For one round, it looked like everyone that thought B.J. Penn was too much for Nick Diaz appeared to be correct.
For one round, B.J. Penn showed terrific movement, offensive grappling and crisp boxing.
Unfortunately for "The Prodigy" last night (October 29, 2011) in the main event of UFC 137, the fight was for three full rounds.
In those final two rounds, the former Strikeforce welterweight champion Diaz picked the Hawaiian apart with his patented volume punching and crazy offensive onslaught, an attack so brutal that fans were shocked to hear the announcement of Penn's retirement after the bout was over.
So what was the key factor that allowed Nick Diaz pull off the minor upset? And what's next for both fighters? (You should probably know this one already.)
B.J. Penn got off to a strong start. He hung out in the pocket, darted in and out and landed his strong punches against Diaz's defensive liabilities in the stand-up. He ducked down with a beautiful takedown and nearly took Diaz's back during a scramble.
Penn ducked down with a beautiful takedown, grabbing a leg and swiftly taking Diaz to the canvas. Diaz attempted to defend with a guillotine choke but Penn rolled through it and nearly took Diaz's back during the resulting scramble.
Notice how as Penn attempts to get his second hook in, Diaz swiftly pushes it off with both hands and forces Penn to have to work from his back with just the one hook. This would allow Diaz to escape the dangerous position moments later. It was some very clever defense from the Cesar Gracie trained black belt
Once back to the feet, Penn initiated a clinch and simply never allowed the Stockton native to put much offense together.
Round two, on the other hand, was the turning point of the bout. Diaz appeared to have let his Octagon jitters subside and he began to really go to work with his patented taunting and trash talk. "The Prodigy" found himself pinned against the fence in the clinch, but that's not a place to relax against Nick Diaz. Instead, Diaz pounded on Penn with some dirty boxing and short, swift knees. He really knows how to put some offense together from that position.
After stuffing a takedown attempt from Penn, Diaz unloaded with a combination to the body that appears to take some of the fight out of the multi-divisional champion. Some tremendous footwork allowed Diaz to get Penn right where he wanted him, with his back against the fence and in perfect range to be on the end of his full offensive onslaught of punches.
At this point, Nick Diaz simply began to just beat B.J. Penn up. Penn was stuck on the outside with no escape routes. Every time he tried to move to the side, Diaz cut him off and began unloading on him with his patented "Stockton slaps" as Mike Goldberg calls them.
Watch how Diaz is simply able to overwhelm Penn with sheer offense. He's not showcasing any defense but Penn does not have the time to counter. He was in pure survival mode for the final two minutes of the second round. Diaz also drops to the body just long enough to keep Penn honest with his defense.
It truly was a thing of beauty to witness live, seeing Diaz work against a very high level opponent like that.
Penn showed true heart in round three, refusing to wilt under the pressure of Diaz's offense, even backing the Team Cesar Gracie fighter up at times, but he simply couldn't keep up with the pace that the occasional triathlete was able to set. The third round was closer than the second, as Penn did get some offense off, but the ridiculous volume of Diaz's attack made up for anything that "The Prodigy" was able to muster.
In the end, the judges decided unanimously in Nick Diaz's favor, all three giving him the final two rounds, with one even giving Diaz a 10-8 score in round two. It was the prototypical Nick Diaz performance. The key factors in the victory for the pride of Stockton were:
a.) Body punches - Diaz really began to work the body of B.J. Penn early in round two and it really began to play a factor as the Hawaiian faded badly in the final two minutes. You could tell that his lateral quickness had been affected as well as his endurance. I believe the body punches of Nick Diaz were the most important factor in his victory as they laid the groundwork for his offensive onslaught in the later rounds.
b.) Range - Nick Diaz found his range in the second round. From about the four minute mark on until the remainder of the fight, he was able to connect on Penn with nearly every strike he threw while the former two-time UFC champ routinely came up short with his counter strikes.
c.) Footwork - The last place you would ever want to be against Nick Diaz is with your back pinned against the fence while he's in perfect range to keep you on the end of his punches, yet B.J. Penn found himself there routinely in the final two rounds of the fight. Credit this to Nick Diaz's excellent use of footwork which enabled him to maneuver Penn into the fence. He also cut Penn off every time he tried to escape the position, trapping him along the fence time and time again.
d.) Endurance - The Cesar Gracie black belt has some of the best cardio in MMA, bar none. He overwhelmed Penn in round two, connected with over 100 punches and he didn't even look like he was breathing hard in between rounds. The fact that he's able to push that sort of pace and not get tired was huge.
e.) Volume - Once Diaz got going after his typical slow start, Penn got overwhelmed by the pure volume of strikes being thrown in his his direction. Even though Diaz wasn't using great defensive boxing, Penn was never able to capitalize on an opening because he was constantly on the defensive.
For B.J. Penn, he put up one great round against Diaz, but his inability to score a takedown or put his opponent in the clinch in the beginning of the second round was his downfall. He allowed Diaz to get comfortable, which is the last thing in the world you want to do. He announced his retirement after the fight, but Penn is also incredibly emotional after his fights. He may stick with it, and with an 0-2 record against both champions at lightweight and welterweight, this may be a legitimate retirement. If he doesn't call it quits, though, don't be surprised to see Penn return to lightweight and face someone like Gray Maynard or Melvin Guillard.
For Nick Diaz, this was his true coming out party to UFC fans around the world. Everyone got a taste of what the Stockton bad boy brings to the table and they loved every second of it. Dana White announced during the post-fight press conference that Diaz, not Carlos Condit, would be getting the next title shot against Georges St. Pierre, and quite a bit of it had to do with Diaz calling out GSP in his post-fight speech, claiming he was faking an injury to duck him. This has the potential to be a huge pay-per-view for the UFC if they market it correctly, as it will go down on Super Bowl weekend.
So what do you think Maniacs?
Were you shocked by what Nick Diaz was able to do last night to one of the UFC's all-time greats? Do you think Penn's retirement will stick?
All gifs by Zombie Prophet via IronForgesIron.com.