GSP’s Firas Zahabi, Diaz’ Cesar Gracie and the difference between a team and a camp

UFC Welterweight champ Georges St. Pierre utterly dominated challenger Nick Diaz at UFC 158 on Saturday night, taking home a unanimous decision win that…

By: Nate Wilcox | 11 years ago
GSP’s Firas Zahabi, Diaz’ Cesar Gracie and the difference between a team and a camp
Bloody Elbow 2.0 | Anton Tabuena

UFC Welterweight champ Georges St. Pierre utterly dominated challenger Nick Diaz at UFC 158 on Saturday night, taking home a unanimous decision win that had him winning all 5 rounds on all three judges’ cards. Diaz showed signs of coming to life in the third round as the champ tired a bit but was unable to do anything with his opportunities.

The post-fight talk by both fighters and their head coaches Firas Zahabi (GSP) and Cesar Gracie (Diaz) has shown a stark contrast in approaches. It’s the difference between a professional fighter and his professional team and an old-school martial artist and his camp.

Both Zahabi and Gracie were on the MMA Hour with Ariel Helwani on Monday and their comments were telling.

St. Pierre is the consummate professional and it’s no surprise that Zahabi, his head trainer, is the same. He told Helwani his perspective on the pre-fight attempts of Diaz’ camp, led by teammate and former GSP opponent Jake Shields to create a controversy about GSP’s hand wraps:

“I was outside, when [Tri Star fighter] Mike Ricci was fighting,” Zahabi said. “So right when I came in, I saw Jake Shields waiting at the door, so I said hello to him. I didn’t know what he doing there, and when I walked into the room they were like ‘hey, they’re not letting us, they’re interrupting us.’ I was more than happy, but they told me they already did come in and check the hand wraps, so I said, you know what, not more than that, because it will never end.

“Then it will be checking his cup,” he said. “Then it will be checking his shorts, then, what else, we’re warming up here, you don’t have infinite time to warm up. We’re going to go through a routine, we’re not going to be interrupted, the commission came in and said ‘please do check it again.’ The referee came in and checked the gloves and I said ‘you know what, bring NASA, if someone from the NASA office is out there, bring them in and let them check anybody who wants to check anything, you can have the hand wraps after the fight. You can have the gloves, send them to any laboratory you want, bring VADA in here right after, before, during, after.’ But I don’t want them to call the shots. I don’t want them to tell me when we’re warming up and when we’re not warming up.”

Zahabi’s response was typically professional. He cut through the B.S., protected his fighter and got on with the task at hand.

In contrast Cesar Gracie seemed like a man at the end of his tether following a public broadside from UFC president Dana White who blamed Gracie for much of the chaos surrounding Diaz:

“I’m going to have a discussion, especially with Nick,” he said. “I need to make sure we’re on the same page with everything. Sometimes, the stress of doing something is a little bit crazy, and I do the best I can but it’s kind of stressful. Then I have to ask, It this worth it to even do this? Maybe if there was somebody who could do this job that Nick or Nate — if they wanted to go — that they could really trust, that might be a good thing. But again, that’s a personal thing between us.”

Gracie has essentially raised Diaz in the sport. Unlike GSP who has had a number of mentors in addition to Zahabi, Cesar Gracie has been the sole sensei teaching Nick throughout the younger man’s career. And as much as Gracie has earned his place as a legend of the sport by training Nick, his brother Nate and former Elite XC and Strikeforce champs Jake Shields and Gilbert Melendez, you sometimes wonder if he isn’t a major contributor to the chaos surrounding Diaz. This is a man who couldn’t even get his own paperwork handled so he could be in Diaz corner:

On Saturday, instead of working Diaz’s corner, Gracie sat in the first row, watching as a spectator. He said that due to a severe cold, he had to wait an extra day to fly to Montreal, and even though he’d filed his paperwork to corner Diaz with the commission far in advance, they would not allow him to do so after missing the fighter’s meetings, which usually includes all last-minute instructions. Instead, his cousin Kron Gracie took his place.

Then there’s the whole mini-controversy about whether or not GSP had a spy in Nick’s camp, Gracie told Helwani:

“I think it would have to be a complete gameplan switch on what happened and training a little bit different and everything. There was some stuff, it’s almost like “GSP” really knew the moves that Nick was going to do from bottom. It’s interesting, you know? That’s my idea watching the fight. It was really weird. Because Nick does stuff that’s very unique and he hasn’t even, he does it in grappling but he doesn’t necessarily do it in fighting. And he was doing it more in fighting and it was kind of like, wait a minute, this guy is like one step ahead, he knows exactly…it was kind of odd. Almost like someone from our team, or something, not a current member, you know? I don’t know, it was one of those things, but, that’s whatever, I don’t want to make out an issue at all. I don’t know without all the facts.”

Contrast that kind of feeding the fires of his fighter’s paranoia to Zahabi’s cool headed view of the GSP vs Diaz banter:

“He was annoyed, I won’t lie,” Zahabi said. “But then the annoyance turned to laughter. We kind of started making fun of the whole situation. We’re kind of laughing at the whole dialogue. Both of them don’t understand each other. Both of them crack jokes and make fun of them, what a crazy fiasco it all was. We kind of tried to lighten up the mood. At the end of the day, it was just that they both didn’t understand what the other was saying. It’s just a mind-boggling conversation, one guy’s talking street and the other French Canadian English you need a really unique interpreter to explain it all, it’s incredible.”

The contrast couldn’t be more clear. Zahabi’s Tri-Star gym is part of GSP’s MMA team where each person knows their role and executes it professionally. Cesar Gracie by contrast runs a camp for martial artists that is more like a family where everyone does their best to support one another but can’t help bringing in their own drama.

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About the author
Nate Wilcox
Nate Wilcox

Nate Wilcox is the founding editor of As such he has hired every editor and writer to work for the site. Wilcox’s writing for BE is known for its emphasis on MMA history, the evolution of fighting techniques and strong opinions. Wilcox developed the SBN MMA consensus rankings which were featured in USA Today from 2009 to 2011. Before founding BE, Wilcox was a political operative working for such figures as Senators John Kerry and Mark Warner and an early political blogger. He is the co-author of Netroots Rising, a history of the political blogosphere from 2003 to 2007. Wilcox also hosts the Let It Roll podcast on music history for the Pantheon Podcast Network.

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