I have in my closet a Super Bowl XLII cap with a Patriots logo and "Champions," "19-0" and "Perfect" stitched across the front. Aside from being perhaps the most cherished piece of NFL apparel a Giants fan could own, this 2008 souvenir is stark evidence of a marketing department getting ahead of itself.
Got that, UFC?
So much of what we were fed during the weeks of build-up to Saturday night's UFC 143 in Las Vegas was thinly disguised build-up to an eventual -- inevitable, even -- showdown between Nick Diaz and welterweight champion Georges St-Pierre. The only unfinished detail: Diaz had to push aside Carlos Condit and lay claim to the interim title that the UFC had put up for grabs with GSP out of action until the fall following knee surgery.
Well, today a lot of people in Greg Jackson's training camp might well be walking around Albuquerque wearing "GSP vs. Diaz" ball caps. Their fighter took the fight to Diaz not so much with brawn as with his brains, avoiding the pitfalls both physical and psychological that so many past Diaz opponents had fallen into during the 11-fight win streak Nick brought in.
So it will be Condit, not Diaz, who will fight St-Pierre for the belt. "It's pretty surreal, man," Condit (28-5) told TV analyst Joe Rogan during an interview in the cage.
Over five rounds, Condit, the onetime WEC champion who now has won 13 of his last 14 fights, smartly kept his distance, using his feet to both dish out front kicks and also keep himself moving laterally whenever the continually stalking Diaz (26-8, 1 no-contest) appeared to have him cornered. Condit backpedaled for much of the 25 minutes -- which Diaz bitterly pointed out while being interviewed afterward -- but it was not for fear of engaging. Carlos simply wanted to engage on his terms, not Nick's. And for all but a few exchanges, he succeeded in making it his fight.
Condit had an answer for everything. In some cases, that meant a counterpunch or kick. In other cases, his answer was nothingness -- and it was the smartest answer possible. That was true whenever Diaz was being Diaz -- dropping his hands to his side, sticking his chin out, talking and talking, setting the bait. During these moments, which came several times during the fight, Condit changed absolutely nothing in his approach. It was as though he were shadow boxing, oblivious to the antics in front of him, ingeniously blind to the antics that so many times in the past have thrown Diaz opponents off their game.
You knew Diaz, who vacated his Strikeforce belt so he could move to the UFC in pursuit of GSP, was thrown a little off of his game when he started looking for takedowns in the fourth round. Nick has always been a guy who'll meet you where you're strongest, his pride too stubborn for him to take the fight to the mat unless he's already broken your will while standing. But after three rounds of trying to chase down Condit while being fed a steady diet of leg kicks and counterpunches, Nick went for a takedown. He failed, and Condit responded with a 1-2-3 combo -- left hook, left leg kick, then right head kick that connected to the face and elicited an ooooh from the crowd. The damage done was more emotional than physical, as Condit stepped up his attack at that point and landed the more telling blows from then on.
None of that is to suggest that this was anything but a close fight. Two judges scored it 49-46 for Condit and the other had it 48-47, and every one of those rounds was tight. Neither fighter was wobbled or visibly hurt. Diaz did finally get the fight to the mat in the fifth, even took Condit's back, but by the time the horn sounded Condit had reversed position. It was anyone's fight.
Not in Diaz's eyes, though. "I don't need this [expletive]," he said. "I pushed him back the whole fight. He ran the whole fight. I landed the harder shots. He ran the whole time. He kicked me in the leg with little baby leg kicks the whole fight. If that's the way they understand you win in here, I don't want to play this game no more."
Setting aide the retirement announcement -- fighters under the influence of the poisonous mix of disappointment and competition-fueled adrenaline often say things they reconsider later -- Diaz's assessment of the fight just doesn't wash. Yes, he was the one moving forward. But Condit was nonetheless the busier fighter, landing more strikes overall (146-110, according to CompuStrike statistics) and more power strikes (90-75). Those "little baby leg kicks"? Condit connected with 104 of them to Diaz's 19. And 60 of Carlos's were counted as power strikes.
So Condit's victory, as "surreal" as it was to him, justifiably puts the 27-year-old 'Natural Born Killer' in position to take on St-Pierre. "It is an honor," said Condit, whose Team Jackson camp also has been the sometime home to GSP. "George is a guy I've looked up to since I was a young guy, since before I was in the UFC. It's an honor top compete on this stage with guys like Nick Diaz, guys like Georges St- Pierre."
He makes a good point. He'd just been awarded a split decision over Mike Pierce in a fight that could have gone either way. The fans didn't like it, but Kos was the one who had his hand raised. And to his larger point, about being the most hated guy in MMA, maybe it's time to test that claim: The detested Diaz, if he decides to fight again, would be a good opponent. Who'll have the crowd support that night?