Bombastic Diaz takes Santos seriously

Sat, 29 Jan 05:17:00 2011

When Strikeforce welterweight champion Nick Diaz starts talking, there is no telling where the conversation will go.

- 0

The topics can and usually do range from the benefits of having a vegetarian diet, to competing in triathlons, to his open advocacy of marijuana, to his feud with “Bully Beatdown” host Jason “Mayhem” Miller, to money, boxing, his background growing up and current mixed martial arts rankings. And that’s before anyone gets to ask him a question.

Diaz seamlessly and endlessly transitions through topics. But when it comes to Evangelista “Cyborg” Santos, his Brazilian opponent in the main event of Saturday night’s Showtime event from the HP Pavilion, the Stockton, Calif. native is uncharacteristically low-key.

Santos’ 18-13 record has prompted Diaz to praise his opponent, rather than his usual pre-match trash talk.

Diaz goes in as a 4-to-1 favorite over a fighter who may be, at this point, best known as the husband and corner man of arguably the best female fighter in the world, Cristiane “Cyborg” Santos. The last time Evangelista Santos was in the cage at HP Pavilion, he was carrying his wife out on his shoulders as she celebrated the highest-profile win of her career, over Gina Carano, in the 2009 fight that still holds the ratings record for MMA on premium cable.

On Saturday, the roles are reversed, as Evangelista Santos will be fighting in the main event and Cristiane will be by his side. In doing so, the family will be going for something unprecedented in the short history of the sport: to become the first married couple to both hold major championships.

“I don’t feel any pressure on that,” said Evangelista Santos. “I feel proud of what my wife did. After 15 years of training and sacrificing, my dream is almost here.”

This Santos spent most of his career as an undersized middleweight, usually right at the 185-pound mark, requiring no weight cutting. In recent years, he consistently gave up anywhere from 10-20 pounds and several inches in height when he faced middleweight foes.

Since he made the decision to drop down, he’s scored a pair of first-round TKOs, the most recent being over Dream’s welterweight king, Marius Zaromskis.

“I have great respect for ‘Cyborg,’ ” said Diaz (23-7), trying to defend an opponent who stylistically will probably put on an exciting fight, but whose record doesn’t invoke “title contender” thoughts. “He is strong and has skills and comes real hard. I feel he deserves a shot as much as anyone out there.”

“I think he was fighting guys too big when he was fighting at middleweight, but I might be too big for him, too,” said Diaz, who has several inches in height and reach on Santos.

The Brazilian veteran with worldwide experience fights a similar style as his wife, a fast-paced combination of kickboxing and brawling. Diaz is known for his relentless fast hands that confuse and annoy, then eventually wear down opponents.

His durability matches his exceptional cardio, which he credits to his mostly vegetarian diet (he eats fish) and his triathlon training.

“I try to eat raw foods to be honest,” he said. “I pretty much get it done. It’s just a raw vegan diet. There’s no vegan food where I live, so we have to go out of our way a little bit. I also have to travel to bigger cities to train. I drive an hour for that and I make it part of the day. I’ve been doing that since I’m 15, 16 years old, so I’m used to it. It definitely helps me not feel like [expletive]. I train six or seven days a week, so I’d rather feel good. It gets me in shape for five rounds.”

Of Diaz’s seven losses in his 10-year career, six were by decisions in mostly close fights. The other was a blood stoppage against K.J. Noons, a loss he avenged in his last fight. The decisions weren’t necessarily bad, although Diaz wasn’t happy with any of them.

But to his credit, you can say Diaz has never truly been beaten up in a fight. If Santos doesn’t get to him right away, his odds of doing so will likely diminish as time goes on.

“I think he’s kind of a brawler, and he kicks well, he’s a kickboxer brawler,” said Diaz. “He’s got knockout power.”

The winner of the fight is likely to defend the title next against England’s Paul Daley (26-9-2), the fighter banished from the UFC last year for trying to sucker punch Josh Koscheck after losing a fight. Daley next faces Yuya Shirai of Japan on February 26 in Manchester, England, and with a win has been said by Strikeforce CEO Scott Coker to be next in line.

Saturday’s fight was not necessarily Coker’s first choice as the main event. Coker ahd attempted to make a grudge match with Diaz against Jason “Mayhem” Miller, a middleweight, based on a pair of incidents.

The first, televised on CBS, was when Diaz was part of a group of Cesar Gracie fighters who attacked and started pounding on Miller on April 27 when Miller interrupted and challenged Diaz’s teammate, Jake Shields, after Shields had just beaten Dan Henderson.

The second came on Oct. 9 after Diaz’s win over Noons in San Jose, when Diaz threw a water bottle at Miller backstage and the two had to be quickly separated. In the end, the fight didn’t happen because Miller refused to cut lower than 183, and Diaz wanted him to cut to 179.

“I don’t like when people say I didn’t accept the fight with Miller,” said Diaz, suddenly full of emotion. “It’s going to screw with my whole season, my whole year, and my capabilities of fighting at 170 pounds. I’d like to be paid in full and like to have a reason to do it and not just do it for everyone else’s convenience. I’d like to get paid double or triple usual or something crazy to change weight.”

“I never wanted to not sign,” he continued. “It’s hard enough for me to make 170. He doesn’t want to work hard like me and make 170. If he wants to work his ass off and make 175 or 170, or they can pay me $1 million. That [expletive] doesn’t want to fight me. Pacquiao’s making $40 million. GSP is making a couple of million. I’m driving a Honda because all of this [expletive] is breaking down.”

On one hand, Diaz doesn’t want to fight Miller at middleweight, but moments later, he’s talking about wanting to face Anderson Silva.

“I got here and started fighting before most of these guys, including GSP. I was at it first. I was mad because they’re getting fights and recognition when I was there first. I cornered a guy who fought against Josh Koscheck when he had two fights in his life. He was set up to fight Josh Koscheck, he took an ass whipping. He [Koscheck] got six or seven fights, all easy guys. I never got anyone like that. I forgot about Josh Koscheck until the other day. I cornered this guy who doesn’t even fight. He drinks at a bar. We took him to fight Josh Koscheck one day. I never had fights like that. When you bring up guys like that and say best fighters in the world, it’s a [expletive] joke. He may be a good fighter now. But I was first. I want to fight Anderson Silva or Georges St. Pierre.”

Those fights would be impossible because UFC only uses fighters exclusive to the company, and Diaz just signed a multi-fight contract extension with Strikeforce.

“Straight up, I want to fight St. Pierre. People think this guy’s better than me and it’s all [expletive]. He fought Josh Koscheck five rounds and I already told you about Josh Koscheck. Right now you’re going to rank that guy above me?”

At times Diaz, 27, talks like he’s trapped in a seven-day-a-week fighter’s lifestyle, which he started at 14.

“I don’t want to fight unless I get paid a lot of money,” he said when asked if he prefers being a fighter or a triathlete. “I’m not that competitive in triathlons. I’m competitive in MMA. I think everyone should race triathlons. Everyone should swim, buy a bike and should run. If I can’t run, I can go for a swim, or I can ride a bike.”

Dave Meltzer / Eurosport

Not already a Yahoo! user ? to get a free Yahoo! Account