Did the 28-year-old that the UFC was grooming to become a superstar just hang up his gloves, moments after a gutsy, controversial decision loss to Carlos Condit? Did Diaz — the man so favored to beat Condit that the majority of the pre-fight hype for UFC 143 dealt with Diaz’s presumed next opponent, the now-injured UFC legend Georges St. Pierre — shock us all and quit in a fit of rage at what he deemed an injustice?
Well, it sure appeared so Saturday night while Condit was fitting himself with the interim welterweight belt at Mandalay Bay Events Center on the Las Vegas Strip. As Condit graciously complimented Diaz after they’d finished one of the closest UFC fights in recent memory — the fight truly could have gone either way, with each fighter trading blows through five rounds that were almost exclusively fought on the feet — Diaz stood in the background, shaking his fists in disagreement, raising his arms as if he were the true champion.
Then Diaz stepped to the microphone and left any semblance of class and grace behind.
“I’m not going to (accept) the fact that this was a loss,” Diaz told the crowd. “It ain’t right. I pushed him back the whole fight. I walked him down. I got the takedown. I’m the guy who went on top.”
In a sense, Diaz was right: He was the aggressor the entire fight, pushing relentlessly at Condit, chasing him around the Octagon, raising his hands mid-fight and taunting Condit to hit him. Yet Condit never bit at Diaz’s taunts. Instead, he stuck to his game plan, chopped at Diaz’s legs, connected with punches and kicks to Diaz’s head, didn’t let Diaz back him too far into the cage. He simply fought a smarter fight.
“I think I’m done with this MMA,” Diaz said. “It’s been great out here. I’ve had a good career. You guys pay me way too much, but I don’t think I’m going to get enough to keep going in this.”
“Are you really thinking about retiring now?” UFC announcer Joe Rogan said, echoing the incredulity we were all feeling.
“I don’t need this (crap), you know what I mean?” Diaz responded. “I pushed this guy backwards. He ran from me the whole fight … He kicked me in the leg, little baby leg kicks the whole fight. If that’s the way they understand how to win in here, I don’t want to play this game anymore.”
An upset Diaz didn’t show at the post-fight press conference — he doesn’t like press conferences when he’s in the best of moods — so it was up to UFC president Dana White, who agreed with the judges’ decision, to explain Diaz’s mindset.
“Nick 100 percent believes he won the fight, and he’s upset about it,” White said. “I think once he goes home and relaxes and calms down, Nick Diaz is a fighter. I don’t see Nick Diaz retiring. But who knows? This isn’t one of those sports you wanna be half in and half out: ‘I don’t know what I wanna do.’ If that’s the way you feel, you probably should retire.”
A next fight for Diaz, White mused, could come against Josh Koscheck, who won a plodding decision over Mike Pierce earlier in the night.
“I think he’s just emotional right now,” White said of Diaz. “I think we’ll see him again.”
Not to be lost in the Diaz drama was the fact that Condit, a heavy underdog leading into UFC 143, performed masterfully. He danced around the relentless Diaz all five rounds, never getting backed into a corner for more than a few seconds, controlling the pace of the fight. Condit kept throwing spinning elbows, few of which he actually landed, but on the whole Condit hit Diaz harder than Diaz hit him.
“They weren’t all that effective,” Condit said of the strikes Diaz did land. “For the most part, if he did hit me with anything, it was kind of past his power zone, didn’t have a lot on it.”
That might be because Condit kept backing away from a relentless Diaz.
“Fight me!” Diaz kept yelling.
Another time, after Condit threw a spinning back kick, Diaz yelled, “So we’re throwing spinning (crap) now?” Condit laughed that off, coolly ignoring Diaz’s taunts.
“If I fought a Nick Diaz fight, it would probably be him sitting here with the belt instead of me,” Condit said afterward. “I knew I had to be mentally prepared as well as physically prepared to fight Nick Diaz.”
Afterward, Condit safely in possession of the interim welterweight belt, the talk immediately turned to his next fight. Before UFC 143, the talk centered on a Diaz-St. Pierre bout, almost as if Condit was an afterthought. Now Condit is next up to fight St. Pierre — even if it’s not the fight St. Pierre wanted.
“Emotionally I wanted to fight Nick,” St. Pierre said after the fight, still angry at Diaz’s incessant taunts toward him. “But Carlos won that fight. He fought smart … It was a close fight. I believe maybe Carlos won on the judge’s decision because he used more weapons, he was more flamboyant than Diaz …
“I’m disappointed, but I’m not surprised by the result.”
Diaz was disappointed, too. And angry. Angry enough to say he’s ending his career. Who knows if it was only emotions speaking. Who knows if those emotions will carry over until Sunday. We should hope that Diaz, still nearing the peak of his career, calms down, reconsiders, and channels his rage toward another stint in the Octagon. There could be a rematch against Condit; there could be a fight against Koscheck; or it could be the end of the road.
And if it is the end, the UFC has a new and different challenger — the suave, well-mannered, confident Carlos Condit — who is more than happy to take the mantle against St. Pierre, and take all other comers.
You can follow Reid Forgrave on Twitter @reidforgrave, become a fan on Facebook or email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.