Nick Diaz and B.J. Penn went to war at UFC 137. | Photo: AP Photo/Isaac Brekken
For Cesar Gracie, watching Nick Diaz fight B.J. Penn at UFC 137 was a “weird emotional experience.”
Gracie began training both fighters when they were 16 years old. Eventually Penn took his own path to the top, but years later Diaz still calls Gracie his coach and manager. Diaz also earned a unanimous decision over Penn on Saturday, and despite the ambivalence Gracie felt while seeing them fight, he believes the bout had to happen.
In an interview with the Sherdog Radio Network’s “Rewind” show, Gracie explained why and also discussed Diaz’s strategy, his value and more.
Gracie on the strategy against Penn: “He’s Hawaiian. He’s got a head like a coconut or something. Look at it. It’s hard to hurt the guy. You’re hitting it, you’re hitting it, but you try to bust open a coconut -- it’s very hard. His body, OK, a little flabby. It’s soft -- work the body, work the body, take the stride out of him and then go back up top. That was the whole strategy.”
On the adjustments discussed in Diaz’s corner after the first round: “We were playing with a couple of different things. If you look at his stance, Nick is an equally good boxer whether he’s coming out southpaw, which is what he fights at, or if he stands orthodox. Now I believe, if memory serves correctly, he came out orthodox and B.J. kind of did well there. I thought B.J. would have a good round. He was going to come out hard the first round no matter what. Nick’s style is just not to go crazy in a round, generally. I didn’t think B.J. could set a pace that Nick wouldn’t be able to handle. If you look at Nick, every round after that, he’s just getting stronger. That’s how he fights. He doesn’t come out crazy and gas himself out. A lot of these fighters do that. The thing is to set a pace and then slowly increase the pace and then the other guy is decreasing in his pace, so what do you think is going to happen? That’s pretty much our strategy there.”
On the importance of the fight: “I think this fight had to happen. In a way, everything that happened was fate. These two had to fight each other. People needed to see this fight, and I think it kind of cements Nick’s legacy. I’m personally glad this fight happened for that reason. In the history of fighting, I think that was an important fight to have.”
On Penn: “I’ve been cool with B.J. I’ve never had a problem with the guy. Coming up, he was actually on our team when he first started. … The animosity -- I mean, there’s not animosity. These guys can be cool again. I talked to B.J. afterwards. He was talking about being too old for this stuff, the whole thing. He’s only 32 years old. Really, I think, he’s in his prime. I would love to see him fight again. I would love to have him come to our school. If he does decide to come back and fight, I would definitely be giving him the invitation to come train with us. The only thing I would ask is probably that he leaves Matt Hughes at the door, and that’s about it.”
On Diaz calling out Georges St. Pierre, which Gracie said was not planned: “He wants the fight, but he’s got to do that to get the fight. He feels he already deserves it. Believe it or not, it’s not discouraged. It’s encouraged, you calling someone out. Hey, call this guy out if you want a fight, you know? People like that. There’s a story behind it. You call someone out, bam, the fight’s there.”
On Diaz discussing money issues at the post-fight press conference: “It’s something that I didn’t want to hear talked about at the press conference. I don’t think that’s the correct venue to talk about stuff like that. I believe that’s closed-door stuff. I think that was time to discuss the fight that happened and be happy about it. I wasn’t too happy about that, to be honest with you, and that’s how I feel about it.”
On Diaz’s value, as evidenced by fan reaction after St. Pierre withdrew from the card due to an injury: “Dana White came to the back room. You know what he told us? He said 12 people -- 12 people brought their tickets back. When GSP pulled out of the fight, a total of 12 people said, ‘I want my money back. I’m coming for GSP.’ … That’s it. Twelve people out of ten thousand nine hundred and whatever people that bought into that thing. Why? Because those people were there to watch fighting, and when they knew Nick Diaz was fighting B.J. Penn, they said, ‘Nope, we’re hanging out for this one.’”
Listen to the full interview (beginning at 6:25).