How do you know when you've gotten yourself a UFC title shot? It's simple, really. When you find yourself standing in the cage with the current champ on a Saturday night and the man in the black shirt is giving you the go-ahead to punch him in the face, that's when you know.
Before that moment, nothing is certain. No matter what you're promised, no matter how many posters or promo videos your face gets added to, that title shot isn't really yours until they close the cage door behind you.
Nick Diaz found that out the hard way back in September. Now it's Carlos Condit's turn.
Condit couldn't have been too shocked when the UFC took his welterweight title shot and gave it right back to Diaz following UFC 137 last Saturday night. After all, the only reason he got the opportunity in the first place was because Diaz had screwed things up for himself by blowing off a couple of press conferences.
But with welterweight champ Georges St-Pierre injured, Condit had to wait for his chance to fight for a UFC title. While he waited, Diaz dominated B.J. Penn and then enraged GSP with a post-fight speech that accused the champ of faking an injury to get out of his obligations.
The combination of victory and crazy talk (does Diaz really believe that one of the world's best pound-for-pound fighters has developed a sudden fear of fighting?) was enough to convince the UFC to rebook GSP-Diaz, leaving Condit even worse off than when he started.
Is it fair? By normal logic, probably not. But by MMA standards it's all in the game, as The Wire's Omar might say. You don't own a title shot so much as borrow it. It can be yanked out from under you almost right up until the last minute, and if it is, perhaps the worst thing you can do to improve your standing with the UFC is publicly complain about it.
Then again, it doesn't look good to the fans if you offer no resistance whatsoever, which might explain the delicate little tightrope walk that Condit's camp is attempting to pull off this week.
Apparently displeased with UFC president Dana White's characterization of Condit as agreeing to "step aside" and let Diaz have his shot, Condit's agent, Malki Kawa, sought to clarify things by issuing a statement that read in part: "Contrary to what has been stated, Carlos did not step aside to allow this to happen, and would not just hand over an opportunity for him to achieve his greatest career goal, one that he has earned through his strong performances in the Octagon. No option was given to him."
In other words: blame the UFC, not Condit. As a strategy for maintaining warm relations with one's employer, calling the boss a liar (or, at best, claiming he misrepresented the situation) isn't ideal. But if you don't kick up at least a little dust when the UFC asks you to grab a seat on the bench, you risk becoming too easy to ignore.
But if you're Condit, now what are you supposed to do? Anyone who has studied the cautionary tale of Rashad Evans knows the risks of trying to wait out a title shot. At the same time, the history of the UFC is rife with asterisks for all the fighters who opted to keep putting their shot on the line just to stay busy, and ended up getting knocked out of of contention. Where Condit stands right now, anyone he fights would need to be a legitimate contender, which means there's no way around putting his title shot in jeopardy.
And yet, in a way that seems just about right, doesn't it? If you can't beat a Jon Fitch or a Josh Koscheck in order to keep your title shot, what would you do with one even if you got it? If you can't take on all comers now, how could you expect to do your duty as the champ?
That's why it's oddly fitting that, even when you've earned a title shot -- and with his win streak over some of the division's top dogs, Condit has -- it's never really yours. Or rather, it's yours the same way the promise of tomorrow is yours. It's yours like the future is yours, which is to say you can plan for it all you want, but nothing's guaranteed.
Maybe the best thing you can do is stay ready and try not to let the ups and downs along the way get to you. After all, if you can't handle the rollercoaster of simply getting to a title fight, you'll never survive life as the champ.