Attempting to understand Nick Diaz, GSP is asking the wrong questions


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georges-st-pierre-28.jpgFor reasons that are totally understandable, it seems like UFC welterweight champion Georges St-Pierre still doesn’t understand what’s happening here.

You can’t blame him. He looks at Nick Diaz through a GSP-tinted lens. He tries to understand his motivations using logic and reasoning and knowledge gained from past experience. But the thing is, he’s never experienced an opponent like Diaz. Maybe that’s because there isn’t one.

Consider St-Pierre’s response to Diaz’s many expletive-laden rants during this past week’s UFC 158 media call ahead of Saturday’s pay-per-view headliner in Montreal. To GSP, it’s a business decision by the challenger. It’s just another guy trying to hype a big money fight with the champ to benefit his own bank account.

“They talk their way into the fight,” St-Pierre told MMAjunkie.com (www.mmajunkie.com). “They win, and they try to get that fight. They talk, and then there’s a big story about it.”

That might be true about Josh Koscheck or Dan Hardy. But Diaz? This is the same guy who likely cost himself a small fortune when he blew off enough media responsibilities to get pulled from his first UFC title shot. If he’s ever made a business decision in his life, it was probably on accident.

You can’t make sense of Diaz (26-8 MMA, 7-5 UFC) actions using GSP (23-2 MMA, 17-2 UFC) logic, though again, we can’t blame the champ for trying. One of St-Pierre’s greatest strengths is his analytical approach. Remember when he explained that he attacked B.J. Penn’s “thoracic cage” because doctors had told him that flexible hips tend to go along with weaker cores? That’s a man who sees the world as a rational place, a place of causes and effects. To him, Diaz’s weird diatribes must have a point. And since money is the simplest and most common motivator in pro sports, that’s the first one GSP reaches for. This guy must be trying to talk up the fight in order to cash in, GSP figures. It’s a financial strategy.

But then, that assumes that there is a strategy at all. It assumes that Diaz is motivated by rational forces, which might not be the case at all.

Just look at the way Diaz fights. There aren’t many surprises in his game at this point. You know he’s going to walk forward, arm-punching his way through flurries like he’s getting paid by the swing, paying little heed to the threat of a takedown or a counter-attack. That makes him a fun fighter to watch. His constant pressure wears down opponents, except for when they refuse to play along. For all the things Diaz does well, adaptation isn’t one of them. As longtime friend and training partner Jake Shields put it when I spoke to him recently, Diaz fights on raw emotion better than anyone in the sport, “but it can hurt him occasionally.”

The Carlos Condit fight is a great example. Condit refused to play Diaz’s game and wasn’t going to be taunted into changing his mind.

“It frustrated Nick,” Shields said. “Instead of trying to adapt his game plan, I think he figured, what’s the point? He just ran out there trying to fight him, and I think it negatively affected him.”

That’s an approach that a fighter like GSP will probably never understand. He’s the one who’s mastered a style of fighting that takes full advantage of the structure of MMA rules and scoring criteria. He prioritizes winning rounds over finishing fights because that’s the rational thing to do. Winning rounds is how you win fights. It’s how you hold onto your title and rake in your sponsorship money and create that passive income stream he was trying to explain to Diaz. But Diaz doesn’t play that.

What Diaz does is fight his way, all the time, and against every opponent. When he can convince the other guy to go along with it, he usually wins. When he can’t, well, his style isn’t always favored in close decisions. And instead of changing that style, Diaz assures himself that it’s the entire judging and scoring system that’s broken. Why should he change? It’s everyone else who has the problem.

You can see why GSP might not understand a guy like that. He’s been so successful by working within the sport as it is, rather than how he might like it to be. He hears Diaz going off on a conference call and immediately starts searching for the ulterior motives.

Is this about money? Is it an attempt to intimidate him? As he asked Diaz at one point during the call, “Do you seriously believe I’m afraid of you, man?”

A simple, rational question to ask, given the circumstances. But if the goal is helping you reach a greater understanding of why Diaz does what he does, maybe that’s also what makes it the wrong one.

For more on UFC 158, stay tuned to the UFC Rumors section of the site.

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