Storylines to follow after UFC 137: BJ Penn vs. Nick Diaz
My hand isn’t raised. I picked B.J. Penn to beat Diaz, but with one caveat: if Penn couldn’t finish Diaz in the first round, he would lose a decision in the second and third. Low and behold, that’s exactly what happened. I’m no Nostradamus, of course. The above scenario was essentially a lock and everyone I talked with in Las Vegas this week shared the same sentiment.
But what I didn’t expect was Diaz not only handily beating Penn, but sending him into an early retirement and then going ballistic at the post-fight press conference as only Diaz can.
It was an enthralling night full of intriguing story lines that had plenty of impact on the future. Let’s take a look at the ten things we learned at UFC 137.
1. Nick Diaz is quickly becoming one of the biggest stars in the sport.
He never says the right thing at the right time. Ever.
He doesn’t understand why he should take time out of his valuable training schedule to talk to the media and hype upcoming fights – fights that depend on such marketing tactics to sell more pay per views and add zeroes to his check.
The chip on his shoulder is large enough to feel like a boulder, and he feels like the big, wide world outside of Stockton is out to get him.
When he does speak, it’s often confusing, rambling and full of the kind of nonsense that takes hours, if not days, to unravel.
And yet despite everything I’ve cited above, Nick Diaz is also becoming one of the biggest stars in the world of mixed martial arts. It’s a fact. No matter how you feel about Diaz, his mercurial attitude or his seeming unwillingness to cooperate in just about any situation you throw at him, he’s still one of the most intriguing stars in the sport.
His win over B.J. Penn was classic Diaz in every sense, but it was his post-fight interview with Joe Rogan that perfectly illustrated why fans either fall in love Diaz or hate him more than anyone else in the sport.
He didn’t just insinuate that Georges St-Pierre might be faking an injury; he flat out said that St-Pierre pulled out of his fight with Carlos Condit because he was scared. In Nick’s mind, St-Pierre removed himself from UFC 137 because he was scared of Nick.
No, it doesn’t make sense, but the things Nick Diaz says rarely make sense. They don’t have to, because Nick is Nick and there is nobody else like him. From that post-fight interview all the way to the stunning post-fight press conference that saw Diaz capture an entire room of assembled media and hold them in the palm of his hand, Diaz was in complete control. He was so much in control, in fact, that Carlos Condit was removed from his scheduled title fight in favor of Diaz despite White’s insistence in the days leading to the fight that Condit’s title shot was secure.
We shouldn’t be surprised by Saturday's events. Nick Diaz should no longer surprise anyone. But he does, and it’s going to continue earning him legions of fans.
2. We finally saw the real Georges St-Pierre
Georges St-Pierre is a carefully manufactured product. He never deviates from the public persona he’s cultivated over the years, and that makes him a fine spokesman for a sport still struggling for true mainstream acceptance.
At UFC 137, though, we saw a different side of St-Pierre. The guy who never allows himself to be drawn into a war of words with upcoming opponents finally had enough of Nick Diaz’s mouth.
After Diaz accused St-Pierre of faking an injury and being scared, St-Pierre’s entire demeanor changed, and he became visibly angry. He mocked Diaz and feigned terror. It was a completely new side of St-Pierre, and to be honest, it was refreshing. We’ve never seen St-Pierre view a fight as anything but an athletic competition, but Diaz changed everything with one simple sentence.
It’ll be interesting to see how St-Pierre performs against Diaz. He’s angry and feels disrespected. Will that lead to more mistakes in the cage, or will St-Pierre be able to control his temper? It’s just one more facet of an incredibly intriguing story line leading into Super Bowl weekend.
3. We saw the best – and the worst – of BJ Penn
B.J. Penn is one of the best one-round fighters of all time. His first frame against Diaz was classic Penn, filled with crisp counter striking and excellent grappling.
Unfortunately for the legendary lightweight, the second frame was also classic Penn. He tired quickly, allowing Diaz to pounce and batter Penn so badly that there was a real question if he would even answer the bell for the third round. It was a close call, but Penn pushed forward.
He should have stayed on his stool. Exhausted fighters are easy prey for Diaz, and Penn was no exception. Diaz picked him apart with pinpoint-accurate shots and thrashed Penn’s face worse than anyone else ever did. He beat him so completely, in fact, that Penn abruptly retired after the conclusion of the fight.
If Penn truly does stay retired, my hat is off to him. He delivered plenty of great moments over his career and has nothing to be ashamed of. But if he’d taken the fight game seriously at all times instead of every once in awhile, there’s no telling how great he truly would have become. We’ll never know.
4. Nelson may joke, but his new mentality paid dividends
Despite his constant joking and defensive mechanisms regarding his weight, UFC 137 was evidence that Roy Nelson had devoted plenty of time to getting in real shape for the first time in his career. He dieted properly and put a special emphasis on strength and conditioning, and the result was a slimmer, far more muscular Nelson with a stronger gas tank than we’ve seen in awhile. We’ll call him “Smaller Country.”
Sure, he tired in the second round, but getting punched in the face by an enlarged Mirko Cro Cop will do that to a guy. He returned in the third with renewed energy and finished what he started, earning himself an extended stay in the UFC in the process with a dominant win.
Nelson is going to continue working on his body and his cardio, and he’ll look even more in shape the next time you see him. He’s always been talented, but he’s finally putting in the time to become a legitimate heavyweight contender. He won’t get the winner of Velasquez/Dos Santos despite calling out the winner after his fight, but a bout with Cheick Kongo or perhaps even Fabricio Werdum wouldn’t be out of the question.
Any way you look at it, a motivated and in-shape Roy Nelson is a dangerous opponent for anyone in the heavyweight division.