UFC 158: GSP vs Diaz

UFC 158 - GSP vs Diaz

 

Preview

This Saturday evening brings us one of the most highly anticipated UFC events in recent memory when long-time welterweight champion and pound for pound contender Georges ‘Rush’ St-Pierre (aka GSP) faces off against former Strikeforce Welterweight Champion and serial antagonist Nick Diaz at UFC 158 which takes place at the Bell Centre in Montreal, Quebec, Canada with preliminary fights starting at 23:00 UK Time.

Stockton ‘Bad Boy’ Nick Diaz has been calling for a fight with GSP for the best part of the last 3 years, backing up his smack talking in the cage including riding an 11 fight winning streak with wins over highly rated fighters such as B.J. Penn, Paul Daley, Frank Shamrock and KJ Noons before losing a controversial decision to Carlos ‘The Natural Born Killer’ Condit for the interim title at UFC 143 in February 2012. After that fight Diaz was suspended for testing positive for marijuana metabolites in the post-fight drug test and was suspended for one year.

Condit went on to face GSP, who is widely regarded as the best UFC Welterweight Champion of all time and one of the top pound for pound fighters on the planet today, when St-Pierre made is his return from a career threatening knee injury which kept him out for over a year and a half; losing by unanimous decision at UFC 154 last November.

After winning that fight many expected GSP to face UFC Middleweight Champion and fellow pound for pound great Anderson Silva in a ‘superfight’ next, or Johny Hendricks who was widely regarded as the number one contender to his title. However having being riled by Diaz who he perceived to have been bad mouthing him and calling him out, along with the fact that the two had originally been scheduled to square off at UFC 143 before Nick no-showed at a pre-fight press conference losing his opportunity, led to St-Pierre to asking UFC President Dana White to allow him to settle the score with Diaz first.

With the highly valued champion so keen and many fans themselves call for the match up Dana gladly obliged, Diaz had lost little credibility in his loss to Condit with many believing he’d done enough to earn the victory with ‘The Natural Born Killer’ uncharacteristically reluctant to engage throughout the bout. On paper his style matches up well and would seem the sort to bring out the best in GSP who appears to have lost his killer instinct since his surprise KO loss to Matt Serra back in 2007, preferring to rely upon his superior athleticism and wrestling to allow him to coast to a decisive decision rather than take any risks to finish his opponents. With the clear hostility between the two fighters there was never going to be a shortage of interest, the only question was, would Nick Diaz fulfil all of the necessary media obligations prior to the fight or would he once again go missing at the last minute earning the wrath of his bosses? Well with around 24 hours to go, despite a few no-shows and misunderstandings, almost all of the obligations are out of the way at it looks like the fight will definitely be on!

Below is a brief video preview of the fight:

Analysis

As mentioned, on paper their respective styles make for a mouth-watering match up; Diaz with his high paced, high volume, unorthodox punching style backed up by his very high level Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu game against the world class wrestling and remarkable athleticism of St-Pierre.

The personalities of the two fighters could not be more different as well, GSP is polite well-mannered, says the right things and is considered one of the faces of the UFC brand where as Diaz is in many ways a promoters nightmare; on the one hand he brings plenty of attention and any publicity is good publicity, right? On the other hand, his antics including his involvement in-cage brawls and failure of drug tests (for which he has an exemption certificate) have incurred the wrath of athletic commissions which the UFC have to work closely with in order to have their events sanctioned in the United States and various countries around the world. His previous failure to turn up to the UFC 143 pre-fight press conference for which he cited anxiety issues led to him being pulled from the fight and he has been walking a fine line with many similar but more minor infractions in the build up to this fight.

It’s well documented that Nick prefers to shun the limelight, whilst at the same time he complains that he doesn’t get his fair share of recognition in the mainstream media and there may be some truth in that, his abrasive and ‘in your face’ attitude do not serve the promotion well as they look to move away from the barbaric, blood sport perception that limited the growth of the company and sport for so many years. This again is  in stark contrast to St-Pierre who is in high demand throughout the world by and who is utilised significantly by the UFC in their media.

It would seem that Diaz has got into the head of the normally ‘Zen’ like St-Pierre who has been uncharacteristically short with the media and who has at times appeared to be the aggressor in the war of words with Diaz. Whilst some would say that Diaz is playing mind games I honestly don’t feel that this is the case, I believe that he feels he has valid points to make but struggles to put them across in the right way which sometimes results in him appearing confrontational.

Whilst it might not have been his intention, having seemingly gained a mental edge over his opponent Diaz should look to exploit this by enticing GSP into a brawl, something his manager Caesar Gracie will no doubt be drilling into him at every opportunity. As previously mentioned, since the defeat to Matt Serra in 2007 St-Pierre has struggled to finish his opponents and the pressure is on for him to not only put on an exciting fight but also to finish it decisively rather than relying upon on the method of point fighting which has been his trademark over the past few years; his nickname of ‘Rush’ certainly no longer seems apt.

All this said, the ‘darker side’ of himself that GSP has referred to could be a very scary prospect indeed. An elite athlete with an exceptional all round game appears to have no real weakness, some would be inclined point to his reluctance to engage, but is this really a weakness when it achieves the desired result and serves to prolong both his career an reign at the top? Others may point to his chin, but having faced the best his division has to offer, other than the Serra fight he has rarely been in serious trouble, recovering quickly and adapting his gameplan to counter any advantage his opponents seek to gain. But if he is coming forward with focused aggression it may produce an exciting and earlier than expected finish or prevent Nick from finding his range and being able to throw the ‘punches in bunches’ that so many of his opponents struggle to deal with.

History would indicate though, that St-Pierre will go for the early takedown and look to control Diaz on the ground, particularly if he is given any cause for concern in the stand up. This could be a huge mistake though as Diaz’s Brazilian Jiu Jitsu is amongst the best in MMA, particularly off his back and whilst GSP has largely shown himself capable of defending submissions from other high level BJJ practitioners, this is an area where Nick poses a very serious threat that shouldn’t be underestimated.

When you are considered one of the best wrestlers in MMA, it may not seem wise to look to engage in a striking match with Diaz who as seen a magnificent improvement in his boxing since his first stint in the UFC over 6 years ago; but I feel GSP’s best strategy would be to keep things standing for the first couple of rounds using disciplined footwork, varied striking and head movement to avoid taking damage, before then going for takedowns in the middle and later rounds if the judges scores are too close to call or if he is absorbing too much punishment on the feet, when conditions make submissions significantly less likely. Whilst Diaz’s unorthodox style of boxing is highly effective, Carlos Condit laid out a blueprint of how to beat him in the stand up by being evasive, mixing in kicks and not allowing Nick to settle into a rhythm.

One of the many reasons why this is such an intriguing match up is that every advantage that one fighter has could potentially be nullified by an attribute their opponent has; a case in point would be that even if GSP can control the action standing, Nick Diaz has a tremendous chin and can absorb huge amounts of punishment which coupled with his amazing stamina means he is always still in the fight and if St-Pierre finds himself running out of gas in the later rounds he could be in serious trouble.

In reverse Diaz can normally afford to stand toe-to-toe with the most fearsome strikers knowing that even if he gets knocked down he’ll remain calm quickly gain his composure and cause concerns of his own despite being in a supposedly inferior position due to his elite submission game. But GSP has been there, done that and it could be a very frustrating night for Nick if he can’t find the spaces he needs to pull something off.

Diaz struggled with wrestlers earlier in his career and has largely avoided them since his earlier stint in the UFC, but for someone who puts as much dedication into training for this sport as he does, you have to believe that it’s an area he’s being working on and if he can make it his sort of fight, avoid the takedowns and find his range and rhythm earlier he could produce a huge upset.

Conclusion

I’ve tried to be as neutral and unbiased as possible when writing this article but it hasn’t been easy as I’m a huge Diaz fan; love him or hate him, he always comes to fights, creates interests and generates a buzz whenever he steps into the octagon. I used to like GSP but now find him boring, like Diaz I believe that judges give too much credit to the wrestling and takedown aspects of the sport and not to willingness to engage and looking for the finish. I don’t blame GSP for this, but I feel it damages the potential growth of the sport and ruins it as a viewing spectacle.

I’m no fool though and recognise GSP for what he has proven himself to be, one of the very best Mixed Martial Artists on the planet, the bookmakers have him as 1-5 favourite and despite how much I’d like to see Diaz win, I can’t really disagree. Even if St-Pierre does feel inclined to leave it all in the cage, the pragmatic influence of coach Greg Jackson will likely be exerted and to the dissatisfaction of a great many fans he’ll grind out the unanimous decision win. If he goes this route, he’s almost guaranteed to win and the longer it goes the more I see this being the case.

There is always the outside chance that he will try and trade with Diaz earlier though, and I’m going to stick my neck out and go with my heart rather than my head on this occasion and opt for Nick Diaz in the first round. I’ve just seen what appears to be vulnerability from GSP for the very first time, he seems like he has lost the will to fight and whilst he is a great Mixed Martial Artist, Nick is a great fighter and I can see his aggression being too much to deal with early on; St-Pierre either crumbles under the early onslaught (TKO or gives up his back) or goes for the takedown when flustered leaving himself open for a submission.

There’s a good chance I’m going to have to eat my words but tomorrow night I will be Stockton 209 all the way!

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