In less than a week’s time, one of the most anticipated title fights in the history of the welterweight division is going down.
Georges St. Pierre vs. Nick Diaz is a fight fans have talked about for almost half a decade now, ever since Nick was the upstart Strikeforce champion calling out GSP every chance he got. And sure, some say this fight’s lost some of it’s lustre after Diaz dropped a close decision to Carlos Condit last year. Some say Diaz didn’t deserve this fight after spending a year on the shelf for testing positive for pot. And some say St. Pierre chose this fight instead of taking a much riskier fight against Anderson Silva.
But there’s one bit of truth I know for sure: come next Saturday night, none of those arguments are going to mean a damn thing. The Diaz/Condit decision was razor-close, Nick Diaz getting popped for weed surprised absolutely no one, and the term “ducking” doesn’t really apply to Anderson freakin’ Silva.
And anyone who thinks this beef is manufactured wasn’t listening to last week’s conference call, where GSP and Diaz tore into each other. Nick Diaz dropping some F-bombs and getting worked up is almost an everyday occurrence. GSP calling someone an “uneducated fool” and shouting at an opponent with a dozen reporters listening, however, is an absolutely Earth-stopping event.
And that’s what makes this fight so appealing. It’s a clash of complete opposites. It’s the polite and polished athlete against the brash, off-the-cuff street brawler. It’s the technical precision and mechanical perfection of GSP against the ferocity and grit of Nick Diaz. It’s the martial artist against the warrior. In every regard, these guys are nothing alike – except that they are both fantastic fighters.
This extends to both fighters’ skill sets, as well.
Any time you compare the wrestling skills between two fighters, and one of those fighters is Georges St. Pierre – well, it quickly turns into no comparison at all.
So it is here. Nick Diaz has never been much of a wrestler, either offensively or defensively. In fact, he’s as likely to pull guard as he is to try a takedown (more on that later). GSP, on the other hand, it about as elite a wrestler as you’ll find in MMA. There’s only a few guys who can even approach his level of dominance when it comes to both defending and attempting TD’s. None of them have been dominant for the years and years that GSP has, nor faced the murderers row of top wrestlers that he has.
Josh Koscheck. Jon Fitch. Matt Hughes. BJ Penn. Jake Shields.
All these guys are considered to be upper-level wrestlers, the best of the best. GSP manhandled them all.
No contest here.
Every time I write up one of these comparisons, I cringe when I come across the category “submissions”. BJJ doesn’t quite cover it (what about Judo? Or Sambo?). But just narrowing it down to submissions neglects the sweeps, counters and reversals that are an integral part of the ground game. So just imagine this is a blanket term for all aspects of the grappling game that aren’t takedowns, takedown defence, clinching, or positional control.
And I’ll fight the urge to make a “blanket” joke when describing the ground game of Georges St. Pierre – because, when he wants to, his ground and pound is ferocious. More and more often, however, he opts to play it safe on the mat, and not open himself up to any danger. As far as submissions go, he’s certainly good, but I’m not sure if he’s great. Cranking on Dan Hardy’s arm for 25 minutes without getting a tap doesn’t exactly inspire a ton of confidence.
Nick Diaz, on the other hand, is a shark once the fight hits the floor. Once again, we clearly see the whole “battle of opposites” thing at play here. Nick Diaz is the sort of fighter who eschews playing it safe in favour of looking for a finish, and he has the skills on the ground to get it done. He’s a Cesar Gracie BJJ black belt who is about as legit as they come. Even Nick’s haters admit he’s a top BJJ guy, no questions asked.
If this fight comes down to who can better force a tap, it’s Nick’s fight all day.
Nowhere is that whole “clash of styles” thing more apparent than in the striking styles of these two men.
GSP is an absolute technician in the stand-up. I know some people like to knock his style, mainly because it doesn’t produce either dramatic moments or highlight-reel finishes. It’s a “safe”, “boring” style that doesn’t entertain drunk dudes in super-cool TapouT shirts. I get that.
But if I were an MMA fighter, I’d fight with a style focused on minimizing damage (and thus prolonging my career) as long as possible. Combat sports is an incredibly fickle business. While taking lots of damage to put on “fun” fights makes you popular with the fans, it’s not the recipe for career longevity. Wanderlei Silva is just 5 years older than St. Pierre – yet GSP is selling 12-month calendars while Wanderlei looks like Joan Rivers from the neck up.
Ok, that’s not really a fair comparison (Wandy fought bare-knuckle for years in Brazil). Point is, if it were my career, my brand to protect, my brain to keep un-scrambled – I’d fight like Georges St. Pierre.
Nick Diaz would take this moment to let me have a free shot, before he flipped me the bird and whooped my a**. Because as much as I just salivated over St. Pierre’s stand-up, Diaz is every bit the technician on the feet, with a better track record of results to show for it. His high-volume “Stockton-slap” style has stymied some of the best stand-up fighters in the game. In a fire fight, he’s one of the most dangerous guys in the welterweight division.
But on the other hand, he’s reckless. Against Paul Daley, one of the hardest-hitters in the division, he engaged in a give-and-take brawl – which almost ended with Diaz face down on the canvas. And he gets frustrated when guys don’t fight to his style. Carlos Condit was able to peck away at Diaz over 25 minutes, moving in and out to land shots while Diaz could only fume.
So who takes this one? Honestly, I have no idea. Diaz has the more effective stand-up, but GSP is more effective at using stand-up.
Don’t worry, I don’t know what that means either.
The Bottom Line:
Well wouldn’t you know it – here we are at the end, and it’s a tie. Funny that.
To me, this fight comes down to who imposes their will upon the other more effectively. And here’s the part where I break your heart, because I think if this fight is a war – if GSP goes out there to “shut Diaz up” and beat him down – his chances of victory go way down. Diaz wants a balls-out brawl, and is perfectly willing to take a shot to give a shot. On the ground, he wants GSP to open up, try to strike, try to pass guard and go for a submission – few fighters are more dangerous in a scramble than Nick.
For GSP to win, he needs to fight his fight. He needs to control the range and avoid a brawl in the stand-up. On the ground, he needs to stay compact and careful. I’m not saying he shouldn’t try to land shots, because he absolutely should, but he needs to focus on controlling Nick at all moments of the fight. We know Diaz gets discouraged as fights don’t go his way, and 25 minutes of discouragement is the best shot GSP has of retaining his belt.
No one is better than St. Pierre at imposing their gameplan on elite fighters, so I’m taking him to win another one-sided, dominant, but undramatic decision. Fans will scream that he’s too boring and not worth watching anymore – right until the next time one of his fights draws a million buys on PPV. And Nick goes back to fuming, writing revisionist history, getting angry at the world, and smoking weed.
Basically, business as usual.
Prediction: GSP via Unanimous Decision