By Zach Arnold
Although Nick Diaz and his manager Cesar Gracie have been discussing the possibility of Diaz fighting in boxing next instead of the MMA cage, few people thought that it was a serious opportunity in the making. With Zuffa, the parent company of UFC buying out Strikeforce, they managed to buy out a television deal with Showtime. Diaz is the biggest home-grown star of the Strikeforce promotion. Outside of Fedor Emelianenko, Diaz is the big ratings winner. He scored over 800,000 viewers for his fight on April 9th in San Diego against Paul Daley in a wild brawl. After Diaz won the fight, the possibilities of future dream bouts against UFC fighters became a reality.
Suddenly, the talk of Nick Diaz shifting his focus to boxing picked up major steam. It shouldn’t be a big surprise. Against top-level wrestlers in the Zuffa family, Diaz will struggle to handle the strength and speed of a Georges St. Pierre. If money is the big issue for the Diaz camp wanting to box instead of fighting for Zuffa, then they would be happy with their current position in MMA. However, there’s many other factors at play here. Cesar Gracie’s camp vehemently is opposed to the idea of teammates fighting each other. Jake Shields has a title shot against Georges St. Pierre on the 29th at the Sky Dome in Toronto. If Shields pulls off the upset win and gets the belt, suddenly Nick Diaz is put in a position where UFC may want him to fight his teammate for the title. That’s a non-starter as far as he is concerned.
If you’re drawing hot ratings on Showtime and you don’t like your future choices of opponents in MMA, now would be the time to stoke the fire for a boxing fight… that’s the logic we are dealing with here for all intents and purposes.
The immediate names that surfaced publicly for a boxing match include Jeff Lacy and Fernando Vargas. During an interview last week with Inside MMA on HDNet, Cesar Gracie laid out the details of their grand plan.
“We’re looking at a big name, you know. We’re looking at some guys with name-recognition. Maybe not the top guy in the world necessarily but someone that the public knows. I’d love Vargas to get in there with him, Fernando Vargas. It is (realistic). I know they’ve contacted him and he’s very interested so we’ve actually signed on the dotted line for that fight ourselves. Now we’re waiting for him, now.”
When asked about the seriousness of fighting Vargas, Mr. Gracie addressed it this way.
“It’s on, already. We’ve already signed for it, so. We’re looking at September-October for something like that. We’re just waiting for their camp now.
“That’s how it’s going to be, unless of course Dana White came out and said, hey, you’re going to fight Anderson Silva or something, that might motivate Nick. But other than that, I mean, I think it’s boxing.”
The idea of Diaz boxing someone like Vargas reminds me of an attempt last year when MMA veteran Din Thomas was scheduled to fight Ricardo Mayorga for a promotion called Shine Fights. However, that fight got nixed because Don King stepped in legally and put a halt to the proceedings. The idea of boxing vs. MMA is nothing new, at least in the last few years as far as a marketing angle being discussed is concerned. However, Diaz is a legitimate star in the States and he would be by far the biggest name from MMA to try to make the crossover. Cesar Gracie says that a fight with Vargas would draw a lot of eyeballs.
“Huge fight. The guy’s a tough guy. He’s not where he was, you know, a few years ago. But he’s a huge name-recognition, he’s a very dangerous fighter, he’s got skills and I think a Diaz/Vargas right now would bring in all the MMA world and the boxing world and it would actually unite those two, it’d be great. … We signed with Don Chargin and you’d have to ask him where it’s going to take place. I’d like to see it in California. It would make sense, the Hispanic thing and everything. But wherever it’s going to be, it’s going to be huge.”
There’s a lot of interesting variables at play here. Would Showtime be willing to promote the fight or say no to promoting it because they don’t want to anger Zuffa, their new bestest MMA buddy in the world? If the fight is promoted independently as a PPV, just what exactly would be the media vehicle to promote the show? Without a strong media vehicle to promote the show, it would not do strong business on its own accord. Would Zuffa be willing to promote it in order to get a piece of the action? No one believed that they would work with James Toney and they pulled the trigger, despite Dana White saying repeatedly after he signed that deal that he wouldn’t get involved in ‘freak show’ bouts like that in the future.
The two biggest challenges in selling this fight are: a) Does Nick Diaz have a shot of convincing MMA fans that he can actually get a win over his opponent (or convince his haters that he will get his ass kicked royally) and b) is the opponent not washed-up enough that skeptical viewers might be willing to pony up cash to watch the fight take place?
One thing is clear – Diaz’s manager, Cesar Gracie, is doing his best to claim that this is not an attempted money grab or threat to get their way in the MMA world politically.
“The thing about Nick is he’s fighting too much, you know. We’ve discussed this, you know. Even this fight (against Paul Daley) came up quick from (Evangelista) Cyborg fight. He trains so hard, he does his triathlons and everything and gets banged up. So, I think the best thing right now is to take a break from MMA, I really do, you know. And I’m kind of steering him towards boxing, so that’s where I want to see him go for his next fight.
“I don’t think (his MMA career is) over. I think he’s a little burned out with it and I don’t think we’re seeing the best Nick Diaz when he fights, is the thing you know. So I need him to get back into motivated and something to fight for.
“It’s just not all about money. I mean, obviously, he wants to get paid like the boxers get paid. I mean if he’s that big of a draw, why wouldn’t he get paid? But, you know, ultimately there has to be ‘what are you fighting for?’ And right now if Jake Shields defeats GSP, there’s so many factors coming into play that we have to look at.”
During an interview on Monday with Showtime MMA play-by-play Mauro Ranallo on The Fight Show, Cesar Gracie tried to market the angle that people would want to see Diaz fight a Fernando Vargas or a Jeff Lacy because it would be a symbolic ‘uniting’ of the MMA & boxing worlds.
“(Diaz) holds his own (in boxing). I mean, he goes out there in his sparring. He brings in top pros (Omar Henry, Andre Ward) and he does really good with these professional boxers and he’s constantly been boxing for a very long time. People just don’t really realize how good his boxing is, especially for MMA. There’s a lot of fighters out there who have good hands for MMA but, you know, they wouldn’t last in boxing.
“A lot of these guys who are fighting MMA couldn’t really box with pro boxers. You got to have an MMA guy. It kind of shows where MMA, you know, in relation to boxing. How good are these guys in relation to boxing?
“If you think about uniting the two sports at this point, where MMA is actually big enough to do something like that… Let’s face it, the sport is about entertainment, also. When James Toney came in and, you know, got destroyed obviously by (Randy) Couture and Couture didn’t take a step and they got offered big money to box James Toney and he declined.”
Despite claiming earlier that Diaz would halt his boxing ambitions in favor of a ‘super fight’ with Anderson Silva in order to make a huge pay day, Mr. Gracie says that Diaz wants to prove to himself that he can hang with quality boxing competition.
“You got to remember what Nick is about. A lot of people say it’s about the money, but how about this, it’s about the challenge. I mean, Nick does thiathlons, well he doesn’t get paid for it. Is he ever going to be the top triathlon guy in the country? No, but why does he do it?
“I think he would make as much money in a boxing match. So, it’s not like he’s necessarily going to make more money, but, you know, you got to remember one thing. When you do something like MMA for, Nick’s been doing it for what, 11 years now or so? You got to break it up a little bit. If not, you’re going to get burned out like any other job. With Nick, it’s been a continuous thing of, okay, your fight’s over, you take a week off at the most, and then bam you got another fight in two-to-three months and it’s a constant schedule like that. It gets a little bit unnerving. You kind of forget what you’re fighting for after a while and Nick is a guy that needs to know what he’s fighting for. He just needs to challenge himself.”
What was interesting about Monday’s radio interview is that Cesar Gracie wouldn’t mention Vargas’s name, only saying that one fighter directly contacted him and pitched it as an ‘exciting’ opportunity. Smelling the possibility of grabbing some media attention, Jeff Lacy issued a statement on Monday saying he would happy to take on Diaz.
“Nick has accomplished a great deal in mixed martial arts and is certainly one of the best in the sport. But getting in the ring with me for a boxing match is a path he needs to be very wary of taking. I’m willing to put it all on the line anytime, anywhere!”
Mr. Gracie said that plans for Diaz’s boxing debut could be finalized as soon as the end of this week.