What is gameness?
Author Sam Sheridan once defined it as pursuit of the fight despite the physical consequences. The term actually has roots in dog fighting. It's used to describe the eagerness of a dog to continue fighting through a grueling and injurious battle. The dog fighting atmospherics make the term somewhat unsavory to borrow for MMA purposes, but we're treading in metaphors, not literalism. As UFC 143's Carlos Condit himself states about his impending bout with Nick Diaz, "it's going to be a dog fight'.
There are a number of ways to parse the fight's merits or evaluate worthiness, but it'd be criminal to not note just how much gameness defines this bout's character. Every fighter has biological limits, but Diaz and Condit are two fighters who are nearly peerless when it comes to competing up to the outer limit of those boundaries.
Walkout Shirts: Nick Diaz | Carlos Condit | Roy Nelson
Numerous examples of their durability abound. Against Rory MacDonald, Condit was able to withstand a torrential downpour of ground and pound only to stop the rising prospect in the third round. Against Paul Daley, Diaz was floored on more than one occasion in a chaotic see-saw battle only to stop the Brit with strikes late in the first. Condit was floored with gargantuan punches early by Jake Ellenberger, but hung on and eventually took a decision. Diaz was getting drilled by hard punches from Takanori Gomi before driving the Japanese sensation back with strikes, ultimately submitting him with a spectacular gogo plata. The list of their gameness accolades is nearly endless.
That is precisely what makes gameness so pleasing: it's never weathered nor reduced. With limited and qualified exception, the damage Condit and Diaz have absorbed in the course of their fights never dampened their willingness or ability to strike back. When the tides turned, they flooded.
Gameness, though, shouldn't be crudely misinterpreted as solely the ability to take a shot. That's part of it, of course. But what it truly underscores is both ferocity and the enthusiastic participation for the scrap. Gameness, in other words, has both defensive and offensive components.
What unites Condit and Diaz - and what has made them fan favorites - is their willingness to engage risk as a means of winning a fight. As long as you're winning, being risk averse isn't generally the worst approach to fighting. However, it isn't particularly crowd pleasing and more importantly, it's an approach that flies in the face of what we understand as athletic bravery. What makes Diaz and Condit fairly unique is they've used this approach of accepting risk to reach some of the sport's loftiest positions. It's one thing for amateurs to brazenly throw caution to the wind to rile up the crowd in some sort of Pyrrhic victory. It's quite another for two of the sport's most successful welterweights to have reached these heights using a similar albeit more measured approach.
It's also historically accurate and demonstrably true wrestling has been used as a crutch for some fighters to coast through fatigue or rough patches during fights. The exhausted and less willed among the professional ranks have relied on it to hang on in precarious moments. Coincidentally or not, neither Diaz nor Condit is particularly proficient as a wrestler. Why is that important? No matter what direction the fight takes neither fighter will likely have the skills (and I suspect no inclination) to rely on wrestling as a means to slow down or stunt the action. This one won't be decided by one fighter more expertly exercising control to avoid risk.
I don't want to suggest gameness is the only reason this fight is special. There's obviously more to the story. But the level of gameness both fighters exhibit is extraordinary because they also possess deep experience and technical acumen. Neither fighter is careless, but neither fighter lets caution lord over them. That's unique. Over time as fighters gain experience and add skills, you'll often see a trade off in ferocity. With Diaz and Condit, however, you just see the ferocity more expertly channeled.
My early hunch is Nick Diaz will be able to outlast Carlos Condit en route to a decision victory. If that happens, he'll eventually face UFC welterweight champion Georges St. Pierre. But en route to that end, I'd bet my mortgage he's going to catch a noteworthy beating at the hands of Condit.
I hope I'm not jinxing the bout, but given the records and deserved reputations of both fighters, it's hard to see how either gets out of this one early. Or easily. They're game for the scrap, from bell to bell, no matter the cost of doing business in between. At this level of the game - and in a five-round, interim title bout - that's a reality that deserves a little extra recognition.