parillo.' Alright, it's a party."
Both sides left the decision up to White, and via Twitter the popular promoter seemed to squash the notion of an extended fight. If he sticks to that position it's an acknowledgment that asking fighters on less than two-weeks notice to step into a five-round clash isn't fair, even if they want it.
"At this point it's hard to make an adjustment or a change," Parillo said. "We can get a gauge tonight, maybe do an extra round or two of sparring. Seeing where he's at. Seeing what his energy level is like after a fourth round. But it's like, it's hard to add these last 10 days. Especially as far as condition. We might end up breaking him down, so we don't want to change anything. We're at the recurring stage of our training. To go and break him down and up the pressure only because we think we gotta do something different for another two rounds, it's too late to do that."
Gracie pressed the issue, and said he felt the request was a fair one.
"They both have not trained for five rounds, but these guys are warriors," he said. "There's almost two weeks left; let's pick it up. We can do it."
Gracie wouldn't concede that Penn presents the stiffest test of Diaz's career.
"We don't know how these two styles are going to mix," he said. "We don't know what's going to happen."
We know, however, that Diaz prefers to fight people he can view as enemies. Yet he's had a difficult time thinking of Penn in those terms. They're similar in their approach -- we're talking hard-earned jiu-jitsu black belts with strong anti-PED stances and grappling ties -- and, as of now, they're main event fighters.