Mark La Monica is the deputy sports editor for cross media at Newsday and writes about mixed martial
Many words will be written and spoken this week about Nick Diaz and Carlos Condit as they prepare to fight Saturday night at UFC 143 in Las Vegas. Here are the three worst words you will come across: interim welterweight title.
Yes, Diaz vs. Condit is a title fight. A title fight for a belt neither one is defending. A title fight for a belt that the champion has yet to lose.
That champion, Georges St-Pierre, tore the anterior cruciate ligament in his right knee in December and had to withdraw from defending his title against Diaz on Super Bowl weekend. It was his second knee injury in the past few months.
“The winner of this fight on Saturday will be more than just the new No.1 contender, but he won’t be the new champion, either,” St-Pierre said.
Which brings us to Diaz vs. Condit, a perfectly wonderful fight to enjoy. It need not be a title fight in order to garner interest. It won't increase the pay-per-view buys because a black leather strap with gold affixed to it will get fastened across the waist of the winner.
“I’m ready to spoil the plans for GSP to come back and fight Diaz,” Condit said. “I understand Diaz has said things to upset Georges, I understand he wants to fight him, but it won’t be next. When GSP comes back, I will be the interim champion.”
We operate in a transparent world now. A world where thousands of people found out about the death of the world's No. 1 terrorist via smartphone or hearing about that death from people on their smartphones while watching a baseball game. A world where a former Disney tween star's birthday cake becomes a scandal before the first cut is made. A world where people are more informed than ever before, whether that information is true or not.
Diaz has emerged as the new bad boy of MMA with a thug persona. He was the Strikeforce champion before giving up that belt to come to the UFC and fight St-Pierre. For several reasons – injuries to GSP and news conference no-shows by Diaz, to be precise – it has yet to happen. So after dispatching BJ Penn, and through a crazy labyrinth of scenarios, we have Diaz vs. Condit.
“I don't have it out for people, but I know who I am supposed to fight to be the best and that’s why I’m in this fight with Carlos Condit,” Diaz said. “He’s the next guy I need to prove myself against. We are both top level and we win by doing damage, not by trying to score points. He has a realistic fighting style like I do. I am not crazy, in my opinion everyone else is crazy. It is real fighting, real martial arts.”
The issue here is not about the fighting how, but the fighting for – a title. An interim title. By definition, a title they will hold while waiting for the real champion to come back and take it.
When Shane Carwin defeated Frank Mir for the interim heavyweight title in March 2010, he called it "the semifinals." Sure he carried that belt over his shoulder into the hotel that night and was greeted by fans calling him "champ." But he knew the score. Until he could beat Brock Lesnar, he would be the real champion. That never happened.
Same goes for Diaz and Condit. It may be nice to hear someone call them champ, but for many fans, those cheers will sound hollow.
“The way I see it, I am not the champion anymore on Saturday night,” St-Pierre said. “I have not fought since April, against my will, but I understand the champion must fight. You have to put the belt on the line in order to call yourself champion, the best in the world. Right now, I am not the best in the world. I am injured.”
When Diaz or Condit gets his hand raised on fight night, do not consider him the champion. Not until he actually defeats GSP. Both fighters are worthy of being champions and deserving of a title shot. Just not against each other.