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Nick Diaz: 'Cyborg' Santos Better Than Other Potential Strikeforce Challengers

SAN JOSE – Unlike recent Strikeforce conference calls, there was no rancor and not even the hint of a rant when the fighters gathered for a subdued press conference to promote Saturday night's Strikeforce: Diaz vs. Cyborg event at the HP Pavilion.

Welterweight champ Nick Diaz expressed admiration and respect for the challenger, Evangelista "Cyborg" Santos, as well as for Santos' wife, women's 145-pound Strikeforce champ Cristiane "Cyborg" Santos, who was also in attendance.

"I think he's a great fighter," Diaz said of the male "Cyborg." "He's better than the other guys they had in line."

In fact, Diaz suggested that perhaps Santos, who is known for his aggressive fighting style, would be a bigger star in the world of MMA right now if only he'd moved down to the 170-pound division sooner, rather than waiting until the 13th year of his career to make his welterweight debut in a TKO victory over Marius Zaromskis last June.

"I think maybe he should have been fighting at 170 pounds a long time ago. He would have beat some name fighters and we would have seen some more of him," said Diaz. "...He was in there fighting with heavier guys who were throwing him down. They were a little bit too big for him. The way I see it, I'm too big for him, and then these guys were really too big for him and they threw him down. Otherwise, he'd be just as popular as anybody out here."

For his part, Santos said via an interpreter that since he walks around near the 185-pound middleweight limit, the move to the welterweight class made sense. Now, with just one fight at that weight, he finds himself facing a champion who's known for his ability to maintain a fast pace for all five rounds.

That has some people wondering how Santos, who likes to come charging out of the gates, will fare if the fight goes into the championship rounds.

Santos insisted that he's focused a lot on strength and conditioning for the Diaz fight, and offered a "guarantee" that he'd have plenty of gas in the tank down the stretch. And the fact that he now finds himself in the championship spotlight with a chance to bring a second Strikeforce title to the Santos home?

"I don't feel any pressure at all," he said. "[Cristiane] has fought and trained and deserves her belt, which she's earned. My 15 years of training, hopefully on Saturday I get to fight and make my mark and get my belt."

Santos claimed he didn't have specific strategy for dealing with Diaz's unorthodox style, though at least the feeling seems to be somewhat mutual. Diaz admitted that while he had done what he could to get used to Santos' hyper-aggressive approach, it's not the kind of the thing that translates easily in sparring.

"I think he's a unique fighter. He fights the way he fights. It's hard to find a lot of guys who will do that, and fight the way he fights. But I've trained with some of the best people," Diaz said, listing off some of the notable kickboxers he's worked with – such as Kit Cope – before admitting that, actually, they aren't too much like the hard-charging Santos after all.

For Santos, whose career has lately been overshadowed by his wife's tremendous success, the stakes on Saturday night are as high as they've ever been. Though he tried to play it cool behind his pair of black sunglasses at Thursday's presser, it was plainly evident that that face was not lost on him.

"It's been 15 years of sacrifice," Santos said via his interpreter. "It's a big fight for me, a life-changing fight for me."

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