Does Georges St. Pierre (above) need Nick Diaz? Chime in below. | AP Photo/Eric Jamison
It’s becoming a trend. If welterweight champion Georges St. Pierre’s recent performances indicate anything, it’s that he does not just dispatch challengers. Rather, he dominates them so readily that he destroys any short-term marketability for a rematch; at least not without the guy on the losing end -- a running tab including B.J. Penn, Jon Fitch, Thiago Alves and now Jake Shields -- putting together an impressive string of wins.
Yet St. Pierre’s lack of finishes in his last four bouts has emboldened the critics. What do you do with a champion who clearly demonstrates superiority in virtually every phase of the fight, yet does not deliver the requisite red-meat finish with a stoppage? This, at the end of the day, is the exclamation point we expect with a championship mismatch.
It soothes the dashed expectations of a competitive bout, the premise upon which the product was foisted and offered up for pay-per-view consumption. Like the previous five defenses of his second reign at 170 pounds, GSP’s superiority against Shields firmly settled the question at UFC 129 on Saturday at the Rogers Centre in Toronto.
However, the expectable move -- a jump to 185 and, ostensibly, a challenge of champion Anderson Silva -- is no guarantee. Allow me a venture into pop psychology here, but I think it’s apparent from GSP’s post-fight interview and statements on the topic previously that he is not sold on the idea. That’s no knock on him.
A challenge of Silva would be a disruptive chapter in a seamless title reign. Physically, he would have to gain a goodly amount of muscle for a fight against an exceptionally dangerous opponent. If he comes up short, St. Pierre would be faced with the potential of having to return to 170, which could be tough given the size he would put on. Style-wise, I do not think he matches up so well with Silva, who is virtually knockout-proof and would have five rounds to work his lethal tools.
That is why Nick Diaz is the perfect next challenger for GSP. Currently Strikeforce welterweight champion, Diaz was already in UFC President Dana White’s sights, as White has scheduled a sit-down with him this week to discuss his career. Diaz, whose inkling to start a boxing career is something he’s been insistent on pursuing, has often yearned for the kind of recognition he feels he does not get.
A shot against St. Pierre would solve all that. Diaz is the perfect opponent to keep GSP anchored in the welterweight division, and here are three reasons why:
• Diaz is never going to be more red-hot. After dispatching Paul Daley April, Diaz’s stock is at an all-time high. The time to put him in against GSP is now. Are you going to wait for him to make a defense against, say, Tyron Woodley, or some other wrestler that might give Diaz’s stock a hit with a boring fight or even a loss? Diaz is perfect, right now, and GSP is badly in need of a viable challenger.
• Diaz has the right style to bring excitement. Let’s face it -- nobody in MMA is going to outwrestle St. Pierre, not at 170 pounds. Thus far, in his second reign as champion, GSP has picked apart challengers coming in on the wings of a dream: that they would be able to plant him on the mat, backed up by modest striking. Josh Koscheck, the best banger of the bunch, never landed more than a glancing blow or two. GSP manipulates distance and angles masterfully. Diaz violates all that and would force confrontations. His high-volume style would, for once, possibly take the play away from GSP on the feet and force him into exchanges or to shoot for takedowns. Diaz’s defensive guard and incredible resilience would serve him well here. He might get wrestled and controlled positionally, but at the beginning of each round, he would be right back up pressing and pushing ahead, tossing punches and cusses and scowls. Diaz is as durable as anyone in the game, and he never quits. He would either force GSP to beat him down or risk another five-round snoozer, at which point public consensus would be well-justified to pack GSP’s bags for 185.
• Diaz sells -- something the welterweight title definitely needs. GSP has summarily scuttled the marketability of all his top contenders. It would be a difficult proposition to sell rematches against Fitch or Penn; ironically, both were injured and their rematch will not happen, which clears the welterweight title road for the time being. Alves is only slightly more marketable because he can bang, but he has a tough assignment in Rick Story at UFC 130. No guarantee there. It is getting to the point where any GSP defense against anyone not named Nick Diaz would have to be paired with another title bout -- like UFC 129 -- to make it viable.
GSP’s dominance also has fallout in terms of what it does to contenders. He has effectively placed Shields, Penn, Fitch and Alves in what I call “Rich Franklin Territory.” RFT is where the champion has beaten you so decisively that you are several wins away from being able to legitimately beat the drums for a title shot, even though you are still talented enough to beat a ton of potential guys that might get that shot.
Think about it -- outside of Story and Jake Ellenberger, there is not a lot of new blood in the welterweight division that could reasonably be expected to beat these guys any time soon. In effect, GSP’s failed challengers can clear out the next tier, further adding to the wasteland of viable contenders. The UFC smartly moved Franklin into a weird middle-tier of fights at 195 and 205 against well-selected opponents to mitigate against this, but no such options exist for the welterweights.
The time to strike is now. Diaz has always wanted this, having fought with a chip on his shoulder his whole career. GSP needs someone badly -- and now. Rarely does one move solve so many problems and prove a lucrative boon for everyone involved. It also gives the UFC time to build Story, Ellenberger or Alves for the next shot.
Whatever happens with White’s meeting with Diaz, we can trust that a strong move will be made. The welterweight title has become a one-man show. Let’s give Diaz an invite to crash the party.
Jason Probst can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or at www.twitter.com/jasonprobst.