Eventful week ends with Diaz back on UFC 137
LAS VEGAS – The merry-go-round that saw Nick Diaz miss three flights, skip two news conferences, lose his shot at the UFC welterweight championship, move to the verge of being cut and then finally land a fight with B.J. Penn left UFC president Dana White hoarse by the end of the day Thursday and in no mood to speak to anyone.
About 12 hours later, White was still weary from negotiating a deal to put Diaz back onto the card at UFC 137 at the Mandalay Bay Events Center, in the co-main event against Penn instead of the main event against champion Georges St. Pierre.
On the verge of losing his job a day earlier, Diaz got a high-profile fight against Penn but had to take a significant pay cut in order to do it, according to a source close to the negotiations. White wasn’t pleased to have to spend three days dealing with a fight card that had been completed weeks ago, but he was happy to be able to salvage a fight that pleased the UFC’s fan base.
“We have all these major deals I’m working on, and I lost a week working on this [expletive],” White said, the hoarseness in his voice still evident as a result of what he said were loud negotiating sessions with both the Penn and Diaz teams.
Diaz, who held the Strikeforce 170-pound title, was supposed to fight St. Pierre on Oct. 29 in the main event of UFC 137 for the UFC welterweight belt. But after Diaz missed two flights to Toronto and skipped a news conference there, he also skipped a news conference Wednesday in Las Vegas.
It was at that news conference that an angry White yanked Diaz from the St. Pierre fight and replaced him with Carlos Condit. He went so far as to suggest Diaz would be cut. After being noncommittal about Diaz’s job status for most of the news conference Wednesday, White said, “I would have to assume with Diaz that we’re probably going to let him go, but we’ll see what happens.”
It was only an hour after making that public statement that White, still standing on the stage where the news conference was held, pulled out his cell phone and called Diaz manager Cesar Gracie.
“I called Cesar and said, ‘What would you think about Nick and B.J. Penn?’ ” White said. “And Cesar said, ‘If you’re offering us that fight, we’ll take it.’ ”
That led White to call Diaz on Wednesday evening. Once he felt comfortable with what he heard from Diaz, negotiations with both sides began to reach terms for the Penn-Diaz bout. White would not discuss Diaz’s salary, but a highly placed source said Diaz will make significantly less fighting Penn than he would have made by fighting St. Pierre for the championship. The UFC is secretive about its pay scale, though the fighters frequently make more than what is reported on forms provided to the various state athletic commissions.
White said he spoke for an hour with Diaz on Wednesday, and that while he didn’t think Diaz’s excuses for not appearing were appropriate, he felt strongly that Diaz would show for the fight if a deal was reached. He said once he felt confident of that, it was a matter of getting the contract done.
“To tell you the truth, the excuses he gave me made no sense,” White said. “You’ve interviewed Nick Diaz before. You know what I’m talking about. But I started thinking about this: This kid is a real fighter and I love the B.J. Penn-Nick Diaz fight. He always does show up to fight. We have trouble with him doing p.r. We also sometimes have problems with [his brother] Nate, whom I have a great relationship with, in getting him to do his p.r.
“What basically happened is, Nick freaked out. He disappeared. He told me he couldn’t handle the pressure of the main event. It wasn’t that he couldn’t fight it or wouldn’t have fought it, but all the responsibilities that come with fighting in the main event, he said he couldn’t deal with that. The fighting part is the easy part to him.”
After that conversation with Diaz late Wednesday, White reached out to Gracie and Penn’s camps on Thursday to try to put the bout together.
“Here I am with so much going on, and I’m trying to put a deal together with the two nuttiest crews in the business,” White said.
He said fining Diaz wasn’t an option because of how much UFC fighters in the top bouts make. Though he wouldn’t divulge anything specific, he said a fine – that Gracie suggested on Thursday – wouldn’t have made sense and wouldn’t have been a deterrent for fighters skipping news conferences in the future.
“You can’t not show up for things that you are contractually obligated to do and not expect there to be repercussions,” White said. “Going to press conferences is part of the job when you’re fighting for us. I know Cesar said Nick should have been fined, but dude, if I fined him $20,000 for not showing up, you know what? He’d say, ‘Big [expletive] deal.’ Contrary to public belief, these guys are millionaires.
“Do you know how rich [UFC middleweight champion] Anderson Silva is? He’s a multi-, multi-, multi-millionaire. So is Georges St. Pierre. Fining these guys $20,000 wouldn’t make sense because it wouldn’t mean anything or do anything.”
White said Diaz will be part of the countdown show that will preview UFC 137, though he said Diaz’s media obligations are far less now than they would have been in the main event.
But he conceded he may be back in the same boat before too much longer. If Diaz beats Penn, White said, and St. Pierre beats Condit, he’d likely give Diaz the title shot.
“We’d be right back in that position again,” he said. “But we’ll deal with it when that happens. I have too much [expletive] to do to worry about what might happen down the road. I wake up every morning and find out I have a whole long list of problems to deal with. Nick Diaz took a week out of my life dealing with this, but next week, it’s going to be something new.”