As angry as UFC president Dana White was when he pulled Diaz out of the main event and put Carlos Condit in his place in September, it seemed at the time like it would have taken an act of God to get Diaz at the top of this card again. Instead, all it took was a knee injury to St-Pierre. Now Diaz -- this time opposite fellow welterweight B.J. Penn -- is back in the main event, albeit this time without a title shot on his hands.
For Diaz, it's take two. Or, depending on how he handles it, it could be strike two. The last time he had the opportunity to headline a UFC card -- more precisely, this same exact UFC card -- he hid from his PR duties so thoroughly and completely that White concluded he "obviously can't handle the pressure of a main event."
Now, more out of necessity than anything else, that same pressure is going to be thrust upon him again, and you can bet White and friends are nervously waiting to see how he'll carry it.
That's because right up until fight night there are never any guarantees with Diaz. You buy him a plane ticket? That doesn't necessarily mean he'll get on the flight. You schedule him for an interview or even a mandatory pre-fight drug screening? There's a very good chance that he'll blow off the former, and at least a slim chance that he'll skip out on the latter.
That's the bad news. The good news is that, as long as you can get him to the arena on the day of the fight and keep him there, the man will deliver in the cage. He will put his hands up (often way up), come forward with that trademark perma-frown stamped into his face, and take whatever his opponent has to offer.
He'll thrill ticketholders and reward pay-per-view buyers, and then as soon as the fight's over he'll go right back to being the obstinate enigma he's always been, and getting him to the post-fight presser will be its own little migraine for the UFC PR staff.
That is the bargain you strike when you do business with Diaz. The problem for the UFC is that, with the champion now at home nursing an injured knee, it needs Diaz to, in White's words, "play the game" -- and play it well this time. The loss of a title fight could be disastrous enough for pay-per-view revenues, but it only gets worse if Diaz refuses to do his part to sell the thing.
The UFC knows he hates the pre-fight hype work part of his job, but it needs him to suck it up and do it anyway. It also needs him to actually do a decent job of it this time, as opposed to, say, the non-existent job he did with the original St-Pierre fight.
Can he do it? I'm still not sure, but he'd better. By failing to show up at a couple press conferences, he cost himself not only a title fight, but also a ton of money. If he wants to get back to where he was, both in terms of cash and status, he needs to show the UFC that he can do the little things as well as the big things.
It shouldn't be so hard, at least in theory. You'd think that the kind of person who has no problem getting punched in the face in front of 20,000 fans shouldn't find it so impossible to sit still and answer questions from a handful of journalists.
And most of the time, you'd be right. But this is Diaz. He could be holding a winning lottery ticket and somehow come to the conclusion that it's better to flip it the bird than cash it in. That is, after all, essentially what he decided to do the last time the UFC gave him a golden opportunity. Now, because they really have no choice, the UFC brass is giving him another chance. For their sake as well as for his, let's hope he's learned at least a little something from his own mistakes.