What's next for Strikeforce's Diaz?
You can hit Nick Diaz, and you can hit him again and again, but he won't stop coming.
The native son of Stockton, Calif., defended his Strikeforce welterweight belt a second time before a reported 9,059 fans at HP Pavilion in San Jose by submitting dangerous striker Evangelista "Cyborg" Santos.
It was punches, though, that got Diaz (24-7) there. Santos (18-14) tapped out in the second frame when he could no longer withstand a revolving door of combinations.
A sturdy jaw and high punch count once again defined Diaz's mastery.
Santos, who'd earned his title bid this past June with a knockout of DREAM champion Marius Zaromskis, valiantly tried to stop the onslaught. Several times he clipped the southpaw champion on the button and brutalized his lead leg with kicks.
None of this slowed Diaz. He cracked a smile after Santos' first salvo and slowly turned up the volume, taunting the Brazilian in classic fashion with a steady stream of come-ons and wave-ins. Out came the piston-like jabs, and back went the challenger.
The crowd at HP Pavilion ate it up and stood often, chanting the champ's name.
Santos loaded up on every punch and lost steam fast when Diaz added straight lefts to the mix. He soldiered on nonetheless and attacked to the body in addition to his kicks, which nearly swept Diaz off his feet and finally prompted a few checks in defense. Meanwhile, the punches kept coming.
A big left hand from Diaz ended the first round, and it seemed just a matter of time.
Battered further in the second frame, Santos took the fight to the mat and found no quarter there. Diaz quickly locked in an armbar, and the challenger, groggy from the punches, made the champ's job easier by rolling into the joint lock. His tapout came at 4:50 of the second.
In his post-fight interview, Diaz, who recently signed a new contract with Strikeforce, said he'd fight whoever the promotion put in front of him. At the press conference, he said he wanted to boost his standing against ranked opponents. He then told SI.com that there were none in Strikeforce.
What, then, are his options?
"I see me putting punches on him, and maybe him taking me down, too, and getting caught in a choke," Diaz said of a potential bout with Daley. "He could run from me, and I could run him down, take him down, and beat him on the ground. I don't know. I could see that fight going a lot of different ways. I'm not really impressed with Paul Daley as a mixed martial artist."
"I don't think he's ready to fight with me right now," Diaz said. "I think he just got into MMA. I'm sure he's not afraid to fight, and he's got to do what he's got to do. But he is getting in a little over his head fighting anybody in here right now."
"I'll fight Fernando Vargas," he said. "I'll fight pro boxing. I'm not afraid to fight. I think it would be great. It would feel something like being able to fight in two weight classes, and win a belt in two. That's something that I really want to do. If I take a belt in pro boxing and take a belt in MMA, that sounds good, too. I just want to do something extraordinary. I don't want to be your regular MMA fighter, because I'm not."
• Ronaldo "Jacare" Souza (14-2) survived early danger at the heavy hands of Robbie Lawler (20-7) to defend his middleweight belt for the first time. Asked who he'd like to face next, Souza said he wasn't choosy. That is, unless it's a fight with Jason "Mayhem" Miller. The champ waved his hand dismissively at the thought and said, "You kidding me? I beat this guy two times, man." Not entirely a true statement: He bested Miller on points two years ago in Japan, and a rematch ended in controversy when Miller cut him with an illegal upkick that forced the bout's stoppage. With a March bout between Miller and Tim Kennedy earmarked by many to have title implications, there could be some finagling in Strikeforce's future. "No comment" was CEO Scott Coker's word on that situation.
• Burgeoning mixed martial artist Herschel Walker (2-0), who won his second professional fight with a TKO win over Scott Carson, said he's not after any sort of belt in Strikeforce, other than "World's Oldest Fighter." And if he fights into his fifties, he could give Ron Van Clief a run for his money as the oldest guy to fight in a major promotion. Is AARP sponsoring folks?
• Roger Gracie (4-0) picked up his fourth professional win in mixed martial arts by submitting Trevor Prangley (23-7) in the first round of their main card bout. As in all of his four professional bouts, Gracie's advanced basics proved to be a deciding factor in tapping out his opponent. But it's not so much that Gracie looked so good in the fight as Prangley looked so bad. The Strikeforce veteran was gun-shy with his strikes from the start and ended up on his back, where he quickly ceded the fight. Those advanced basics will take Gracie far in MMA, but put him in against a guy with solid takedown defense and a dynamic striking style and he's going to be in big trouble.
• The 13-fight card absolutely flew by, and it was filled to the brim with exciting preliminary fights that, sadly, almost nobody saw. Word on the street was the a free stream provided by Sherdog.com was spotty at best, and HP Pavilion was far from full when the up-and-comers were working. Some highlights: Nate Moore's felling of Nathan Coy; Isaiah Hill's flying knee-fest against Bobby Stack; Germaine de Ranadmie's killer instinct against Stephanie Webber; Jenna Castillo landing not one but two knees as Charlene Gellner fell to the canvas.
• Drama follows Diaz. Some goom-bahs cageside showered him with ice after his win, and for a moment, it looked like we might have another "Strikeforce: Nashville" on our hands. Thankfully, Cesar Gracie talked him down; Diaz was ready to go a second time.
The champ gave his performance a B-minus at the conclusion of the press conference and admitted to troubles in training camp.
"It didn't go as great as I could have," he told SI.com. "It could have gone a lot better. I wasn't able to do as much as I normally do conditioning-wise. It's the beginning of a long season for me that I plan on really warming up into, and [Santos] just caught me at the best time. So he had his best chance to take me out, as far as I'm concerned."
Diaz didn't much feel like elaborating further, though he said, "Yeah," when asked if the troubles contributed to his expletive-laden rant two weeks prior during a Strikeforce conference call in support of this past Saturday's card.
"I don't want to sit here and complain about my life," he said. "It's harsh. This is MMA fighting. We don't all get paid very much money, and I had to step on lot of people to get where I was going, and now it's coming back on me. Now I'm just trying to roll with the punches, like I do in a fight."
• We see the toll violence takes on fighters, but rarely in MMA do we see the toll it takes on their loved ones. Not so in the main event. When Diaz submitted Evangelista "Cyborg" Santos, cameras revealed the mascara-running mess that was his wife, Strikeforce women's middleweight champion Cristian "Cyborg" Santos. Even the toughest woman in the world can be reduced to tears upon seeing a loved one hurt; the moment added a sad note to Diaz's impressive victory. Later that night at my hotel, the wife of a fighter knocked out at the event came into the lobby in tears, wanting nothing else than to fly out of San Jose as quickly as possible. The flights were too expensive, though, and she had to tough it out. A harsh reality in the fight game, and all the more reason the support systems of MMA fighters get my salute.