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First major Strikeforce card with new ownership features UFC castoffs

Nick Diaz and Paul Daley meet in the Strikeforce cage on Showtime Saturday

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Sam Morris / Las Vegas Sun

Paul Daley is pulled away from Dustin Hazelett’s corner by Herb Dean at UFC 108 on Jan. 2, 2010 at the MGM Grand Garden Arena . Daley won by knockout in the first round.

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Nick Diaz, top, punches Evangelista "Cyborg" Santos, from Brazil, in the second round of a Strikeforce Welterweight Championship mixed martial arts fight in San Jose, Calif., Saturday, Jan. 29, 2011. Diaz won by submission in the second round to retain his championship.

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Even though his company now owns Strikeforce, UFC President Dana White has vowed not to attend the fight promotion’s events for a while. White notes that he doesn’t want to make anyone feel uncomfortable.

Strikeforce had long served as the landing ground for fighters who clashed with White and lost their opportunity to fight in the UFC. Two of the better-known examples meet in the main event of Saturday’s San Diego card, the first major Strikeforce show under UFC ownership, when British standout Paul Daley challenges Nick Diaz for the Strikeforce welterweight title.

The event will air at 10 Saturday night via tape delay on Showtime and live at 7 on the channel's east coast feeds.

Diaz hasn’t fought in the UFC in five years and has often been critical of the organization. White handed down a lifetime ban to Daley after UFC 113, when the 28-year old lost a fight to Josh Koscheck and responded by punching him several seconds after the final bell.

When Daley heard the news that UFC had acquired Strikeforce last month, he threatened to pull out of this weekend’s bout.

“I was acting a bit hot-headed at the time,” Daley said. “I’m that kind of character. The way I saw it was Strikeforce was the biggest competition to the UFC and Dana White kicking me out of the UFC, I kind of thrived in knowing that I was the rival. That’s what was driving me. I was in competition with them directly.”

Daley said his manager helped convince him to fulfill his contract and compete in Strikeforce despite the change. UFC and Strikeforce will continue to operate as separate entities for the foreseeable future, according to White.

But it’s hard not to wonder what would happen to a fighter like Daley if UFC ultimately absorbs the Strikeforce roster or at least holds mega fights pitting the two promotion’s best against each other.

“I think the most important thing for me right now is beating Nick Diaz and becoming the champion,” Daley said. “Whatever happens after that will work out whether I’m fighting guys that come from the UFC or Strikeforce or whether Dana swallows his pride and lets me come over to the UFC and fight.”

The bad blood doesn’t run as deep between White and Diaz. But White hasn’t seriously perused bringing Diaz back to UFC after his initial 6-4 run five years ago because of the trouble that comes with him.

“The problem with Nick Diaz is Nick won’t play the game even this much,” White said as he gestured a tiny space between his fingers at a Q&A session earlier this year. “You can’t (flip off) the athletic commission. You can’t tell people off. You have to play the game a little bit. Nobody’s telling him not to be who he is and not to act the way he wants, but you’ve got to play a little and when he does, we’d love to have him back in the UFC.”

Diaz was at the center of a brawl that broke out after a Strikeforce event in Nashville last year and had similar issues in the UFC. He infamously punched opponent Joe Riggs in a Las Vegas-area hospital after a unanimous decision loss at UFC 57.

Diaz has often lashed out during media sessions, recently calling out other fighters. Although he kept his cool for the majority of a recent conference call promoting Saturday’s fight, Diaz did raise his voice once to complain about participating.

“I’m missing practice right now being on this,” Diaz said. “I’m missing a very serious practice. I got a lot of people right in front of me on the mat right now training. I need my practice and I’m over here on this call.”

Unlike Daley, Diaz sees the UFC ownership as a positive. He said it would help everyone witness the fights they want to see, but that doesn’t mean he’s campaigning for a matchup with any of the UFC’s top welterweights anymore.

“I just worry about the fighting part,” Diaz said. “I think that’s important. That’s why I’ve got somebody to take care of all that.”

Diaz has excelled since leaving the UFC, going 10-1 with one no contest and successfully defending his Strikeforce title three times. Daley has done the same, winning all four of his bouts and knocking out his last two opponents in the first round.

After initially resisting, Daley will go for his fifth straight Saturday.

“I don’t like to see the way it’s going with other sports,” Daley said. “It’s going to be a monopoly in that in 10 years time people are going to be calling MMA the UFC. I think that’s bad and that’s why I wanted to pull out of the fight.”

Case Keefer can be reached at 948-2790 or [email protected]. Follow Case on Twitter at twitter.com/casekeefer.

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