Why is Nick Diaz talking about boxing?
Nick Diaz once again caught the MMA world by surprise with his manager Cesar Gracie announcing last week that the current Strikeforce welterweight champion is actively looking into securing a fall boxing fight.
Gracie made it clear they were looking at securing a match against a name fighter, but one whose best days are behind him, with former super-middleweight champions Jeff Lacy, Fernando Vargas or Ricardo Mayorga being mentioned as possible opponents.
The rationale for the change in sport put forward by Gracie is that Diaz is burned out by MMA and needs a change of pace. Diaz also frequently has expressed frustration at the amount he is paid to fight on Showtime compared to the network's boxers.
The story got an additional boost when boxing promoter Lou DiBella responded to MMA fans' messages to his Twitter account on the subject by promising to look into possibly having Ring Magazine middleweight champion Sergio Martinez fight Diaz. How seriously the comment should be taken is debatable.
While Diaz has shown superior striking in his recent fights, it requires a large leap of faith to conclude that he would succeed in the boxing ring against specialists who have been training in the fistic arts since they were children. The two sports may be linked, but they are significantly different, and being a great striker in MMA is very different than being a great boxer — doubly so in the modern era where all top-class MMA takes place in a cage. It's difficult to see how even a fighter as idiosyncratic as Diaz can seriously believe he would be competitive against top-quality boxers.
The move to boxing therefore may be best explained by looking not at Diaz's pugilistic opportunities, but at the very real challenges he will have to confront in the cage.
Diaz noticeably has avoided stepping into either the ring or cage against a wrestler since he left the UFC in 2006, something that is hardly surprising considering how many of his career defeats have come because he was outwrestled. This gap in his recent résumé, coupled with his frequent failure to complete takedowns against opponents without strong defensive wrestling skills, certainly leads one to suspect that, despite his recent success, he'd continue to struggle against a wrestler.
Unfortunately for Diaz, it's likely his next challenger will have exactly the right skill set to target this fatal flaw in his game. For a while, it's been clear that Strikeforce has been grooming former state championship wrestler Tyron Woodley for a title shot at 170 pounds. The young fighter has compiled an 8-0 record with a fighting style that makes frequent use of the wrestling skills he developed in both high school and college. Strikeforce CEO Scott Coker has made clear that after the recently defeated Paul Daley, Woodley is the next challenge for Diaz.
It's a nightmare matchup for Diaz, with Woodley having the skills to beat him while lacking the reputation or fame to make it a big-money fight. One cannot help but conclude that Diaz and Gracie are looking for a Plan B, a way to avoid taking such a high-risk, low-reward fight. That Plan B could be going into boxing, but it's more likely to be a lucrative move back to the UFC to fight in pay-per-view superfights.
Diaz already has floated the idea of him being the one to face UFC middleweight champ Anderson Silva, having dismissed the possibility of a unification match with UFC welterweight champion Georges St. Pierre on the grounds that Diaz teammate Jake Shields will defeat the Canadian. The fact that St. Pierre has the best wrestling skills in all of MMA is surely just a coincidence.
“If he would just play the game a little bit, he would be a big star.” That's the line UFC President Dana White issues as a stock response when he's asked about why Diaz's career has occasionally seemed to stall despite his undoubted talent. But by threatening White with the possibility of one of his champions being defeated in the boxing ring, he and his camp are proving cannier operators than White has given them credit for.
Whether this gambit will get them what they want remains to be seen.