Diaz plays it 'safe' in firefight with Daley
SAN DIEGO -- Nick Diaz's definition of the word "safe" is a unique one.
The Strikeforce welterweight champion stood toe-to-toe with Paul Daley, perhaps the most powerful striker in the division, throughout the entire first round of Saturday's title fight before finishing him via TKO in 4 minutes, 57 seconds.
The game plan was, according to Diaz, the safe one.
"I did," Diaz told ESPN.com, when asked if he fought smart. "I thought that was the safest thing for me to do. That's the way you do it. If you don't want to get hit by a guy like that, I think you have to welcome it."
As he's done numerous times in his mixed martial arts career, Diaz (25-7) amazed Saturday.
Although many believed he wouldn't dare drop his hands and taunt a striker like Daley, that's exactly what he did. Daley responded by hurting him with a few knees early and landed what appeared to be an illegal blow to the back of his head.
But Diaz survived and swung momentum in his favor as the round continued. Following an exchange late, Daley was so dazed he actually fell on his own, leading to the finish.
At the postfight news conference, Diaz summed up the amazing fight with a nonchalant, "It could have gone a little cleaner.
Here's the thing. It's been about 30 days since the purchase. We really haven't had that conversation. I think when fans demand it, those fights will happen.” -- Scott Coker, in regard to bouts between Strikeforce and UFC fighters
This is a fighter fans want to see in the UFC, taking on current champion Georges St. Pierre. Diaz has now defended the title three times. St. Pierre has done the same in the UFC five times. With the recent purchase of Strikeforce by Zuffa, parent company of the UFC, it's a fight that can finally happen.
The only question is when.
"Here's the thing," said Scott Coker, CEO of Strikeforce. "It's been about 30 days since the purchase. We really haven't had that conversation. I think when fans demand it, those fights will happen."
In addition to Diaz fighting St. Pierre, Coker acknowledged fans are clamoring for matchups between the respective champions of the organizations in every division. Strikeforce's lightweight champion, Gilbert Melendez, recorded an impressive win of his own over Tatsuya Kawajiri in Saturday's co-main event.
Moments after comparing the Diaz and Daley fight to some of the great boxing duels of the 1980s, Coker said MMA is headed in a direction to avoid one of boxing's biggest downfalls -- that the best fights don't always happen.
"[Tonight] reminded me of those electric fights I watched growing up with [Marvin] Hagler and [Thomas] Hearns," Coker said.
"I'm glad we'll finally get to see [Strikeforce and UFC] fighters fight each other at some point. It's always something I've wanted to see. In boxing, it doesn't always happen because of promoters but at some point, there will not be one [MMA] fight that won't be possible."
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When asked what could be next for Diaz, however, Coker pointed to undefeated prospect Tyron Woodley (8-0), who was in attendance.
Woodley has built his name up in the Strikeforce Challengers series and says he's ready for a title shot when it comes. If Diaz chooses to take time off following his win, Woodley says he's prepared to fight in the meantime.
"I might have to fight in between," Woodley said. "I don't want to sit around and wait until the end of the year. I have to sit down with my agent and weigh the risks.
"But the next time a world title fight comes around, I'll be in the cage."
With six finishes in his eight victories, Woodley is deserving of the shot but time will tell if his statement holds true. Much was made about UFC president Dana White's attending Saturday's event and, according to Coker, Diaz facing a UFC opponent in his next fight isn't impossible.
"It has nothing to do with the contracts," Coker said. "Showtime is used to seeing its fighters on Showtime, but I think we'll let everyone settle in, get comfortable and then the big fights will happen.
"Could it happen in 2011? Absolutely."
Brett Okamoto covers MMA for ESPN.com. Follow him on Twitter at bokamotoESPN.
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