Thursday, Dec. 29, 2011 | 9:23 p.m.
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At his core, Nate Diaz respects UFC 141 co-main event opponent Donald Cerrone as a fighter.
“I can appreciate some of his stand-up, jiu-jitsu and wrestling,” Diaz said. “He tries to fight a little bit more than the rest of the guys who get in there trying to win the rounds. That’s what you’ve got to do, but I appreciate he’s a guy who wants to fight.”
Cerrone (17-3 MMA, 4-0 UFC) and Diaz (14-7 MMA, 9-5 UFC) just have an awkward way of showing their respect. They’ve become hated enemies since the UFC announced their lightweight bout two months ago.
The origins of their feud actually started before that, when Cerrone tried to introduce himself to Diaz and shake his hand. Diaz slapped Cerrone’s hand away and cursed at him.
“I’m not going to let them get the satisfaction of putting me in my comfort zone,” Diaz said. “I’ve got to keep them on the outside. I don’t need them to try to figure me out, how to beat me. I’ve been through it. Anything that will make them sleep better at night, that’s why they want to come up, be friends and shake hands.”
Their rivalry has intensified during fight week events. It bothered Diaz when, at Tuesday’s open workouts, his media schedule overlapped with Cerrone’s and they were at the gym at the same time.
Cerrone continued to talk trash leading up to Wednesday’s press conference, which ended with Diaz knocking off his cowboy hat and shoving him. UFC President Dana White kept the two separate at the weigh-in, but Cerrone and Diaz exchanged words.
“Everybody in the world knows how nasty the Diaz brothers are,” White said. “But Donald Cerrone’s not the nicest guy in the world either.”
Their dislike boils down to an extreme difference in fighting philosophy. Cerrone said he could face his best friends in the octagon and not feel conflicted about trying to knock them out.
Diaz, it seems, must find a reason to channel his anger in a fight.
“Let’s just say for a second you’re fighting some maniac from the street who has killed 20 people and he’s crazy as hell, but you get a fair fight with him,” Diaz said. “He’s like biting his arm off and talking crazy (expletive). Then, you’re going to fight this nice guy who goes to church and just comes up and is ‘hey nice to meet you, it’s going to be a good fight.’ Who are you guys going to feel more comfortable fighting? I’d rather not be like the rest of these guys.”
Cerrone has some eccentricities of his own. If he defeats Diaz, Cerrone will have won seven fights in a row and stand out as the top contender at the 155-pound division.
But he’s not lobbying for title shot against the winner of a UFC 144 bout between Frankie Edgar and Ben Henderson. In fact, Cerrone couldn’t care less if his next fight was for a championship.
“Am I mentally ready to hold that belt? That takes a lot of pressure,” Cerrone said. “It takes an upstanding citizen to be the champion of something. I don’t know if I’m ready to make that sacrifice yet.”
Few fights are capable of generating major interest when on the same card as perennial headliner Brock Lesnar. But the UFC 141 co-main event has done the trick.
The drama unfolding between Cerrone and Diaz makes it too hard to ignore.
“A lot of these guys in the UFC, fighters, there’s like this jock thing going on,” Diaz said. “They want to be your friend. They feel comfortable being friends with everybody.”
“You stay on your side. I’ll stay on my side.”