TORONTO - For 45 minutes, it looked like Nick Diaz was putting on a repeat performance.
The in-your-face welterweight was locked to challenge champion Georges St. Pierre at UFC 137, Oct. 29. But after ditching press conferences in Toronto and Las Vegas, UFC president Dana White awarded that opportunity to Carlos Condit instead.
Diaz was expected to hype his bout with B.J. Penn on a media conference call Wednesday, but nearly an hour in he was still nowhere to be found. In fact, the call was just about over when he surprised everyone by actually showing up.
According to Diaz, since all his focus is on training, he pays a lawyer to constantly remind him of obligations such as this. But he says he had no idea there was a media call.
“I didn’t make any mistakes in terms of training or doing what I do,” Diaz said. “I put in 100% and I always thought that was what’s important. People want to see good fights.
“I train harder than these guys, I fight harder than these guys, I look better than these guys, I do better than these guys — and that’s why. All my time is spent training.
“I’m trying to become the best in the world here, all right. That’s what we’re dealing with here. It’s the whole world out there. Ain’t nobody can beat me.”
Diaz and Penn were originally scheduled as the co-main event at UFC 137, but an injury to St. Pierre bumped them to the top spot. The heavyweight fight between Matt Mitrione and Cheick Kongo will now receive second billing.
But a main-event fight with a former champion isn’t exactly a satisfying silver medal for Diaz.
“I’m not happy about it at all,” Diaz said. “I’m fighting a guy who is my friend, or was my friend and now I’m fighting this guy. I signed to fight (St. Pierre). I thought we had a deal.
“This definitely doesn’t make it any easier for me. I don’t like to fight people I know or have already met because we’ve spent a lot of time training together.
“I would have preferred to fight GSP, of course. Because it’s not like I’m fighting somebody I already know and I’m fighting for the title. That’s why I started this, fighting for the UFC because I came to fight for the title. I came to fight for money and I came to fight for the title and now I’m not in that fight.”
But just because Diaz and Penn are friends, it doesn’t mean they’ll be going easy on each other. Penn even anticipates hearing Diaz’s trademark taunting and smack talk when the cage door shuts.
“I expect it to happen; a fight’s a fight,” Penn said. “There are no friends in the octagon. I expect him to come out and say a bunch of things and I might be saying some stuff myself. That’s just the nature of the game. I expect him to say stuff, but I won’t take that personally.”
“Fighting is a tough sport and tough people are involved. You want to be as professional as you can, but sometimes your emotions get to you.”
Both are aggressive fighters with excellent striking and slick ground games. Diaz has the highest punch output in the division, while Penn’s packs more power. Penn is the superior wrestler and has nasty submission technique, but Diaz is very dangerous off his back.
Though the two stack up well, Penn admits Diaz is the better boxer.
“I haven’t changed much over my entire career,” Penn said. “I just come in, do my best and try to take the other guy out.
“As far as Nick goes, Nick spars with guys like Andre Ward. He was trying to fight Jeff Lacy … I really feel Nick is the best boxer in mixed martial arts today and it shows in all his fights. He can stand up with anyone.
“A lot of people like to talk to me about my boxing, but I think Nick is the best boxer in MMA. We’re kind of similar, I guess. He’s got his striking and jiu jitsu and those are my two strengths, also.”
When St. Pierre dropped off the card, Diaz’s trainer, Cesar Gracie, challenged Penn to agree to a five-round main event. Penn said he has no problems with that, but expects a pay raise in return.
“I’m happy to do a five-round fight; I’ve been five rounds many times in my career, many times in the UFC,” Penn said. “This is a job and I want to be compensated accordingly — that’s it. I’m more than willing to do a five-round fight. If Dana wants to make it a five-round fight he can call me right now and we’ll put it together.
“Cesar’s a strange guy. I don’t know why he did that in the first place. I think Cesar should have to be the guy to compensate me, not Dana.”
Despite having fought 58 times combined, Nick Diaz and B.J. Penn only have three common opponents.
* Submitted by Penn (ROTR 4)
* Submitted by Diaz (PRIDE 33 — result overturned to No Contest)
* TKO loss to Penn (UFC 107)
* Unanimous decision win over Diaz (TUF 2 Finale)
* TKO loss to Penn (UFC 84)
* Unanimous decision win over Diaz (UFC 59)