MONTREAL – A palpable buzz filled the room on the second floor of the Bell Centre. A small army of reporters, photographers and television cameramen were heatedly debating whether Nick Diaz would show up at the impending UFC 158 news conference to promote his welterweight title fight Saturday with Georges St-Pierre.
Diaz notoriously had skipped a pair of news conferences in 2011 that got him yanked from a planned fight with St-Pierre. On Wednesday, the mercurial Diaz opted to sleep in rather than attend an open workout.
It was Elvis-like as word came via social media that Diaz was, indeed, in the building.
A hush fell over the room as UFC president Dana White and the fighters filed in from the holding room in single file, all eyes trained upon Diaz. White took his place at the dais and immediately opened the floor for questions, prompting a reporter to announce, "This question is for Nick."
White quickly interceded and verbally spanked the reporter. He predicted – accurately – the question and tried in essence to protect Diaz.
You're going to ask him why he missed the workout and if we spoke, White loudly told the reporter.
Diaz, though, hardly needed protecting. He grabbed the microphone and for the next half-hour, held the room mesmerized.
Virtually every question was directed toward him, and he enthralled the media audience with his stream-of-consciousness answers.
There was much speculation whether it was an act, or whether it was genuine.
Whatever it was, it was a masterstroke of promoting. Long after it ended, a UFC official said to no one in particular, "I think that probably sold a lot of pay-per-views."
[Related: Order UFC 158 on Yahoo! Sports]
And that is exactly the reason Thursday's news conference was held, to push the remaining 1,100 tickets at the Bell Centre and to encourage potential viewers on the fence to buy the pay-per-view.
For all of his dislike of media appearances, Diaz sells fights better than just about anyone else in the game.
Ultimately, the welterweight title fight will be settled in the cage, where tough talk and sneers do not affect the result. They do, however, help get the fan base interested in a fight and Diaz moved the needle significantly.
"People are into fights where the guys don't like each other," White said.
The fight will boil down to whether Diaz can handle St-Pierre's versatility. St-Pierre is a master at discerning an opponent's weakness and then finding a way to exploit it. Because St-Pierre has both great MMA wrestling and striking, he stands with those who prefer to be on the ground and he goes to the ground with those who prefer to stand.
Diaz has extraordinary stamina – he does triathlons in his spare time – and outstanding striking. If he could get into long exchanges on the feet with St-Pierre, it would clearly favor him.
But St-Pierre is expected to take Diaz down and try to pound on him from the top with his elbows.
The normally affable St-Pierre seemed out of sorts Thursday, not sure how to take Diaz's accusations and rambling answers.
"[Georges] told me he plans to beat him so badly that when this is over, Nick decides to retire," White said.
Diaz had clearly ruffled St-Pierre, who at one point looked over at Diaz, sitting about eight feet to his left, and shouted, "Do you really think I'm afraid of you? Are you crazy in your head, man? I'm not scared of you. We'll see Saturday night if I'm afraid of you."
None of what St-Pierre said seemed to impact Diaz. At the news conference, he insinuated that St-Pierre was using steroids. Later in the day, doing an interview with a Toronto radio station, he was more direct in his accusation.
[Also: Factors outside the Octagon keeping Johny Hendricks from a shot at GSP]
During an interview Thursday with Tim Micallef and Sid Seixeiro on 590 The Fan in Toronto, Diaz said of St-Pierre: "I believe that he's on plenty of steroids and I don't believe they've tested him, as well. I don't care what they're saying or marketing to the media. I don't think either of us are going to be tested. And if so, he's probably got a bottle of [urine] in his pocket. I doubt they're standing over him, making sure he's not on steroids."
St-Pierre denied being on steroids during the news conference. The champion was on the defensive pretty much the entire way through, as Diaz took his swings.
Diaz went after the UFC, saying he didn't like the photo of him it had used on promotional posters – "Can't I get one butter-up, Photoshopped picture in a magazine or on a poster?" he asked. "I've had plenty of ugly posters." – and later accused White of selling "wolf tickets."
He insinuated that the UFC was making up controversy to sell tickets, to which White rolled his eyes. "Those were his words he used," White said. "We didn't hire actors to impersonate him. We took the words he said and used them" in promotional videos and commercials.
Diaz, though, said he wasn't pleased with being portrayed as either the bad guy or as a loose cannon.
Speaking directly to the fan base watching the news conference on the Internet, Diaz said, "They're selling you wolf tickets, people, and you're eating them right up. Georges is here selling wolf tickets. Dana is selling you wolf tickets. The UFC is selling wolf tickets and you're buying it."
But just as he seemed to suggest that everything was made up, he then turned to St-Pierre and told stories he said were from his past, shocking accusations, that took the dynamic to another level.
He was angry that St-Pierre had said he is a bully and that he deserved to be "beat down."
That prompted him to peek around the podium where White was standing to talk to St-Pierre.
"How many times have you had a gun to your head, Georges?" Diaz said. "How many of your best friends have been shot through the chest with a .45? How many of your best friends have been stomped into a coma?"
[Also: Carlos Condit still composed after difficult loss to Georges St-Pierre]
It was compelling stuff, but Diaz wasn't through. On and on he went, taking the conversation in every direction imaginable.
The only question that was not directed to either Diaz or St-Pierre went to welterweight Johny Hendricks. As he answered, Diaz picked up his microphone and simply cut him off.
Though he made the steroids allegations against St-Pierre, it was pointed out to Diaz that he has twice failed postfight drug tests in Nevada for using marijuana. The most recent failure sidelined him for a year.
Diaz holds a medical marijuana card in California, but athletic commission regulations ban its use. Asked what he did to ensure he wouldn't test positive again after Saturday's fights, Diaz gave a vague answer and said, "I'm sorry if I don't pass the test, but I think it will work out. I've passed plenty of tests before."
White later had to concede that if Diaz fails the test again, he'd probably be cut even if he won the fight.
That prompted a bizarre thought – the newly crowned champion being dropped from the roster only days after winning the belt in a high-profile match – but as Diaz has shown over the last several weeks, nothing is too bizarre any more to be believed.
It's why the pay-per-view sales are expected to be very high.
It's like when Mike Tyson was in his heyday as heavyweight boxing champion. People watched because he was not only a devastating knockout artist, but they never knew what might happen.
It's the same way with Nick Diaz. Unpredictability reigns and, as St-Pierre and Diaz will find out next week, it also sells plenty of pay-per-views.
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