Nick Diaz was running late. It was the first time it had ever happened. I'm joking.
The dozen or so media members who dialed in for the teleconference to speak with fighters from Saturday night's Strikeforce event in San Diego (10 p.m. ET, Showtime) seemed to be taking the absence of the main event's leading man in stride. Questions were coming one after another for Paul Daley, who'll be challenging Diaz for the welterweight championship, as well as for both participants in the co-main event, lightweight titlist Gilbert Melendez and Tatsuya Kawajiri.
Still, you just knew that every writer on the call last week was eager for Diaz to pick up his phone, because while he is gifted as both a striker and ground fighter, Nick has not even rudimentary skill in filtering his thoughts. Whatever he's thinking, you're going to hear. Diaz will keep you waiting, and he can make it abundantly clear that he'd rather be somewhere else instead of talking to you. ("I'm missing practice right now doing this," he said shortly after finally joining the media teleconference. "I'm missing a very serious practice. I've got a lot of people right in front of me on the mat right now training. I need my practice, and I'm over here on this call.") But never mind his surliness. Get the guy going and he'll fill three notebooks for you, addressing topics you never dreamed of touching on.
This is good, because who wants to ask Diaz about the big fight Saturday night, really? What is he supposed to say? Everyone who's watched five minutes of mixed martial arts knows Nick is comfortable and dangerous both on his feet and on the mat, whereas Daley is a one-dimensional power puncher who's a fish out of water on the ground. The smart strategy is evident: Get Daley off his feet as soon as possible.
That'd be the obvious plan for anyone but Diaz. The headstrong fighter out of Stockton, Calif., is a different breed. He's not afraid to stack up his standup game against anyone's, even if it means steering away from the safety of a clear advantage. Even if it means asking a standup game that relies on the cumulative effect of an unyielding pitter-patter of punches to get the job done before the other guy's one-punch potency can switch the lights off in a single scary moment. This is what makes Saturday night's fight interesting. What makes it mysterious is there is no way Diaz is going to tell you what he's planning on doing.
He did let a hint slip out, though. It came during an exchange of ... hmm, what do you call the opposite of trash talk? Treasure talk? Whatever name it's known by, what it sounded like was the fighters throwing bouquets at each other.
First, Daley on Diaz: "Granted, he doesn't have the sort of one-punch knockout power that I have, but he's proven that his hands are among the best in MMA. His distance, his timing, his range is that of a boxer. So he's a fantastic striker."
Next, Diaz on Daley's striking: "I'd say it's probably better than anybody else that we've got fighting in MMA at 170 [pounds], up there with KJ Noons."
KJ Noons? That would be the sometime professional boxer (11-2 ring record) Diaz faced last October, a guy with Paul Daley-like ground fighting limitations whom Diaz nonetheless never tried to take to the mat, instead standing with him for five rounds. And on the way to a unanimous-decision victory, Diaz beat Noons at his own game.
A tip-off of what Diaz has planned for Saturday night, perhaps?
Diaz wasn't elaborating. Not that anyone was asking. Most of the writers on last week's conference call preferred to approach Diaz and the other fighters from distinct angles -- lines of questioning ranged from long-term career goals to expectations in the wake of Strikeforce's sale to the UFC's parent company. What I chose to probe was the gut reaction of these fighters -- particularly Diaz and Melendez, who train as part of the tight knit Cesar Gracie team -- to the news that Jon Jones' first defense of his UFC light heavyweight belt will be against Rashad Evans, his training partner under Greg Jackson. Would Diaz or Melendez ever fight a teammate?
Turns out that I got to be the guy who sets off Nick Diaz this time.
"They're not real training partners, though," Diaz shot back, referring to Jones and Evans. "They're, like, 10 years apart, for one, or something like that. They didn't grow up training together."
Fair point. "Bones" and Rashad have trained together for about a year, while Diaz has been with Melendez, Jake Shields and his brother, Nate Diaz, among others in the Gracie camp, forever and ever.
Diaz was just getting started. "I've got training partners. I've got what works and what got me there, and that's my team," he said. "That's a disgusting thought, to have to fight my brother. I don't even appreciate being asked about that."
Within milliseconds, Twitter was buzzing with media members tweeting urgent dispatches in which the word
"They don't even pay me close to enough money to think about that sort of thing," Diaz went on to say. Which got me to thinking: What
"Nothing," said Diaz, sounding clearly done with the subject. "I fight with him. I fight with him today, yesterday in training. It's already a done deal."
In the end, Gilbert Melendez weighed in with an eloquent explanation of why the very suggestion of fighting a training partner is so, um, disgusting. "It's more than training partners. We're a family," he said. "Someone like Nick, Nate and Jake, they've all helped me become the fighter I am. How am I going to use these skills that they've taught me against them? We help each other get better. It's just not right. And if you're offering me $10 million to fight my boy, then I'm sure somebody's going to offer me $8 million to fight somebody else. So I'll definitely take a pay cut or whatnot. Like I say, it runs deeper than money and team. It's family and loyalty."