Polarizing. It's a single word, powerful and provocative. It fits Nick Diaz to a tee. The Stockton, California based bad boy isn't afraid to be hated. It's meaningless to him. Your love isn't high on his list of priorities either. He's not in it for you. He does this because fighting is what comes naturally. Whether it's in the cage, at the hospital after the fight, or even during an interview on national television - Diaz comes to rumble. You step in the way of the Cesar Gracie trained steamroller and you take your physical well being into your own hands.
Evangelista "Cyborg" Santos is the same way. The former Chute Boxe brawler doesn't want to let fighting go when he goes home at night. It's such a part of his life that he married a fighter. It's what he does and who he is. His contests in the cage are legendary, his famous battles with the likes of Melvin Manhoef still wowing and amazing daily on youtube. Against Marius Zaromskis, a title contender and exemplary striker, Cyborg showed the world he had taken his game to the next level. What was once wild "stand and bang" was now much more technical, his rage channeled into science. He's found the perfect weight class, improved his game, and is ready to make the huge leap from journeyman to champion.
When the two meet January 29th in San Jose for the Strikeforce Welterweight title, the bout should be an immediate contender for Fight of the Year. But it won't be the fans first choice. Fans wanted the grudge match between Diaz and Jason "Mayhem" Miller. Anything else was bound to be considered a disappointment to some. Although Strikeforce doesn't have an active and vocal spokesman like the UFC's Dana White, no voice of the fan to commiserate with the hoi polloi, Scott Coker and crew heard you loud and clear. Sources close to Strikeforce say the bout would have likely been the main event if the two had been able to compromise on a catch weight. The fight isn't dead by any means - it's just simmering, waiting for the right time to explode.
At welterweight, this was the only match that made sense for the promotion. Paul Daley wasn't ready to fight Diaz on such short notice after his big knockout win over Scott Smith in December. Tyron Woodley and Tarec Saffiedine aren't yet high profile enough names to be featured players in a big-time Showtime main event. Cyborg is the promotion's best available fighter at 170 - who better to challenge for the title? Not only has he earned a shot with a big win over former contender Zaromskis, some close to the bout believe he's actually a more well rounded fighter than Daley. He's better on the ground and may be harder for Diaz to submit if they do hit the mat.
The rest of the card is filling in nicely as well. The second title fight, a middleweight showdown between Robbie Lawler and Ronaldo "Jacare" Souza is a classic "grappler versus striker" match. Both are hard hitters and Jacare is a wizard on the ground. It's a fight that's not likely to last the full 25 minutes. Hershel Walker will continue to represent the sport with class in the mainstream media and Roger Gracie will try to spread his legendary family name to a new generation of fight fans.
It's easy to criticize, but Strikeforce books shows with one goal in mind: exciting fights. Finding the right combination of superlative athletes to make magic together in the cage is easier said than done. So far, Strikeforce matchmaker Rich Chou has delivered almost every time out. This will be no different. The critics that are bashing this bout won't be so loud on January 30th. They will have forgotten all about Diaz-Miller. If Diaz-Cyborg is as good as I think it will be, it will be the only fight on their minds.