"A man that does not know how to be angry does not know how to be good", the old aphorism of Henry Ward Beecher goes.
Beecher is talking about the complexities of rage; its ability to harness both our emotions and our intellect into a powerful effective response against events that justify outrage. I'm reminded of this quote not because I'm familiar with Beecher's work, but because I'm familiar with Nick Diaz.
In Nick's mind, no event is too small that isn't capable of justifying at least some bit of outrage. But this doesn't make him a villain. The MMA media is always quick to think of Nick as a poster child for the people who ruin the sport, and make it look bad, but I know of no felony he's been convicted of...nor any lives he's put at risk for being an idiot on the road. Unlike at least two MMA fighters I can name who've cornered the market on the former, and the latter, Nick's problem is that he doesn't understand what playing the game means.
Not to try to make excuses for Nick's certified petulance, but when you look at Nick's career, it never has been a game. He's got 35 fights over a 12 year career, few of which have been easy. I have little doubt that his career hasn't been difficult seeing as how he'd probably prefer to do triathlons and smoke weed for the rest of his life.
And so...the man of unjustified rage meets the man of extinct rage. I say 'extinct' because according to GSP, he "has a dark place" that nobody knows about; an amusing bit of personal exposition nobody buys. Though to be fair, GSP has seemed rattled by his encounters with Nick Diaz. Not because he's scared, but because his dark place can't comprehend Nick's very existence. Here's a guy, after all, complaining about not being treated like a champion, and an all star despite acting in a manner that would sabotage each and every opportunities.
But enough pyschobabble. You guys didn't come for Beecher. You came to make fun of me when my prediction ends up patently false. How do these men stack up in a punch-in-the-face contest? Or will it be more like pressed-against-the-floor...
Georges St. Pierre (23-2) vs. Nick Diaz (26-8-1)
What both men can do: GSP's wrestling is his bread, butter, peanut butter, and jam. It's precisely how he'll win the fight, should that be the outcome. He's got doubles, singles, and most significantly, a near-can't-miss kneetap. There's no use wasting bandwidth on how good his wrestling is. If he wants to put Diaz on his back, he will. Period.
But a word deserves to be said about his striking. While it's true that GSP's striking is still a little rigid, he's become proficient with the jab. It's the perfect punch for a fighter like St. Pierre who always wants to be at range. It's a safe strike that's easy to mask, easy to throw but not easy to throw with regularity, and comfort, and George has become very comfortable throwing it.
Nick Diaz, however, is comfortable throwing all types of strikes, and even employs techniques that go as far back to the 19th century. His ability to swarm is what makes him most dangerous. And even better, that boxing is backed up by an iron chin, and a world class jiu jitsu pedigree.
I'd also like to take a moment to point how good Nick is at improving from fight to fight. For some reason, people think of him as the same guy he's always been, but he's not. The best example of what I'm talking about is what he did when Penn attempted to take him down in the first round of their bout at UFC 137. BJ shoots for a takedown, but instead of opting to work from his guard, immediately attempts a sweep which creates a scramble that while allowing Penn to take his back, eventually allows him to get back up to his feet.
This type of response is what leads me to believe there's much more to this fight than "GSP with top control for five rounds". Nick's not a perfect fighter, but he's learned over the years what to do to compliment his style, and avoiding time on his back has to be point number one for this bout.
What both men can't do: Still, for all the lauding of Nick's striking ability, he's still a plodder. For one, he's absolutely dreadful at cutting off the cage. Granted, that's much harder to do than in the ring, but it's a problem all the same, as Connor Ruebusch pointed out. Nick's simply not adept at hitting a moving target.
However, if there's another unmoving target in this fight, it's GSP's head. The guy has zero head movement. It's important to remember how fantastic GSP made Jake Shields' jab look.
One of the reasons why I'm leaning towards a Diaz win is this...
(for those who haven't stopped reading, just give me a second)
St. Pierre wins because he finds, and forgive the unintentional reference, a rhythm. If nothing else, Diaz should be able to take away that rhythm. That, I think is critical in this scrap. Nick will start the bout walking forward, and once GSP feels just a little bit uncomfortable, he'll shoot. Nick has better takedown defense than he's given credit for. Though people think of Diaz as the guy who "lost to wrestlers" in the UFC, that's rarely been true. He seemed to really blossom in that area against Sean Sherk, who failed to take him down because Nick was able to effectively sitout and switch (Nick basically lost the fight on the feet, as bizarre as that sounds in retrospect).
If he can eek out advantages by moving forward, being the aggressor, and keeping GSP off-rhythm, I think he stands a real chance. The problem people have with predicting fights (myself included) is that they can't envision a fighter losing in a fashion they haven't seen before. I pointed this out when Zach Arnold was kind enough to let me preview the Nick Diaz vs. B.J. Penn fight at Fight Opinion.
I don't reference that piece to brag, and point out how I got it right (I've got plenty wrong), but to point out that just because we can only envision GSP losing via KO, or submission doesn't mean a third option is somehow off the table. Nobody expected Penn to get outboxed, and beaten because that's not how you were supposed to beat Penn.
Just the same, GSP doesn't lose by decision. Or does he?
There's a truly unique dynamic at play in this fight. It's what makes it one of the best fights for fans in the welterweight division, regardless of how silly it looks in context, i.e. 'fighting coming off loss and drug suspension fights for the title against P4P ground amidst more qualified contenders'.
Nick may be off kilter, unhinged, and unrepentant in front of the MMA media. But he embodies all that is pure about the sport itself. For all the talk of him being irresponsible, you won't see him gassed because he lazily cut weight, nor will you see him make many mistakes in the cage, and certainly not the fight-ending kind. He may sabotage his career because of America's dumb, ineffective policy on drugs. And he may be a loose cannon. But he'll never sabotage himself in a fight.
Nick Diaz....by decision.
Prediction:...and new welterweight champion of the world.*
*Also the name of Dana White's latest infection.