Coming into 2013 there was this optimistic, particularly gullible idea that we were entering the "Year of the Superfight," meaning champions from their given weight classes would be loosed on one another in a fit of "let’s see how far we can narrow greatness down" colossalness. (Realistically it always meant Anderson Silva would fight other champions, if Silva could be coaxed into the idea, along with those other champions).
Dallas Cowboys Stadium? Oh hell yes, Dallas Cowboys stadium! Just need a few scenarios to play out perfectly, a rabbit’s foot, a dash of holy water and presto!
Then Chris Weidman set the "superfight" back into the stone age of idealism with a crashing left hand to Silva’s dancing jaw, and all these cool tomorrows fell apart. If that weren’t enough, Alexander Gustafsson nearly pulled the same trick on the indestructible and "not quite human" Jon Jones in Toronto, and Johny Hendricks, with his brand of exquisite simplicity, put Georges St-Pierre on the verge of mental and physical collapse.
All of our "superfight" chess pieces became human beings, which in the fight game errs a little too close to the side of ordinary.
In the end, 2013 -- a year that spoiled us with ridiculous fights that ranged from the barbaric to master-class showcases of skill -- became a year about vulnerability. Instead of the foot-tapping "Superfight" track we hoped for, as the year closes out we are playing a downscore called "Twilight of the Idols."
St-Pierre, weary for too long, took an indefinite leave of absence (and may never come back). Silva, if he loses a second time to Weidman at UFC 168, will leave his mystique to a bygone day. And Jones, who through his reign as the 205-pound champion has been bouncing about celestial bodies throughout the galaxy, well…it’s almost like Jones is just now visiting planet Earth for the first time.
Entering 2014, those names are all different than they were heading into 2013. And in looking at 2014, that optimistic feeling of bringing greats together has changed to "what greats are left standing?" Actually, to be more accurate, it feels like -- who will be the "event?"
Even Cain Velasquez, who proved himself to be the best heavyweight the UFC has known in his trilogy manhandling of Junior dos Santos, is on the shelf until late 2014 with a shoulder injury. Lightweight champion/wall-walker Anthony Pettis, with another knee issue, same thing. The pay-per-view needle is skipping just as the UFC is gearing up for worldly expansion.
Digitized, monetized and globalized. But the concept of the "event" feels dearthy in the year to come. Who’s left out there to drop the jaw?
Which brings me to Nick Diaz.
Right now Nick Diaz is (possibly) firing a bowl and waiting for his middle fingers to reactivate. He’s (possibly) planning his next WAR event, or his next triathlon or how he’s going to pay those taxes. Yet, one way or another, as GSP heads off onto that horizon, and Hendricks and Robbie Lawler get set to fight for the vacated belt, Diaz -- in no hurry, and not for the most Zen reasons -- is watching his stock come up.
In the entire range of welter elites, Diaz is perhaps the only one who draws ceremoniously. People give a damn about Nick Diaz. With no St-Pierre, the world is wide open again. He could fight for a belt. He could bring some gold back to Cesar Gracie’s. He could trade snake oil for wolf tickets. Suddenly he’s back in vogue. All he had to do was wait for the stars to fall out of the sky to begin beaming like the Alpha Centauri.
And for all of us who thought he was dreaming when he said he wanted to fight either Anderson Silva or George St-Pierre next coming off of a loss, he’s blowing a hazy cloud of a little somepin-somepin in our faces. Silva may not be off limits to him for long. And with no GSP, the belt -- the thing that GSP stood for -- is seizable. Suddenly, Nick Diaz is the rarified spot of becoming an "event" just when events are at a premium.
And what a perfectly chaotic time for him to step back in.
Diaz recently turned down a rematch with Carlos Condit, in a backstage encounter with Dana White in Sacramento. We didn’t get the exact reasoning, insomuch as there’s very little exact anything with Diaz. But if he’s been dealing in gut hunches, his might be onto something this time. We are all, by some ding in the game of chance, dealing in Diaz logic right now.
When he turned down the Condit fight, Tyron Woodley’s name came up as a possible alternative. White shot the Woodley idea down coldly. Why? Because, even though Woodley had been bombarded with texts to get that fight (which was loveable), he wasn’t ranked (which was damnable). A guy not in the top 10 doesn’t get to fight the No. 2 contender.
Simple as that.
Then again, maybe it’s not that simple. A couple of days later, out of something like necessity and dogged persistence on Woodley’s part, the Condit-Woodley fight was made. Rankings are such foolish things after all. Besides, right now the welterweight picture is at this point left to how we draw it. We can color outside the lines and it’s all good. St-Pierre’s leaving scrambled the pecking order. We return to gunslinger matchmaking. Why can’t Diaz be booked into whatever bout the UFC wants/needs/sees fit?
Condit fights Woodley. Hendricks fights Lawler. These require imagination and both are ordinary enough affairs. But put the "fresh-from-retirement" Diaz against anyone and nothing’s ordinary. We have an event.
So even as Demetrious Johnson chugs along, and Ronda Rousey steers otherwise elitist media towards the niche sport of MMA…and Chris Weidman gets rolling towards stardom…and Hendricks tries to mount a faithful…and Jones sees if he can re-distance himself from his brush-up with mere humanness…at some point the 209 area code will be a hot one to dial for matchmaker Joe Silva.
Diaz has more than an ounce of leverage for his once ridiculous demands. Because right now, as we gear up for 2014 in the UFC, he’s living every disgruntled employee’s dream -- they need him more than he needs them.