Fallout from UFC 143 fuels debate on what it means to win a fight
Carlos Condit won a decision over Nick Diaz for the UFC interim welterweight title
Condit swayed the judges with a counter-striking tactic that saw him in retreat
Some fans and trainers expressed discontent with Condit's strategy of "running"
Sixteen years ago, Royce Gracie and Ken Shamrock went at it nonstop for 30 minutes -- this was before five-minute rounds were introduced -- and then for a six-minute overtime. That gruelingly unsatisfying draw at UFC 5 is officially the longest bout in the fight promotion's history.
But it's been far surpassed by Carlos Condit vs. Nick Diaz, if we count all of the post-fisticuffs rhetoric that has kept the main event of Saturday night's UFC 143 jostling along for four days (and counting) beyond the final horn.
I'm joking to make a point, of course, although in a very literal way the fight does continue: Tuesday night, after much belly-aching and hand-wringing by fans and insiders alike, both fighters' camps agreed to a rematch of the controversial bout. UFC president Dana White made the announcement via Twitter, an appropriate venue considering that that's where much of the post-fight acrimony festered. No date was set, but presumably the bout will take place over the summer so the winner can be ready to take on Georges St-Pierre in late fall, which is when the welterweight champion has said he'll be fully healed from knee surgery.
Even before this rematch news came along, it felt like last weekend's fight for the interim belt was far from over. Condit had his hand raised late Saturday, but whether he was truly the winner is a matter still being disputed.
This is not simply another case of discontent being expressed over a controversial judges' decision: This is a philosophical debate over what it means to win a fight.
Condit earned the victory by countering Diaz's relentless forward movement with footwork that allowed him to stay out of Nick's punching range while keeping himself in position to deliver counter strikes. That's what the judges saw, as two of them scored four of the five rounds in Carlos' favor, and the other scorecard gave Condit three rounds. I saw the fight the same way: One guy was stalking, while the other was striking.
But many viewed those same 25 minutes in the octagon completely differently: One guy was trying to pick a fight, they say, while the other was running.
If this fight assessment were being expressed only by Diaz and his training camp, I'd dismiss it as nothing more than sour grapes pouring out of Northern California whine country. (Indeed, what Nick's longtime coach, Cesar Gracie, has said in the aftermath of Saturday's fight is a deluge of delusion.) However, some respected people in the sport -- fighters such as Mark Muņoz and Jake Ellenberger, trainers such as Pat Miletich and Duke Roufus, none with apparent ties to either Diaz or Condit -- have expressed strong opinions not just criticizing the judges' decision but ridiculing Carlos's strategy. Roufus on Twitter: "I am done teaching guys to fight! Gonna teach them to run like a bitch & hold guys down like a bitch. It wins!"
With all due respect to Duke and those other dissenting voices, all of whom have been in many, many fights since I last had engaged in one (eighth-grade ground-and-pound TKO over sucker-punching Ronald Hewitt, whom I was pulled off of by nuns, not a ref), I think they're allowing their machismo to cloud their vision. Condit vs. Diaz was a sporting event, not a schoolyard scrap. So what if Carlos didn't stand in front of Nick and go all Rock 'Em Sock 'Em Robots? He declined Diaz' hands-down-at-his-sides, chin-sticking-out baiting not because of fear of his opponent but because he didn't want to fight his opponent's fight.
Condit is not the second coming of Kalib Starnes, the alum of The Ultimate Fighter who spent the better part of a 2008 bout backpedaling and refusing to exchange with Nate Quarry. He was not channeling the Ray Leonard who infamously "defeated" Marvin Hagler back in '87 by dancing for 2:45 of each round before patronizing the judges with a finishing flurry of pitter-patter.
Unlike Leonard (who was no more the real "Sugar Ray" than LaDanian Tomlinson is "LT"), Condit remained engaged for every second of Saturday's fight. True, he was on the move all night long, and at times that did mean backpedaling. But his game plan was not to avoid a fight but rather to fight his fight, not Nick's. So he'd step out of the way of Diaz and throw a punch or elbow on the way out. And once he had created the distance he wanted, he would pepper Diaz with leg kicks. This occurred round after round, and all round long.
Diaz, to his credit, never stopped coming. He tried everything in his arsenal to trap Condit. A few times, he did get him against the fence, where he was able to unleash his fury. But only briefly. Carlos always had an escape plan and a counterattack. And Diaz had no Plan B.
That says a little something about the trainers of the two fighters. On Monday, Cesar Gracie went on the offensive in an interview on The MMA Hour, blaming Diaz's loss on the Nevada judges ("They've never liked Nick in Vegas"), the referee ("If one guy doesn't fight, that should be a point deducted"), even the other fighter's trainer ("You shouldn't be telling your fighter to fight like that"). Yet the most indicting thing he said was this: "How do I tell my fighter what he should have done better?" That's not the thing Gracie needed to be telling Diaz on Saturday night. He needed to be telling him how to solve the puzzle that was Carlos Condit. If Condit's trainer, Greg Jackson, had been handling Diaz, you know he would have had a Plan B.
"A lot of people think that you can win a fight by just walking forward, and that's actually not how you win a fight," Jackson said in a separate interview during that same MMAFighting.com radio show. "Because if that was the only way you win a fight, you're talking about Toughman [boxing contests]."
The trainer had gone on the radio to respond to all the criticism being hurled at his fighter and his strategy, and Jackson's response is, well, incredulousness. "It's not like we reinvented the wheel here with this game plan," he said. "A stick-and-move game plan against a guy that's such an amazing fighter and such a tough guy as Diaz, for me, is a no-brainer. If you look at the numbers, we hit him many more times than he hit us."
But the numbers don't mean a thing to some people. Just as, to others, the sight of one guy moving forward and the other guy stepping out of the danger zone is a sign not of dread but of smarts. "If you sit there and go toe-to-toe with him, man, he's just so tough," Jackson said admiringly of Diaz during the radio show. "His combinations flow so beautifully. He switches from the body to the head so well. There's no reason for us to play that game."
So Jackson and Condit played a different game. And when it was over and the judges had their say, Diaz and Gracie cried foul, clearly having seen a different fight. Their complaints were echoed by enough other voices in the sport -- from fans to fighters -- that the UFC decided to do it all over again.
Now, as much as that seems like another distasteful case of the squeaky wheel getting the grease, the good thing about the rematch news is that it might allow us to move on. Those who saw Condit as a man on the run aren't going to change their minds. Neither are those who viewed Diaz as a man without a plan. So what do we do when we can't agree? We fight it out. Again.
Questions? Comments? To reach Jeff Wagenheim or contribute to the SI.com MMA mailbag, click on the E-mail link at the top of the page.
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