No, I haven't dipped into the Egg Nog too early, nor am I smoking the domestic crop of my province's finest hydroponic supply. In fact, the suggestion that Nate Diaz could be a UFC Lightweight Champion is tempered by the knowledge that he is an inconsistent fighter, prone to setbacks and uninspired performances.
But in that sense, young 26-year-old Nate Diaz is exactly like his brother Nick when he left the UFC as a 23-year-old sporting a 6-4 record inside the Octagon, including a loss to a very undersized Sean Sherk. Nate has had his share of problems, too, but at moments there have been flashes of brilliance, and hints that he is imbued with the same skills as Nick.
It isn't that I'm enamoured with the Diaz brothers, nor do I delude myself for a moment that they aren't uncouth, uncultured, disrespectful and downright impudent. The first time I saw Nate on the Ultimate Fighter 5, I considered him to be the antithesis to the martial artist and the kind of mutual respect and honour we're used to seeing from those who step inside the UFC proving grounds.
After watching Nate for a few more fights, however, I realized that it wasn't an act. He doesn't act this way because he's trying to disrespect MMA or other fighters. That's just the way he and his brother are hardwired, for better or worse, and it makes the sport that much more interesting to have their personalities in the game. They come to fight each and every time. And as Joe Rogan pointed out in Nick's last fight, not just to beat you on points, but to literally beat you.
So, what makes me think that Nate has the tools to make it all happen in 2012? Well, to look forward we have to first look back.
Diaz vs Gray Maynard, TUF 5 and Maynard vs Diaz
Nate Diaz may have only defeated a relative unknown when he submitted Gray Maynard in the Ultimate Fighter 5 semis, and since the match was only considered an exhibition, Maynard didn't lose his first official fight until Frankie Edgar knocked him out Oct. 8. In their first fight, Nate used brilliant jujitsu to lure Maynard to the ground where he sunk in a quick guillotine choke.
Then in the rematch last year, Nate lost a split decision in a fight that remained mainly on a feet. Although the judges probably made the right call, the match was as close as it could possibly be. Considering Maynard is widely considered the second best lightweight fighter in the world, it's significant that Nate is 1-1. And before anybody points out that those fights were years apart, it's significant to note that Maynard only recently pointed out that the Edgar trilogy is officially 1-1-1 despite also spanning three years.
Diaz vs Clay Guida, UFC 94
Following five consecutive wins, three by slick submission, Nate faced his toughest challenge at UFC 94 against Clay Guida, considered a perennial top five lightweight. Although Nate was outwrestled and mainly hugged by Guida for two of the three rounds, he lost a split decision by delivering one of the most challenging standup battles Guida has ever been in.
If you haven't seen the fight, the first glimpse that Nate has some of his brothers skills were displayed in the second round when he began picking apart Guida with volume punches to the head and body, and at one point backed Guida against the cage where he began raining blows. Fearing he was getting the worst of the punching battle, Guida went to his base and basically clutched Nate for the final round to win an unconvincing decision.
After losing to Joe Daddy Stevenson, Nate secured a very impressive rebound guillotine against dangerous striker Melvin Guillard before facing Gray Maynard in the aforementioned rubber match. Following that defeat he jumped up to his brother's division, turning in two very impressive performances, including a battering of Marcus Davis who up until that point had been considered the superior striker.
But when Nate faced elite grappler Dong Hyun Kim, his strength inadequacy at this weight class was seriously exposed. Although Nate had Kim reeling at the end of the third round, the Korean had done enough in the earlier rounds to take the decision. And really, that isn't so surprising. One of the biggest problems with the Diaz brothers is that they're late starters, and benefit much more from 5-round fights than they do the 3-round affairs.
When Nate met Rory at UFC 129, it was a wakeup call. Rory, considered by many to be the Canadian heir apparent in the welterweight division, mauled Nate over three rounds, including several suplexes and severe ground and pound. While Nate never embarrassed himself at welterweight, it was clear this wasn't where he belongs.
Diaz vs Donald Cerrone, UFC 141
After Nate dropped back down to lightweight, he made a statement with 4:27 dismantling of former Pride Champion Takanori Gomi. The win was a Diaz Brother clinic, lighting up the Japanese striker on the feet before luring him into a ground battle that Nate won with deadly ease. And just like his brother Nick, Nate has demonstrated some shockingly advanced jujitsu in his time since the appeared on the Ultimate Fighter 5.
So, what does this bode for UFC 141? There's no question that Cerrone represents a huge challange for Nate, and will definitively set his status as a contender for the belt in 2012. Cerrone twice waged war against the current number 2 ranked lightweight, Ben Henderson, who will fight Edgar at UFC 144 in February. Should Nate find a way to solve Cerrone — and nobody is saying that will be easy — he should be considered a top 5 lightweight in the UFC.
A win against Cerrone would not only put an exclamation point on the emergence of the Diaz brothers in the UFC as elite contenders, it would set into motion the perfect circumstance for both brothers, provided the elder brother can defeat The Natural Born Killer at UFC 143. With Gilbert Melendez set to face Jorge Masvidal in Strikeforce, it would be difficult to argue who would be next in line to fight the winner of Henderson vs Edgar other than a Nate Diaz.
In fact, with Guida, Maynard and Jim Miller out of the title picture for a while, Nate Diaz has the opportunity to put himself in a title fight in 2012. It all hinges on the biggest fight of his career at UFC 141.