I attended the UFC 129: St. Pierre vs. Silva post-fight press conference last night and heard something noteworthy. To my left was Lyoto Machida's brother Shinzo and the rest of the former champion's team. Standing to my right were both Nick and Nate Diaz as well as Gilbert Melendez. While the younger Diaz brother and Strikeforce lightweight champion seemed uninterested in the proceedings, Nick Diaz stuck around quietly commenting to his boxing coach Richard Perez on the topics brought up in the presser.
A question was posed from a Brazilian journalist to UFC President Dana White about the future prospects of George St. Pierre vs. Anderson Silva. The nature of the question doesn't matter. White's response mirrored other recent statements on the matter. Namely, the fight's never been discussed by the parties as a serious possibility and there's still other fights available for both Silva and GSP in their respective weight classes.
That's when I heard Nick Diaz quietly say as if to suggest "why not me?" the following simple statement: "I want to fight George St. Pierre."
I want Nick Diaz to fight Georges St. Pierre, too.
I understand the impulse to make Georges St. Pierre vs. Anderson Silva. There's a natural gravitational pull between GSP and Anderson Silva. They're both pound-for-pound greats, which makes side-by-side comparisons inevitable. They're also only a weight class apart, meaning the possibility of a clash isn't completely impossible. They're also both on such a streak of taking out contenders in their own divisions that the prospect of them fighting one another is as much fantasy as it is necessity.
The reality, though, is that what's underpinning the match is artificial. There's no clear reason to have the fight short of experiencing promotional grandeur or settling debate about a standard of accomplishment most consider figurative at best, incoherent or meaningless at worst.
While the magnitude of St. Pierre vs. Silva would raise the profile of the sport, the fight is meaningless in the classical sense. It would serve almost exclusively as a promotional opportunity for the UFC brand or the sport more generally, but does nothing to flesh out divisional hierarchy. There's admittedly a precedent in combat sport of fights that exist outside the strict purview of establishing contendership. Those fights, however, don't require arguably the sport's two best competitors to sacrifice themselves on the altar of entertainment. Matchmaking for entertainment purposes can force fighters to skew weight classes, but not when both competitors are the sports' top luminaries.
GSP vs. Silva is often described as MMA's Manny Pacquiao vs. Floyd Mayweather, but that isn't really an apt comparison. Pacquiao and Mayweather are the two best fighters in the sport, but also fight at welterweight or junior welterweight. They are on a collision course precisely because they are in the same natural division. With GSP and Silva, there has to be weight class gerrymandering across a spread of 15 pounds.
As for Nick Diaz, his situation is limited. There are very few contenders in Strikeforce for him to face, even fewer that are high caliber. But he's a Showtime fighter, as Dana White called him last night. He's contractually locked up and that's that.
Or is it? White also said last night if he wanted to, he could do whatever he wanted with Strikeforce fighters. I've repeated ad nauseum that removing key Strikeforce fighters from the brand - even temporarily - would profoundly damage the roster integrity and Strikeforce brand power. But I've probably overstated that claim. Diaz isn't beloved necessarily because his supporters believe he's the best in the world. They love him because of his near reckless style. They also know that despite his caution to the wind approach and wrestling liabilities, he has the capability of beating the best when he rises to the occasion. Besides, who is not going to watch Diaz defend his Strikeforce titles simply because he lost to St. Pierre in the UFC? St. Pierre may have fans, but Diaz has followers.
After last night's lackluster performance, I'm beginning to get the feeling St. Pierre may have regressed slightly. It's hard to tell how much the eye injury affected performance. I'm inclined to believe it had a considerable impact, but it's also hard to deny there's no strain of conservatism to his fights. St. Pierre can elect to fight however he pleases, but we shouldn't pretend that influence is absent.
I like St. Pierre to defeat Diaz, but I like Diaz to shake St. Pierre up. Even in defeat, Diaz makes for dirty, gritty, hard-nosed battles. He simply won't allow St. Pierre to jab his way to evasiveness. He won't allow St. Pierre to rest on top control with superior takedowns. St. Pierre will have to work in every position and he'll have to work against a born fighter taunting him for his inadequacies.
Promotionally, the fight would be a hit. The rugged Diaz against the polished champion makes for a natural sellable storyline. And Diaz's ability to play the nonchalant malcontent who can morph into the fighting dynamo keeps his threat to St. Pierre real; that's something Shields lacked throughout this promotional process.
I don't know precisely the contractual hurdles that prevent this fight from happening, but if they can be cleared they should. St. Pierre has other challengers at welterweight; challengers that benefit the UFC bottomline, excite the fan base and give St. Pierre the kind of pushback he could frankly use. Diaz needs welterweights to fight who can both more than make for a fun first round.
And Anderson Silva? Let him fight middleweights.