Cesar Gracie: Nick Diaz Will “Force GSP to Fight”, Believes Zuffa Intends to Continue Strikeforce
By Kelsey Mowatt
For some time, even when it seemed like a pipe dream for many MMA fans, former Strikeforce welterweight champ Nick Diaz continued to call for a bout with his UFC counterpart Georges St. Pierre. The aspirations of Diaz and his trainer / manager Cesar Gracie fittingly suited the outspoken fighter; they wanted Diaz to test himself against the best, regardless of who he fought for. Most fans couldn’t have agreed more.
Then, with Zuffa’s acquisition of Strikeforce, a path to the all-star bout suddenly appeared, and Gracie began working towards making the fight a reality.
“I was very happy about it actually,” Gracie told FCF, when asked for his initial reaction upon finding out that his longtime student would face St. Pierre, October 29th at UFC 137. “I realized what an event it was going to be…It should be a really good fight. Nick is really going to press the action; he’s going to force GSP to fight. I was just really happy that Nick is going to get the opportunity to show just how good he is now.”
At this juncture, the bout seems to be the perfect fit for Zuffa, not just because it now has the means to recruit one of the world’s more talented and entertaining welterweights in Diaz, but because of the widely perceived need to challenge and push St. Pierre. Despite having won nine straight fights and having defeated many of the UFC’s top contenders in the process, St. Pierre’s inability to finish opponents has sparked criticisms from some fans and pundits alike, that the Canadian is fighting too conservatively.
“The thing is it’s really not my business how he fights; he’s not on my team, so, I truly don’t care how he fights,” said Gracie, while discussing the criticisms St. Pierre has received. “Now if you’re asking me as a fan, yeah, that style is not what I like to watch. I like to watch guys that just go completely for it, take chances, and give crowds what they want, which is ‘Ultimate Fighting,’ not ‘ultimate stalling’ or anything like that.”
Of course, the tendencies and strategies of St. Pierre should be rather fresh in the mind of Gracie, due to the fact that another of his longtime fighters Jake Shields is coming off a unanimous decision loss to GSP in April. While both Shields and Diaz are highly respected submission artists and fighters, there are differences between the two in terms of their striking and wrestling abilities.
“I think he’s going to approach this fight somewhat like the BJ Penn fight,” said Gracie when asked how he believes St. Pierre might approach Diaz in contrast to Shields. “I think he’ll try to fight Nick the same way where he’ll tie up with him, try to keep him up against the cage, do a little dirty boxing and try to get him arm weary, maybe get some takedowns and see how that goes. He’ll probably be cautious from the top position but try to inflict damage depending on how it’s going.”
“Georges is a great athlete and a pretty smart fighter,” added Gracie. “His athleticism often lets him dictate where the fights going to go, and if he’s comfortable where he can take the finish, without taking too many risks, he will.”
Now, having gone 11-1 with 1 no contest since he departed from the UFC in 2006, Diaz will finally make his return to the Octagon. In the past, UFC President Dana White stated his desire to work with Diaz, provided the periodically controversial fighter learned to “play the game,” in order to secure another UFC run.
“I think what he means by saying ‘playing the game’ is being more responsible, maybe doing more interviews, being more media friendly, just doing the things you got to do, showing up at things that Dana wants you to show up to, and that’s fine,” said Gracie. “I think Nick’s matured immensely as a person and as a fighter over the last few years. I think he’s treating this more as the business that it is.”
“Now if playing the game is acting a certain way or doing something that’s just not who you are, pretending to be something, that’s just not Nick’s style,” Gracie added. “I think the fans would pick up on that and it would really backfire.”
Diaz’s departure from Strikeforce to fight GSP not only captured headlines due to the magnitude of the bout, but it furthered speculation as to what Zuffa’s plans were for Strikeforce long term, if it was moving one of the promotion’s biggest stars to the UFC.
“You know I lobbied really hard to get Gilbert Melendez over there, and obviously Gilbert is fighting again in Strikeforce, so I think they’re trying to keep Strikeforce alive actually,” Gracie noted. “We’ll see if they’re able to do that…Your guess is as good as mine. I personally hope they keep Strikeforce as I think it’s a great avenue for fighters and I really like the organization.”
Whether Strikeforce continues to feature top ranked fighters, like the aforementioned Melendez long term, or whether it serves as a development promotion for the UFC remains to be seen.
“Right now Gilbert is in his prime, and it’s shame in my opinion, to not see a prime Gilbert Melendez fighting the top guys in the UFC,” said Gracie about the Strikeforce lightweight champ. “I hope that eventually, sooner than later, that we’ll see him in the UFC. Whether Strikeforce is around or not.”
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