Photo of Nick Diaz by Esther Lin via MMAFighting.com.
It was a familiar scene, with the expected dose of bitterness and exasperation. But if Nick Diaz's post-fight interview and vow to retire after losing a decision to Carlos Condit last night (Sat., Feb. 4, 2012) at UFC 143 in Las Vegas, Nevada, is merely talk, some serious thought should be put into who his next opponent should be. That's because if Diaz is to risk being beaten and further pushed into his long-running pit of disgust with the sport, the UFC ought to at least make it worthwhile for everyone involved.
At press time, it's unclear as to whom newly-crowned interim champ Condit will face next. There's some talk of a rematch with Diaz, given champ Georges St. Pierre's uncertain recovery time, which is presently November. I don't think Diaz' retirement will stick, but I'm not sure if he'll stay around if he continues to lose decisions where he doesn't feel definitively beaten.
That's why the UFC ought to think carefully how they match him at this point, because he remains a very marketable fighter with a big fan base. It'd be shame if Diaz, a mere 28 years old and at the top of his game, left the sport right when it could benefit most from his presence.
Nick is one of the most durable fighters in the game. He's only been stopped legitimately once, early in his career, in the beginning of his trilogy vs. Jeremy Jackson, a loss he definitively avenged twice. Cuts led to a TKO loss against K.J. Noons, in a bout where Diaz' exit was marked by a classic double-middle-finger salute as he exited the venue. Decision setbacks during his first UFC run against Karo Parisyan, Diego Sanchez, Joe Riggs and Sean Sherk saw him echoing the same sentiments: opponents didn't want to fight.
He might have been held down and bested on points, but he never really felt like he was beaten down. It's the common refrain in every Diaz loss, and there is some merit - because in an no-time-limits Vale Tudo style fight, I'm not sure anyone at welterweight would beat him. But that's not the world we live in, and as such, there needs to be common ground found between Diaz' desire to be bested cleanly and an exciting fight.
So here's a closer look at available opponents, along with analysis of what they'd bring to the table to give everyone involved a satisfying fight.
Excitement Factor: C+
A rematch between the two was mentioned as a possibility in the postfight press conference by Dana White, but I don't think it materializes. First, their fight was workmanlike but hardly thrilling in terms of fan-friendly action. Second, there's not a lot I can see going differently, especially now that Condit executed a perfect game plan that won him the belt. The only upside in making this is the UFC somehow banking on the more-marketable Diaz winning and therefore making a bigger fight for GSP's return. But the downside is another underwhelming main event that only further degrades Diaz' short-term value with a result that surprises few. Condit was good Saturday night, but there wasn't a lot to make any more of a case of him vs. GSP than already existed.
Thiago Alves vs. Martin Kampmann winner
Excitement Factor: A
These two square off March 3 at the UFC on FX 2 card, in what should prove an explosive bout. Both are punishing strikes with a standup-reliant style, but they've got solid jiu-jitsu if they need it. Alves' long-underused ground game was brutal and effective in his last outing, as he punished unbeaten newcomer Papy Abedi in a vicious first-round stoppage. Kampmann is a proven commodity with toughness and consistency as well. The winner of this fight would be perfect for Diaz, because both guys are excellent standup artists. Alves vs. Diaz is particularly interesting, because Alves' physical strength would pose some real challenges for Nick in the tie-ups and perhaps on the ground as well. This is the kind of fight where Diaz might, for once, lose and be satisfied that the other guy legitimately beat him. And there's no question that fans would tune in to watch a blood-soaked classic unfold. Everyone wins here, plus both are credible enough contenders to warrant a bout vs. Diaz.
Excitement Factor: D
The prefight trash talk would be entertaining, and there's no doubt Koscheck would be one of the few Diaz foes to engage in some serious verbal exchanges. But come fight time, this is a double-dose of viewer Ambien that would bum everyone out. Diaz, because he'd probably get held down to a decision loss, and casual fans, because Koscheck is light years better at wrestling than people who've already wrestle-smashed Diaz. There's a slim to moderate chance that Diaz's standup could light Kos up and get a stoppage, at which point he's right back in the title hunt, but realistically, if you want to see the postfight interview for this one, you already watched Diaz's version of it Saturday night. You also saw it when Sanchez decisioned him. It also gives Kos the chance of a credible win over an elite contender when he's nowhere near a title shot, so it is risky matchmaking for the UFC, who basically need to knock
Koscheck off because he's not getting a crack as long as GSP is still champ.
Excitement Factor: F
See Koscheck entry above. The only difference is that while Kos might stand a little, Fitch would certainly take it to the mat. Styles make fights and it's not Fitch's fault, but only hard-cores would want to see this. Plus, I'm pretty sure the UFC is tickled with how Johnny Hendricks KO'd Fitch in 12 seconds, given their contentious relationship with the longtime contender - giving him a crack at Diaz is a big step back up the ladder that makes no sense for them since they've been trying to hang a loss on him for years.
Excitement Factor: B+
The streaking welterweight faces tough Che Mills April 21 at UFC 145, which would place him and Diaz for a summer date at earliest. But the Canadian, assuming he wins over Mills, is a good style match for Diaz and would probably produce a fight that was exciting and revealing for both. Plus, you have the plotline of MacDonald's impressive decision win over Nate Diaz, which is always good for a revenge theme. Rory's commitment to standup and pushing the pace would be a wonderfully combustive element, given Diaz' mindset to doing the exact same thing. It's also a good piece of
matchmaking to show how MacDonald can hang against the elite of the division. Rory's matured since his epic battle and final-seconds defeat to Condit, and Diaz is an exciting a style as any to see how he'll hang against the best.
Jason Probst can be reached at twitter.com/jasonprobst or Jason@Jasonprobst.com