(This story appeared in today’s edition of USA TODAY.)
As the story goes, Georges St-Pierre practically begged UFC President Dana White for a chance to punch Nick Diaz in the face.
The two welterweights, who finally will meet Saturday in UFC 158, originally were scheduled to fight in 2011, before Diaz blew off two prefight promotional appearances and was pulled from the bout.
That didn’t stop Diaz from accusing St-Pierre of ducking the contest. White recalls St-Pierre being so riled by Diaz’s insolence that he requested a re-booking for the former Strikeforce champ, even though Diaz had lost his most recent fight, on Feb. 4, 2012, to Carlos Condit.
Diaz supporters pointed to St-Pierre’s callout as a potential crack the longtime French-Canadian champion’s finely constructed facade. Yet, while attention in the buildup to their long-awaited bout has focused on Diaz’s trash talk, St-Pierre says he’s the one pulling the strings.
“I play a bit of a mind game, but I never talk about it because it’s one of my tricks,” St-Pierre says. “Now that you said it, I’m sure other people will hear it and ask me questions about it. Unfortunately, I won’t be able to answer. It’s part of my strategy.”
St-Pierre (23-2 MMA, 17-2 UFC) and Diaz (26-8 MMA, 7-5 UFC) meet in the headlining bout in Saturday’s UFC 158 (10 p.m. ET, pay-per-view), at Montreal’s Bell Centre. St-Pierre, 31, has reigned over the UFC’s welterweight division since 2008, but Diaz’s overwhelming striking volume and high-level jiu-jitsu could present one of St-Pierre’s stiffest tests to date.
“He’s very, very skilled,” St-Pierre says. “He’s very good at controlling the distance and the pace of the fight. He presents lots of problems, but I’m going to solve them.”
Chief among Diaz’s strengths is his ability to taunt and ridicule his opponents until rage prompts them to throw their game plans out the window. Meanwhile, St-Pierre has built a career on implementing a controlled, measured strategy to frustrate foes.
Despite the emotion behind this matchup, St-Pierre isn’t expecting things to be different this time.
“It’s not personal; it’s professional,” St-Pierre says. “It’s not the first guy that’s been disrespectful to me. Lots of other guys have tried to get into my head. … Just about anybody I’ve fought other than Jake Shields and maybe Carlos Condit, they’ve all been very disrespectful with me, so I’m kind of used to that.
“Nick got under my skin, but a lot of people have got under my skin. But that’s when I perform the best.”
In the past, rivals such as Josh Koscheck, BJ Penn and Matt Serra have tried to rattle St-Pierre before stepping into the cage. None succeeded, and the champ says Diaz isn’t faring any better.
“The truth is, it’s not the first time people trash-talked me, and it won’t be the last,” St-Pierre says. “This scenario happens for most of my fights.”
If Diaz hasn’t been able to get under St-Pierre’s skin by questioning his opponent’s ability, integrity, lifestyle and core values in the sport, then Diaz could be in trouble.
St-Pierre’s wrestling is among the sport’s best, and his pinpoint jab and defensive technique consistently give him a striking advantage.
So expect Diaz to hurl insults at St-Pierre from the opening bell. But don’t expect to see St-Pierre the least bit rattled if things are going to plan. The champ says it’s part of the mind game he has been playing with Diaz.
“The fight started a long time ago,” St-Pierre says. “It’s not only the 25 minutes I’m going to fight. The fight has already started.”
For more on UFC 158, stay tuned to the UFC Rumors section of the site.