By: Mike Coughlin
Nick Diaz is Crazy Good
The UFC welterweight division needs Nick Diaz to win tomorrow. Badly. Georges St. Pierre has been so good, for so long, that he’s largely been stuck in re-run mode for a while: Matt Hughes twice, BJ Penn twice, Josh Koscheck twice, the prospect of Jon Fitch a second time (heaven help us). And then it’s been guys like Dan Hardy, who are fun and nice, but hardly legitimate world champion material - just guys who’re getting shots because they are literally the only people left who haven’t gotten shots. St. Pierre hasn't really had a dynamic opponent opposite him inside the cage in some time. Nick Diaz? Yeah, he'd do.
Diaz would be fresh and interesting. He's already a personality and a win over BJ Penn would quickly separate him from being one of a number of non-UFC fighters who built up impressive win-streaks and then promptly lost once entering the Octagon. A win would make him legitimate. That’s really what is at stake tomorrow: the chance for Diaz to become mainstream. Those who’ve followed his antics for the past few years already know the … mystique that is Nick Diaz. Part Bruce Willis in 12 Monkeys, part Willie Nelson, and part brilliant fighter – no matter what is said about Diaz, it’s usually clear that he’s a personality that draws people in. And not just any personality, but the best kind: a genuine one. There is no posturing from Diaz. There is no pretending to be a badass, no sense that he’s up at night writing funny promos about buses and carrots – Nick is truly who he is: insane and talented.
But we already know that, and no matter what happens tomorrow, a new generation of UFC fans (those who maybe arrived to the sport since Nick’s last appearance inside the cage back in 2006) will know Nick the Personality. His being formerly in the main-event, only to be kicked out of it because he, well, "pulled a Diaz" helped show modern UFC fans exactly who Nick Diaz is. And, yes, to any newer fan - that is who he is. He really is different than everyone else.
The more interesting question is: will those fans get a chance to know Nick the Talented Fighter? For that to happen, Diaz will need to beat one of the sport’s greatest: BJ Penn. A World Jiu-Jitsu Champion, a UFC Welterweight Champion, and a UFC Lightweight Champion, Penn is good, you know it, I know it, everyone knows it. He may have his moments, and his lack of cardio approaches Tito Ortiz “I swear, I’m healthy this time” levels of bullshit, but Penn is undoubtedly talented. His UFC Welterweight career consists of having fought three men: Jon Fitch, Matt Hughes, and Georges St. Pierre. The only one of those three that can confidently say he is better than Penn is St. Pierre. Should Diaz win tomorrow, he will have done something truly impressive. No one beats BJ Penn unless they're just about as good as it gets.
On paper, Diaz is good. The former (and kind of reigning, but no one really knows what's going to happen with the belt) Strikeforce Welterweight Champion, he's beaten the likes of Paul Daley (by KO, in one of this year's most exciting fights) and legends like Frank Shamrock and Hayato Sakurai (which will look more impressive on paper than they were in reality). Diaz hasn't had an unavenged loss since losing a close fight to Sean Sherk in April of 2006. But despite currently sporting a double digit win streak, there is the cold reality facing Nick Diaz: it all happened outside of the UFC.
For years, WWE operated under the mantra that if it didn’t happen in the WWE, it didn’t matter (and often it was literally ignored - or digitized). The same thing is almost true today with the UFC. Not that the UFC ignores the outside world (Joe Rogan can’t shut up about it, it seems) but that so many guys who’ve been big stars elsewhere come to the UFC and falter. Whether it’s nerves that are eventually righted, or they just weren’t all that good to begin with, time and again guys with big names who are supposedly the creme de la creme show up and promptly lose. From Mirko CroCop back in 2007 to Shogun Rua a few months after that, to even this year when Jorge Santiago returned to the UFC after a few years fighting overseas - guys win, they look good, various websites and pundits build them up as being legitimate top challengers for whomever the UFC champion is - and then those same fighters look like crap and lose when they get to the UFC. Diaz has fought for the UFC in the past, so there won't be any excuse that he got caught up in the moment, that he was overwhelmed by being part of the premier mixed martial arts organization. If Diaz loses, it'll simply be because he wasn't good enough. But if he wins? It'll be because he was.
Nick Diaz has a chance tomorrow to become special. All he has to do is stop being crazy, beat BJ Penn, and do what a lot of other fighters before him haven’t been able to do and succeed within the UFC. And as a reward? Maybe he’ll get a shot at the greatest welterweight on the planet. You'd have to be crazy to pull that off.
Mike Coughlin is the host of FIVE STAR RADIO. He is crazy like a fox.