UFC 143 is now just a day away, and while the Super Bowl weekend fight card might not yet be mainstream enough to spawn its own puppy equivalent, there are still no shortage of questions, concerns, and pithy comments to sort through before Saturday night’s event. Here are nine of them, in no particular order.
I. Beware the ghost of Georges St-Pierre, for he haunts this fight card. And by ghost, I mean the actual living person. And by haunts, I mean shows up with a sad attempt at facial hair and gives interviews. The point is, he’s there and it’s impossible to forget that he’s there. Nick Diaz is right to complain about about GSP casting his long shadow over these proceedings, but it’s inevitable. No one -- not even B.J. Penn or Josh Koscheck, and certainly not Carlos Condit -- provokes as interesting a reaction from the normally robotic welterweight champ. For instance, check out what GSP had to say about Diaz, via UFC.com:
Walkout Shirts: Nick Diaz | Carlos Condit | Roy Nelson
"I don't truly hate him as a person. I don't know that he is a bad guy, but I hate what he brings to the sport with the disrespect and the unprofessional things he says and does. It is sort of a professional hatred. He has been nothing but disrespectful and arrogant toward me. During UFC 137 (week) I felt like I had to walk around Las Vegas with my fists ready (to punch Diaz) because every time I came across him he wanted to fight there and then. Every time the elevator opened (in the hotel) I needed to be ready to fight in case he stepped in. I was on edge all week. This guy is crazy."
Honestly, who but Diaz could accomplish this? Who else could make GSP feel like he needed to be ready to fight in a hotel lobby? Who could even get him to break out of his stoic superstar character long enough to admit it? Diaz might not like the fact that so many people are talking about and hoping for an eventual GSP-Diaz showdown, but he kind of has himself to blame. He’s the one who got under the champ’s skin, so now he’s got a whole new cheering section headed into the Condit bout.
II. Nick Diaz is still not firmly planted in reality, but that doesn’t mean he’s not right about some stuff. That’s more or less the thesis of my Sports Illustrated column this week (be a pal and give it a click, won’t you?), and it’s one that I think is supported by the events of this week in particular. For instance, complaining about the UFC’s selective editing of pre-fight promo videos might not be the smartest thing for a fighter to do, but he’s got a point. All that obviously scripted hype we see in the opening seconds of each pay-per-view is pretty cringe-worthy. Can you imagine the Super Bowl opening with an image of Tom Brady delivering some stilted line about how he’s going to get his revenge on Eli Manning and the Giants? No way. At the same time, if there’s anyone in need of a script at times, it’s Diaz. I’ve personally done interviews with him where, once it’s over, he’s insisted that I delete it and do another one, all because he wasn’t happy with what he said. Then, when I agreed, he said almost exactly the same thing in the second interview as he did in the first. This is a guy who seems not totally in control of the things coming out of his mouth, and yet he's right about some of the UFC’s practices. It is ridiculous for a pro sports organization to literally script and edit this stuff into the kind of narrative it thinks it can sell. Diaz is somehow one of the only people reasonable and/or brave enough to point that out, even if he may be halfway out of his mind on a variety of other topics.
III. Does Roy Nelson even know when he’s being ironic anymore? It started with the belly rubs, then the mullet, then what our own Shaun Al-Shatti dubbed the "dwarf beard." Now Nelson’s entire appearance seems devoted to making fun of itself. Don’t get me wrong, I love self-deprecation as much as the next guy who mostly hates himself and others, but you get to a point where a joke identity threatens to become your real identity. It’s like your friend who wears a pair of cut-off jean shorts to a party. You know, as a goof. Then everyone thinks it’s hilarious, so he does it again at the next party. And the next one. Pretty soon, he’s wearing cut-off jean shorts to the mall and being seen in public with him becomes problematic. That’s what happens when you start living your gimmick. Nelson probably does not think of himself as a gimmicky person. Not really. But when he gets up in the morning and stands in front of the mirror to brush out his mullet and clear the crumbs from his Lord of the Rings beard, what does he think? When it’s just him and the dude in the mirror who looks like a roadie for Foghat, what seems true then?
IV. Heading into the fight with Mike Pierce, Josh Koscheck would be wise to consider the plight of his teammate, Jon Fitch. Like Koscheck, Fitch was also a considerable favorite to win his last fight. Most of us thought he’d wrestle his way to another plodding decision and that would be that. Then he got floored by Johny Hendricks’ left hand and suddenly he had a brand new set of problems. That can happen to anyone, but it seems more likely to happen if you go into a bout with Koscheck’s almost comically overblown hubris. In the TV drama version of life, nothing good happens to guys like that in the end. That might not matter when it comes to actual events that are dictated by people rather than screenplays, but maybe it affects how we interpret those events. When a guy like Fitch suffers an upset KO loss, it seems like bad luck. If it were to happen to Koscheck here, especially after his total dismissal of Pierce as an opponent, it might seem more like a comeuppance.
V. Fun, mostly meaningless fact: when Fabricio Werdum debuted in the UFC on April 21, 2007, only one current UFC champion was then in the midst of an uninterrupted title reign. As you probably guessed, that champ is Anderson Silva, who claimed the UFC middleweight strap some six months prior and has held it ever since. GSP had dropped his welterweight belt to Matt Serra in a shocking upset just weeks earlier, and the other divisions were captained by guys like Randy Couture (heavyweight champ), Chuck Liddell (light heavyweight), and Sean Sherk (lightweight). Two of those guys are now officially retired, and the other might as well be. That tells you something about Silva’s dominance. He’s been champ long enough to see a guy like Werdum come and go and come again. The weather around it may change, but the mountaintop stays the mountaintop.
VI. Matt Riddle explained his current losing streak by saying he doesn’t "do the point game," which is true. His fights tend to be exciting affairs, if only because he’s charging face-first into punches. Then again, that’s a convenient explanation when you’re losing decisions. When you’re winning them, it’s always because you’re the better, smarter fighter. That’s when you’ll hear guys talking up their own strategic brilliance, their ability to stick to a game plan, their savvy. But when the judges don’t see it their way? Ah, hell. It’s all a point game anyway. I guess fighters need to tell themselves something. It’s not like they can claim that the sun was in their eyes.
VII. Could Carlos Condit be the perfect antidote to Nick Diaz’s style? If Diaz has one fatal weakness (other than his love of video blogging while driving, which is just a horrible idea), it’s that he tends to start slow. He tends to almost gleefully absorb punishment in the opening minutes of a fight, then crank up the heat until his opponent breaks. Condit, on the other hand, is a pretty fast starter. He stopped his last two opponents in the first round and, like Diaz, neither of them had ever been knocked out before Condit got after them. Diaz doesn’t seem to mind getting hit and his cardio is never an issue, so going after him early is certainly a risk. It also might be the best shot Condit has.
VIII. Prelim fighter to keep an eye on: Michael Kuiper. The unbeaten Dutch middleweight is making his UFC debut against Brazilian Rafael Natal, and it should be interesting to see how he fares, for a couple reasons. Kuiper is a judo specialist who’s been knocking people out on the European scene lately, but he’s never fought a non-European opponent on non-European soil in his three-year MMA career. I’m not saying the competition is weak across the Atlantic, though we have to admit that Belgium isn’t exactly Brazil when it comes to exporting MMA talent. That’s what makes Kuiper such an interesting newcomer. It’s unfair to ask a guy to represent a continent’s worth of fighters, but if Kuiper can be anywhere near as successful here as he’s been back home, it might open the door for more European fighters. If he gets smashed by a middleweight also-ran, perhaps it’s a sign that European MMA is still lagging behind like American soccer.
IX. Farewell, UFC Gladiator Man. We hardly knew ye. The UFC has put together a new intro, finally, and the early word is that it’s a) pretty sweet, and b) really expensive. Maybe the latter explains why Gladiator Man got to hang around for eight years before being sent to that great arena in the sky. Will there come a time when MMA fans attempt to big time each other on forums by insisting that they’ve been watching this sport since back in the Gladiator Man days? I kind of hope so, as stupid as that is.