The contrasts between Nick Diaz and Georges St-Pierre could not be greater. Where GSP is ice -- cold, clinical, and precise to a fault -- Diaz is all fire, raw aggression and unbridled emotion wrapped up in human form. The two men are polar opposites, both inside and outside the cage.
My intention here is not to break down the upcoming fight between the two men, make a prediction, or pass judgment on their recent actions. Instead, I want to suggest that the recent firestorm of commentary about these issues, especially on this site, is a reflection of much deeper issues regarding fans' mindsets about and approach to the sport, as well as concerns about its future path. In short, Diaz and GSP are not only polar opposites, but serve as polarizing symbols for the community of fans.
On the one hand, then, we have GSP. He is a technically perfect (or nearly so) master of the various disciplines that comprise mixed martial arts, possesses unparalleled athleticism, makes use of precise and detailed gameplans, and is always professional, almost to a fault. He is as close to the ideal martial artist as exists today, except for his seeming inability to finish his clearly-overmatched opponents. On the other hand, we have Nick Diaz. He is known for his relentless aggression (both on the feet and on the ground), counter-culture tendencies (to put it politely), and his seeming inability to participate in a boring fight.
The two men embody opposite approaches to fighting: coldly precise and possibly risk-averse vs. aggressive and emotional. These two approaches to fighting are also representative of the two main modes of fan enjoyment of fighting, the analytical and the emotional. Essentially, I would argue that fans enjoy watching technical skill, on the one hand, and heart (for lack of a better term) on the other. These aren't mutually exclusive: if we imagine the two as standing at opposite ends of a spectrum, almost all fans would stand somewhere in the middle, though likely leaning more to one side than the other. I'm not saying that Diaz lacks technical skill, either, simply that it's not the most striking aspect of his overall game.
These opposite positions, while always present among MMA fans (one could, of course, extend the concept to other sports), have been brought to the forefront by the events of the last several weeks. How often have we seen criticisms of GSP for "fighting safe" or "not looking for the finish"? How many celebrations of Diaz's fire and attitude have we seen? These discussions of their upcoming fight have polarized the fan base, and have forced people to choose a side: icy precision or fiery heart. This distinction explains the special vitriol and seeming lack of a middle ground.
Furthermore, I would argue that this divide is also a reflection of a bit of unconscious fear about the future of mixed martial arts. To a significant portion of the fanbase, GSP represents everything negative about the increasingly-mainstream path of the UFC -- safe (and some would say boring) fights, a carefully-crafted public persona, and a lack of the edgy, intensely dramatic moments that set combat sports apart from the rest of the world of sports. Diaz, to these same fans, offers the hope that the visceral thrill of fighting won't disappear along with Gladiator Man and "Face the Pain".
Regardless of who wins Super Bowl Weekend, I hope that a little bit of each rubs off on the other. Even if GSP wins, I hope that Diaz drags GSP into deep water and that we'll be able to see what's truly inside the long-time champion. If Diaz wins, I hope that some of GSP's ability to "play the game" and act in a manner expected of today's professional athletes is transferred over along with the belt.
When everything's said and done, and the Octagon door closes, we're in for one hell of a fight.