Every dog has its day.
For Nick Diaz, that day is Saturday (Feb. 4, 2012) in Las Vegas, Nevada when he main events UFC 143 against Carlos Condit. Over five years after walking away from the Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC), the bad boy from Stockton gets a title shot -- albeit one for an interim strap -- and the opportunity to take on Georges St. Pierre sometime in the second half of 2012 when the French Canadian heals up from a knee injury.
While some would look at Diaz's performance at UFC 137 against B.J. Penn as the catalyst for this weekend's five-round fight, the genesis of this bout is rooted far deeper. Yes, the Hawaiian was given a beating unlike any in his career -- he left the Octagon a battered and swollen mess, speaking of retirement -- but the legwork Diaz put in to earn a shot at "Rush" and then Condit when St. Pierre bowed out due to aforementioned injury began in Miami with the Strikeforce promotion.
It was there he won the promotion's 170-pound title and he then spent the next year and a half knocking off each challenger Strikeforce put in front of him, one by one. Four title fight victories -- and a fifth non-title bout in Japan just for good measure -- has gotten Diaz where he is, on the cusp of UFC gold.
Let's take a look back at those fights.
Diaz stepped inside the Strikeforce cage at the beginning of 2010 in the port city of Miami to decide Strikeforce's first ever 170-pound champ. Standing opposite him was DREAM's welterweight champion Marius Zaromskis who was looking to add even more gold to his collection. Finding his range and surviving a knockdown, Diaz was able to pick "The Whitemare" apart before securing the stoppage victory late int the first round. After the fight, when asked if the win had emotional significance, the tunnel visioned Diaz said, "I'm just ready to go home and eat, you know what I'm saying?" The awkward silence that followed indicated Stephen Quadros did not, in fact, know what the newly crowned champ was saying. It was the beautifully uncomfortable post-fight interview Diaz would soon be synonymous with.
His next title defense -- after traveling to Japan to submit the legendary Hayato Sakurai -- came over seven months later against the last man to hold a victory over Diaz, K.J. Noons. When the Stockton native was flirting with a drop to 160-pounds, the mixed martial arts (MMA) fighter turned boxer turned back MMA fighter busted Diaz up badly enough to warrant a doctor stoppage. The rematch wouldn't go as smoothly for the Hawaiian as the Cesar Gracie student was able to outstrike Noons over the course of 25 minutes, leading to a one-sided unanimous decision. Diaz had avenged his last loss and also picked up a second successful title defense in one fell swoop.
At the turn of the new year, Diaz found himself inside the cage with Evangelista Santos. The tattooed Brazilian, better known for being married to Cristiane Santos, wasn't seen as much of a challenger beyond having a puncher's chance. He proved the doubters wrong, not by punching, but by kicking. The Brazilian absolutely brutalized the champion with leg kicks, making many wonder how Diaz was able to weather such punishment. The strategy worked well for the challenger until the end of the opening round when the Stockton native began to score with punches and opened the floodgates. Able to compose himself between rounds, "Cyborg" went back to the well upon the restart and the tide seemed to be turning his way. But an ill-advised takedown attempt led to a quick armbar submission for the champion who, in typical Nick Diaz fashion, began trash talking and cursing at some detractors in the audience.
And in his final defense as Strikeforce welterweight champion, Diaz took on UFC pariah Paul Daley. The Briton was banished from the Octagon after throwing a post-fight sucker punch at Josh Koscheck who had used his wrestling abilities to keep the knockout artist on his back for three rounds. "Kos" wanted no part of Daley's stand-up and took the most risk averse route to victory: getting "Semtex" off his feet and going from there. A similar gameplan was expected from the Brazilian jiu-jitsu (BJJ) black belt but what fans got was something else entirely. Opting to stand toe to toe with Daley, Diaz fought fire with fire and exchanged strikes with the knockout artist.
Rocked early into the fight, Diaz does what we've seen time after time and survives. Within two minutes, he has his opponent pinned against the chain-link while delivering lethal combinations, mixing up head strikes with body blows. Against the proverbial ropes, Daley is still dangerous and proves as such when a bomb connects nearly four minutes in. The champion flops to the mat but his challenger, perhaps leery of expending too much energy or not having the energy to spare due to the damage he's taken, doesn't hammer away with much speed. Had he simply went for broke, regardless of whether the strikes were doing much damage, the fight very likely could have been stopped. Instead, Diaz recovers and seconds later has Daley staggered and hurt. The champion's ground and pound lands more effectively and the fight is stopped.
Less than two months later, Diaz vacated his title to fight for another, one held by greats such as Matt Hughes, B.J. Penn and currently held by Georges St. Pierre. Since he left the Octagon in 2006, he has collected 13 wins -- no contest at Pride 33 aside -- while losing only once. Perceiving himself as underrated and underpaid, Diaz was finally on the cusp of achieving everything a fighter could hope for in the sport. But three months and two missed press conferences after his title shot was announced, the Stockton native was yanked from the UFC 137 main event to make way for a more reliable Carlos Condit.
Hours later, Diaz was re-booked against Penn and when "Rush" dropped out, his main event status was reinstated. The rest is brutal history. With the champion still injured, Diaz takes on Condit for an interim title in two days, the culmination of a decade-long journey that began while Diaz was still pondering who to ask to his senior prom. From the streets of Stockton to the bright lights of Las Vegas, it's been quite a ride for Diaz.
Will it pay off Saturday night?