— For the second straight day, the UFC made a blockbuster match announcement. This one, though, was as bizarre as it was stunning.
During a Wednesday press conference to publicize October's UFC 137 event, only one of the two main event fighters showed up. While long-reigning welterweight champion Georges St-Pierre arrived as scheduled at the Mandalay Bay Events Center in Las Vegas, challenger Nick Diaz was nowhere in sight.
It was the second straight press event Diaz missed, and as a result, the UFC removed him from the anticipated title fight, replacing him with Carlos Condit, a top five fighter in the division.
"We haven't heard from him, we haven't talked to him, and he hasn't returned my call," UFC president Dana White said.
The unexpected chain of events began unfolding on Monday, when Diaz missed the first of several flights from California to Canada over the past two days. He and St-Pierre were first scheduled for a media event in Toronto, but Diaz, who was staying with his manager and trainer Cesar Gracie, essentially slipped out the back door and went AWOL.
White said that he spoke with Diaz’s management a few times during the last 48 hours, and that the company spent upwards of $15,000 on rescheduling flights for him, but each time Diaz's plane left its gate, he wasn't on it.
"I've promoted 1,600 fights in my career," White said. "This has never happened once."
Given the unprecedented behavior, White said he couldn’t risk the same thing happening on fight night. As it was, event tickets had already gone on sale, and White said the company may have to provide refunds for fans who are not interested in attending the new matchup.
During the Las Vegas press event, Gracie called White, who took the call at the podium. Gracie relayed his apologies and told White he agreed with his strong course of action.
Diaz's arrival in the UFC had been highly anticipated after a strong run in Strikeforce, where he won all six of his fights and was the promotion's welterweight champion. Overall, he'd won 10 straight and had been considered by many to be the consensus No. 2 welterweight in the world, behind only St-Pierre.
Diaz had also long lobbied for the bout against St-Pierre, saying he deserved higher compensation and greater opportunities. Prior to signing Diaz and giving him the chance, White had cautioned that Diaz — who is notoriously media averse — would have to "play the game."
In the end, that was his undoing.
"When you do a press tour, whether it's mixed martial arts or boxing, the press tour is as old as the sport itself," White said. "I’ll give you an example. Who’s more difficult than Floyd Mayweather? He won’t fight [Manny] Pacquiao. He won't do this, he won't do that. Let me tell you what. Turn on HBO tonight. Floyd Mayweather is on “24/7.” He's got cameras all over his house. He's been flying around the country doing the press tour. As difficult as Floyd might be, he’s a professional when it comes to getting out there and doing what needs to be done."
White said Diaz lost out on a chance to make his biggest-ever payday, a sum he said was likely bigger than all his previous paydays combined.
St-Pierre was stunned by the series of events.
"To tell you the truth, at the beginning, when we want to Toronto and he didn’t make it, I didn't judge," he said. "I thought maybe something happened to him. I don't know the guy and I don't know his life. I was like, 'I hope everything is OK. Then I talked to some people and heard what happened. It’s a lack of professionalism."
St-Pierre will now face Condit, who is 27-5 overall and riding a four-fight win streak. In fact, if it wasn't for a controversial split-decision loss to Martin Kampmann in April 2009, Condit would be on a 13-fight win streak.
Condit's also finished his last three opponents, stopping Rory MacDonald, Dan Hardy, and Dong Hyun Kim. He had been scheduled to face BJ Penn at UFC 137 until the switch.
White said that when Condit got the news, he broke down crying in excitement and gratitude for the opportunity.
"It’s an honor to be able to fight for the championship, especially against one of the legends of our sport in Georges St-Pierre," Condit said in a statement. "I’ve been fighting for nearly a decade and there has been a lot of blood, sweat and tears that has gone into that. A lot of sacrifices have been made both personally and professionally, and I’m looking forward to showing the UFC that I am deserving of this opportunity."
UFC 137 takes place on October 29 from the Mandalay Bay Events Center in Las Vegas.
As for Diaz’s long-term future, White said he is not yet sure if he will release Diaz from the organization, but acknowledged it is a possibility.