The crowd chanted "Diaz, Diaz, Diaz" last night in San Diego as the Strikeforce welterweight champion wiped the blood from his eyes and celebrated as only he can. Diaz is the first real homegrown star in Strikeforce history. Sure he was a fringe contender in the UFC, never piling together enough wins in a row to earn a shot at gold. But in Strikeforce a star was born, was created before our very eyes with a combination of death defying action and swagger for days. The big money contracts went to Fedor Emelianenko and Dan Henderson. But the fighter who defines what Strikeforce was all about is Stockton's own Nick Diaz; Diaz was truly Strikeforce's signature fighter.
Diaz added another gem to a career full of spectacular fights. When fans talk about his legendary bouts with Diego Sanchez, Karo Parisyan, and Takanori Gomi, they will surely mention his fight with Paul Daley in the same sentence. The action encompassed everything possible in mixed martial arts - punches, elbows, knees and grappling all played major roles. But in the end it was heart and determination that proved the difference. Diaz was dropped twice by one of the hardest punchers in the welterweight division. Like a true champion he refused to let that stop him.
Of course, this may have been the swan song for Strikeforce and their way of promoting a fight show. Diaz-Daley was the product of a very particular kind of matchmaking, fight promotion designed for visceral thrill as much for sport. That's not the way the UFC does business. And with Sean Shelby and Joe Silva taking an active role behind the scenes alongside Bob Cook and Rich Chou, things are likely changing.
This being Nick Diaz, the fight was not without controversy. Daley ate two punches against the cage before shoving Diaz off of him and abruptly collapsing to the mat. The fight was stopped with just seconds remaining in the first round as referee "Big" John McCarthy pulled Diaz off a prone Daley while the British fighter still appeared to be attempting an intelligent defense. That said, Daley had eaten three consecutive punches and his hands had dropped. McCarthy is one of the most experienced officials in the world - but this had shades of Meldrick Taylor and Julio Caesar Chavez written all over it. In the famous boxing match Taylor was cruising to an upset when referee Richard Steel stopped the fight with literally two seconds to go, giving Chavez a TKO win. This wasn't nearly as significant and it wasn't analogous - in the boxing match the two had fought hard for 12 rounds and the stoppage cost Taylor what would have been a victory on the scorecards. But in both fights, the bout was stopped with just seconds on the clock when a fighter looked like he could still continue.
We can debate that tomorrow. While the fighter's safety comes first, in some ways it feels like we were cheated out of another 20 minutes of glorious fighting. Right now, it's time to celebrate the five amazing minutes we did get. One of MMA's unique fighters once again put his stamp on an event. Love him or hate him, Nick Diaz is a fighter like no other. I'm happy to have him in the sport.