Nick Diaz stirs controversy, draws attention for UFC 137

Nick Diaz, right, punches Evangelista "Cyborg" Santos, from

Nick Diaz, right, punches Evangelista "Cyborg" Santos, from Brazil, in the second round of a Strikeforce Welterweight Championship mixed martial arts fight in San Jose, Calif. (Jan. 29, 2011) (Credit: AP)

Mark La Monica

Mark La Monica Mark La Monica

Mark La Monica is the deputy sports editor for cross

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Nick Diaz trended on Twitter Wednesday afternoon, reaching No. 7 in the United States, two spots below "Lindsey Lohan" and America's inability to properly spell her name.

But while Lindsay Lohan reached such heights in social media for her very public exploits, Diaz did it by doing nothing. Literally. Diaz no-showed for the first 40 minutes of the UFC 137 conference call, then eventually picked up the phone to answer some questions from reporters about his upcoming fight Saturday against B.J. Penn.

"What happened?" Diaz asked as soon as the first question came his way. "I didn't even know there was a call. Nobody called me in the last week or couple days and said there was a call."

Diaz was originally scheduled to fight champion Georges St-Pierre for the welterweight title but was removed from the bout because he missed two pre-fight news conferences in early September.

The enigmatic mixed martial artist from Stockton, Calif., keeps people guessing as to who he is and why he acts the way he does. Inside the cage, he's the best boxer in MMA and a black belt in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu. Diaz (26-7-1) has the endurance of a triathlon participant, which he is.

But away from the cage, it's much harder to read Diaz beyond what he chooses to put on display. Assuming he even shows up, that is.

"Nick is Nick," Penn said. "I actually enjoy watching the stuff that Nick Diaz does. He doesn't change. He's just always himself.

"Nick is a character of the sport."

Perhaps we're all just a part of Diaz's high-level ruse to boost the promotion of the fight and increase his marketability as the villain, as the outlaw, as the guy who makes you a little nervous when you're in the same room.

Is it good for the sport of mixed martial arts when a main event fighter skips a pair of news conferences designed to help sell his fight and get him paid? Probably not. But does it raise awareness, create controversy and sell a few extra pay-per-view buys? Probably so.

None of that matters to Penn (16-7-2), a two-time former champion who was added to the card in September to fight Diaz in what has now become the main event after St-Pierre injured his knee last Tuesday and pulled out of his fight with Carlos Condit.

"The only thing that's going to be bothering me is when Nick Diaz is probably punching me in the Octagon," he said.

Diaz can be a likable guy, and UFC president Dana White has often said that he could be a star if he'd just play the game "a little bit." Diaz doesn't always manage to do that, though. He's been out of the UFC since 2006 in part because of that.

There's no denying Diaz's ability to fight. He's on a 10-fight win streak including six by knockout and three by submission. He successfully defended the Strikeforce welterweight title three times before coming back to the UFC for this fight.

"I fight harder than these guys," Diaz said. "I look better than these guys, I do better than these guys . . . so that's what takes up all my time training and trying to become the best in the world here. And that's the best in the world, all right? That's what you're dealing with here. The whole world out there, ain't nobody can beat me. It's pretty bad."

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