Judging by Nick Diaz’s reaction to his unanimous decision loss to Carlos Condit at UFC 143, you’d have thought he’d just been robbed on live TV. You’d have thought he’d returned home to find that judge Cecil Peoples had made off with all his most prized possessions, from his road bike to his Tupac CDs. You definitely wouldn’t have thought that he’d merely lost a close decision in a close fight, though that’s exactly what happened.
"I don't need this [expletive]," Diaz told Joe Rogan after the decision was announced. "He ran from me this whole fight. I landed the harder shots. He kicked me in the leg with little baby kicks."
Of course, he said this while sporting a set of facial bruises and lacerations that told a very different story. You don’t get that kind of damage at a track meet. Obviously Condit must have been doing something besides running and baby-kicking. According to the FightMetric stats, that something was out-working Diaz with strikes in four of the five rounds, landing a total of 159 strikes to Diaz’s 117.
Granted, stats don’t always tell the full story with an MMA bout. Condit did spend a considerable amount of time avoiding Diaz, or at least ducking out of the way and getting the fight back to the center of the cage. If you’re of the opinion that no fighter should ever win a decision while backpedaling -- even if he’s landing more strikes in the process --- then sure, you could cry foul over the decision. Just know that you’re using your own made-up criteria to judge the fight, not the one that matters.
According to the unified rules of MMA, judges score bouts based on "effective striking, effective grappling, control of the fighting area, effective aggressiveness and defense." Nowhere in there does it say you can’t back up or circle away. Nowhere does it say that you have to let a guy like Diaz walk you down and unload on you against the cage. Condit clearly didn’t want to get stuck with his back to the fence, where Diaz is most effective, so he continually brought the fight back to the center, where he was more effective.
In other words, Condit fought the smart fight. He also fought the slightly busier fight, at least according to the numbers. While it might have looked like Diaz was far more aggressive, if only because he walked forward in a straight line for most of the fight, Condit actually threw more strikes (329 to 258, according to Fight Metric) and landed more significant strikes (151 to 105). You can accuse him of running away if you want, but, like Diaz, you’d have to ignore the obvious evidence to the contrary, which plenty of fans are no doubt willing to do.
Maybe part of the problem here is expectations. Many people (Diaz included, perhaps) thought this was going to be a brawl. They expected to see two guys standing toe-to-toe, chopping away at each other until somebody fell. They didn’t get that fight, even though Diaz did his best to deliver it, and so they naturally blame the guy who decided to pursue a game plan rather than the guy who was unable to adjust to it.
It’s easy to see why Diaz wanted the kind of flat-footed, close-up boxing match that he was pressing for all night. He’s good at that style. He might be better at it than anyone in MMA -- certainly better than Condit. That’s why it only made sense for Condit to stay on the move, to force Diaz to reset and start his attack over. And while Diaz was doing that, Condit hit him. He ducked under hooks, stayed out of range of those long jabs, and picked his spots.
That’s not to say it wasn’t a close fight. Several of those rounds could have gone either way, and don’t believe for a second that Condit had no doubt about how the judges were going to score it. Standing there and waiting for Bruce Buffer to get through the preamble and just spit it out, Condit looked like one of those alleged fathers on the Maury Povich paternity test show. He might have been hoping for good news, but that was not the look of a man who knew for sure what was coming.
That’s how it goes with close fights. When neither man clearly dominates, you end up standing there at the end of the night, hoping for the best. Diaz can complain that Condit didn’t engage in the kind of fight he wanted, but he can’t say that the guy didn’t fight. Not with his face looking like that. Not if he wants anyone to take him seriously.