It's a fight that has been long simmering in the mind of Nick Diaz. Go back to the summer of 2008, and there you can find the first public mention Diaz made of fighting Georges St-Pierre. At the time, Diaz was just two fights into his return to welterweight, and fighting in the short-lived EliteXC. There was not just a promotion separating them, but also a host of other, higher-ranked contenders. From Jon Fitch to Josh Koscheck, from Matt Hughes to Diego Sanchez, even Diaz's own teammate Jake Shields was above him in the divisional pecking order. The distance between the two was substantial.
But as time passed, he kept winning and winning, and before long, the long shot from Stockton began closing the distance, winning a championship, coming to the UFC, building his name as a draw and his reputation as a legitimate threat. Through it all, his blood kept boiling for a fight with St-Pierre. It was one he was finally supposed to get in 2012 before he skipped a press conference and was removed from the challenger slot, and then one he apparently lost for good after losing to Carlos Condit.
It was St-Pierre that flipped the script. He wanted Diaz, too, and a chance to shut him up.
On Wednesday, the two met face to face in Montreal, at a press conference at the Bell Centre to publicize their championship bout at UFC 158. And after all those years of waiting, after all that pent-up aggression, after success and disappointment and a yearlong ride on the emotional roller coaster, Diaz was …. Nice. Pleasant. Even personable.
The notoriously press averse fighter was on time. He was polite and well-spoken. He offered moments of self-reflection. He even said nice things about St-Pierre. If you were looking for animosity, there was nothing aside from the fact that champion and challenger didn't share a handshake after a photo face-off. If you were looking for symbolism, the only thing there was St-Pierre wearing white and Diaz wearing black.
Aside from that, Diaz was a man who appeared content and poised, and yes, even a little bit contrite, apologizing in his own way for the fact that the reason it's taken an extra year for the fight to materialize lies with his mistake.
"I didn't make it to the last press conference," he said. "It wasn’t very professional on my part, but I just was ready to fight. I was ready to go to the fight and fight. I thought that was the important part but I had to learn my lesson. So, there's a lesson learned from this, and now I'm ready to fight."
Diaz was far from the trash-talker we've seen in the past. In fact, even when he was given a chance to offer something he didn't like about his opponent, he declined to take the dangling bait.
"I like my opponent," he said. "That’s why I want to fight him. I don't mean to say it like that, but he’s the No. 1 guy to beat. That's what you want. I’ve been wanting his spot. He’s got the spot. He’s the guy to beat. "
"I like him just fine," he said once, then again after being pressed.
Could it get any more surreal, any more genteel? Yes, it could. Just seconds later as Diaz recalled his history of "running his mouth" about St-Pierre, he came to something of a realization.
"I had no room to run my mouth and talk," he said. "I was promoting this fight. I got the fight I wanted. I can't complain now."
And then he said it again, "I like him just fine."
Who was this man, and what had he done with our Stockton slapper? Perhaps with two months to go until UFC 158, Diaz was simply more at ease than he is during fight week. Maybe he's just getting older and more mature. Maybe the time away from the sport has done him good. Or perhaps he was happy he's finally gotten what he's wanted all along. It could be a combination of all of those, or something else entirely. With Diaz, who knows?
St-Pierre took it all in stoically, never cracking a smile while repeating several times that his interest in fighting Diaz comes from his feeling that Diaz is the top contender, yes, even ahead of Johny Hendricks, who St-Pierre believes lost to Josh Koscheck in 2012.
While the champion would offer little in the way of his feelings for Diaz, he acknowledged that "there is a story between us," one that was ready to reach its final conclusion.
"I'm not a coward," St-Pierre said. "I never duck nobody. I never run away from nobody. Now is his chance. He deserves it. I'm willing to give it to him and I'm happy to give it to him."
But that's all St-Pierre will give him, he promises. Maybe that and a beating. The challenger, he says, will bring the best out of him.
But on Wednesday, it was the unpredictable Diaz who brought the first surprise. The newly refined version of MMA's rawest personality even said it was "fun to be here" in Montreal.
Verbose, candid and relaxed, Diaz seemed at home in the spotlight, in the same city, in the same arena where he'll get his long-awaited fight in less than two months. With that piece of mandatory business out of the way, Diaz returns home to continue camp and keep the MMA world waiting to see which version of him shows up to fight week.