Diaz should prove tough task for GSP
LAS VEGAS -- It was a Nick Diaz fight.
The highly talented, frequently controversial, always entertaining welterweight was the big story Saturday after he defeated B.J. Penn in a thrilling unanimous decision at UFC 137. His performance was good enough to jump him ahead of Carlos Condit for a title shot against Georges St. Pierre.
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Diaz performed in a fashion that really only he is capable of. He dropped his hands during the fight and at one point even inexplicably drove his head into Penn's jab. He continued stalking in the third round, even though it was clear he was well ahead on the scorecards.
Afterward he accused St. Pierre, a man some consider the greatest MMA fighter in the world and the one he had been scheduled to fight Saturday, of fearing him.
"I don't think Georges is hurt. I think he's scared," Diaz said.
We'll ignore the slight detail that St. Pierre actually pulled out of a fight against Condit, not Diaz, because of a knee injury. The GSP-Diaz matchup had long ago fallen apart after Diaz skipped back-to-back mandatory news conferences.
We'll put all that aside because it really doesn't matter anymore. St. Pierre will next fight Diaz, not Condit, as was originally planned.
"Nick is going to fight GSP," UFC president Dana White said. "Carlos Condit has agreed to step aside and fight the next guy. We're hoping to do this Super Bowl weekend in Las Vegas."
So now, the million-dollar question: What are his chances? Can he do it? Can Diaz beat St. Pierre?
It has become a fascinating question, one that appears to have jumped ahead in terms of interest in seeing St. Pierre fight middleweight champion Anderson Silva.
"He blew up out of nowhere," White said of Diaz. "Part of it is his attitude and I think people love real fighters. That kid is definitely a real fighter."
Diaz is, after all, a champion as well. He never lost, only vacated, the Strikeforce 170-pound belt after three successful defenses.
In the arena immediately after his win over Penn, the crowd was already chanting "GSP." On Wikipedia, the Penn victory was added to Diaz's record within minutes, with the additional words "bring on GSP now" posted within it.
Are there such high expectations for this fight because Diaz has a real shot at handing St. Pierre his first loss since 2007, or are his chances to win exaggerated -- as was the case with flashy challengers like Dan Hardy and Thiago Alves?
The answer is somewhere in the middle. Although there's a lot to like about Diaz, especially after Saturday's performance, there's still a lot to like in the champ.
What has stood out the most in Diaz's 11-fight win streak is his stand-up. His volume punching and accuracy have overwhelmed some of the most talented strikers in the 170-pound division, including Paul Daley, K.J. Noons and now Penn.
Although St. Pierre's boxing has improved in recent years and he's even trained with renowned coach Freddie Roach, he might struggle on his feet against Diaz.
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It has been four years since Matt Serra knocked St. Pierre out at UFC 69, but questions regarding his durability remain. Could he absorb as much damage as Penn took Saturday? It's a good question.
"In the second round I turned it on and tried to take [Penn] out," Diaz said. "He started going on defense in Round 3. B.J. is one of the best there is. Not that many would go out there and take all those punches."
In addition to a perceivable advantage on the feet, Diaz's trainer, Cesar Gracie, believes he is clearly the better ground fighter. In reality, Gracie believes that Diaz is the better fighter everywhere besides perhaps takedowns and athletic ability.
"I think Nick is the better stand-up fighter, and I think Nick is the better ground fighter," Gracie said. "All Georges has got are takedowns. Maybe in five rounds; I don't know. It's a tough fight. Georges is a great athlete. But I think Nick has what it takes to win."
If indeed the takedowns are all St. Pierre will have, no one can say that won't be enough. He's known as one of the most effective takedown artists in the sport, and if there's one type of opponent Diaz did not face on a regular basis while in Strikeforce, it's a rock-solid wrestler.
Regardless, it seems that St. Pierre is in for a challenge against Diaz. That, apparently, was enough for the UFC to pass on a matchup as terrific as St. Pierre versus Condit.
"I said this was going to happen," Gracie said. "I said Nick is going to beat B.J. and then fight GSP. Dana said it wouldn't happen. But I said the people are going to insist on it, and that's what happened."
Brett Okamoto covers MMA for ESPN.com. Follow him on Twitter at bokamotoESPN.
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