A funny thing happened on the way to Nick Diaz showing up this time for Wednesday’s press conference in Montreal to officially promote his UFC 158 title fight against Georges St-Pierre.
He actually acted like a professional. Heck, since we last saw Diaz a year ago — before he disrespected GSP, lost to Carlos Condit, suggested he was done with MMA and was then suspended a year for a failed marijuana test — he may have even turned into one.
That’s a great thing for the 29-year-old former Strikeforce champion who is finally getting his shot at UFC gold. But after he and St-Pierre were nothing but cordial to each other when seated at the same podium for the first time, I wonder if just a little bit of the yearning to see them throw down in the Octagon on March 16 has been tempered.
Considering how much animosity there had been between the two — Diaz once upon a time questioned whether St-Pierre’s injury was real, and in turn GSP called Diaz the most disrespectful human being he’s ever known and planned to give him the biggest beating ever in the Octagon — it came as quite a surprise that nobody could get a rise out of either competitor Wednesday as they answered questions from the media.
Might we even say it was a little disappointing?
Originally we thought their UFC 158 matchup was going to be one of the biggest grudge matches in the sport’s recent history. So, what unfolded on Wednesday was not at all what we were expecting.
First, Diaz wasn’t a no-show (a sigh of relief, considering the fiasco that ensued after he missed the first one in 2011 in Toronto, which led to him being pulled from championship fight).
Second, Diaz had basically nothing bad to say about his opponent, or the organization. Or anything at all really.
And he was certainly given the opportunity. Asked about past missed media opportunities, he said he’s learned his lesson.
Asked if there was anything he dislikes about GSP, he said, “No, I like him just fine.”
“He’s the No. 1 guy, that’s why I want to fight him,” Diaz elaborated, adding that his only wish is if he could have fought him sooner.
St-Pierre wouldn’t bite either: “He’s going to make the best out of me come out in the Octagon. I’m going to have to give it all. The (only) thing I don’t like is he wants what I have (my belt).”
Overall Diaz, who has made no bones about the fact that he doesn’t like the media duties, acted like a seasoned veteran behind the microphone. It was a stark contrast to the UFC 137 post-fight press conference in October 2011, when he rambled — at some points unintelligibly — about how he’s been turned into the bad guy, and went on about his complaints and frustrations, to the point where the media was laughing and he thought they were mocking him.
Wednesday, they were laughing again, but with him, as he was even a little playful with the media.
Asked about whether he minded that the fight was taking place in Montreal, Diaz said, “I don’t think they test for steroids out here.”
UFC president Dana White interjected, “For the record, they test for everything up here.”
Diaz’ response: “That’s good to know too.”
With a totally professional Diaz against the consummate pro St-Pierre, this means that this fight has suddenly taken on a totally different tone than it once did. Instead of the good guy vs. the bad guy, it’s now a matchup between two very popular fighters with big fan bases and who are showing nothing but mutual respect for each other.
The question is whether this is a good thing for the UFC, and for ticket sales for this event, which go on sale this week. It just feels like another déjà vu from less than four months ago, when GSP defended against Condit, another guy against whom he harbored no animosity, and also in Montreal.
The last show did not sell out, but the hope was the added twist of the villain Diaz will lead to better fortunes this time. But with that angle now downplayed, who knows if it will this time.
Maybe we’ll expect things to get a little more heated closer to the fight and perhaps even see some animosity come fight week. But that won’t help now. Hype is what is needed, and there was a little less Wednesday than expected.
GSP was asked if the words from Diaz back in October 2011 had to do with his desire to fight Diaz. One response could have been, “Duh.” But GSP deflected it entirely, saying the two did have a history, but that wasn’t even at issue now. His reason for wanting to fight him was that he truly believed Nick is the No. 1 contender at 170 pounds.
“I don’t want to fight the No. 3, I want to fight the guy that’s ranked the best, and that’s Nick Diaz.”
No question this will be a good matchup on paper. But as we’ve seen in the UFC lately, paper doesn’t sell fights.
– Continuing on the note that hype is what sells fights, could it be that part of the reason that prior consensus No. 1 contender Johny Hendricks was passed over for the title shot is because he isn’t a big trash talker? Asked if he will get the next crack with a win over Jake Ellenberger on the same card, White would only say that was “likely.”
– The UFC may not even be concerned whether UFC 158 sells out, as long as they can continue to deliver strong gates in the city, which White praised. Asked why St-Pierre was back headlining in Montreal again, he jokingly replied, “Because (UFC director of Canadian operations) Tom (Wright)’s greedy, he wants all the fights here. It’s a hot market, a great venue. The thing about Montreal, it’s a destination city, even when it’s 28 (degrees) below zero. It never sucks to come here.”
– Wright said he expects to have a deal for a Canadian edition of The Ultimate Fighter by “the end of the year.”
– GSP reciprocated recent comments from UFC women’s bantamweight champion Ronda Rousey saying he was good-looking, calling her “a beautiful woman.” (Perhaps he’ll become a women’s MMA fan after all.)