The Ultimate Fighter (TUF) 5 winner Nate Diaz will attempt to dethrone Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) Lightweight Champion Ben Henderson this upcoming Saturday (Dec. 8, 2012) in the main event of UFC on Fox 5 from the Key Arena, in Seattle, Washington.
Diaz has had a long path to to 155-pound title contention. After winning TUF 5, he rattled off five straight wins, finishing four of his opponents via submission. He then hit a rough patch, losing three of his next four, and decided to move up to Welterweight.
After a mediocre run (2-2) at 170 pounds, Diaz dropped back down to lightweight. Since that drop, he has looked phenomenal. After beating Pride FC legend Takanori Gomi into submission, Diaz tore through top contenders Donald Cerrone and Jim Miller to earn a shot against Henderson.
Does Diaz have the skills to bring a UFC belt back to Stockton?
Let's find out.
Nate, and his older brother Nick, have become famous for their aggressive style of boxing. Known as the "Stockton Slap," Diaz recklessly pushes forward while constantly throwing punches. Years of training with boxing coach Richard Perez has made them perhaps the best volume punchers in mixed martial arts (MMA).
Diaz often opens with a pawing jab, trying to disrupt his opponent's rhythm. He'll follow that jab with multiple hooks, over hands, or crushing body shots. Diaz is at his best when his opponent is starting to tire because he can pressure them with long combinations. Diaz is so aggressive with his boxing that his opponents never have a chance to recover.
Diaz pressures his opponents constantly, trying to overwhelm them. An excellent example of Diaz's dominating pressure is his fight against Muay Thai champion Donald Cerrone. "Cowboy," a wicked kicker, is especially dominant from range, so Diaz countered this by constantly getting in his face and throwing punches before he could kick. He would often pressure Cerrone against the cage, where he couldn't get off his kicks. Diaz battered Cerrone, breaking the record his brother set for most significant strikes landed in a three round fight, with 238 significant strikes.
Diaz is extremely active when he can pin his opponent against the cage. He likes to get an under hook and use that to pin his opponent to the cage, while attacking with his free hand. He mixes his shots well, switching hands and attacking the body. Since his drop back to Lightweight, Diaz has used knees from the clinch much more often. In addition to damaging his opponents, they deter his opponents from trying to shoot for a takedown.
There are a few flaws with the "Stockton Slap" style. Diaz keeps his hands down almost all the time, and rarely bothers to move his head. This is not a good combination, and Diaz has been dropped before. He gets over this flaw by having an iron chin and incredible recovery.
Diaz is also very flat footed. While this helps him pressure, it makes him vulnerable to leg kicks. Cerrone's only success in their fight was to kick Diaz's leg, knocking him to the ground multiple times.
Diaz has never been known for his wrestling, but it is getting better. He has been training Judo for years and recently began training Sambo.
He has a decent double leg takedown. When Diaz does a double leg, he likes to use the cage. After pinning his opponent's back to the cage, he will try to pull his hips into him and drag them off the cage. Against Melvin Guillard, Diaz would attempt a clinch trip. While Guillard stumbled and tried to defend, Diaz would drive forward with a double leg.
Diaz's best takedowns are from the clinch. He has a very tricky inside trip, and he also will attempt to throw his opponents when they get an under hook.
Diaz's takedown defense is currently a question mark. Before his recent drop to lightweight, it was well known that Diaz could be taken down easily. However, after being rag dolled by Rory MacDonald and laid on by Dong Hyun Kim at Welterweight, it seems Diaz decided to change that.
He has put on some serious muscle mass since those fights ... and it shows.
Jim Miller believed he'd be able to out muscle Diaz, but it was soon clear that wasn't the case. The first two minutes of their fight was a clinch war for position. Diaz was able to outmuscle Miller and wear him out and the collegiate wrestler was unable to take down Diaz once.
Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu (BJJ)
Diaz earned his Black Belt from Cesar Gracie last April. He has been training under Gracie since he was a teenager and it shows -- submissions account for 11 of his 16 wins.
Diaz is very aggressive with his submissions and his finishing technique is perfect. He prefers to attack from an open guard and likes to hunt for triangles. Diaz also likes to attack with guillotines and kimuras, and has recently began attacking with foot locks.
When he wants to sweep, Diaz will switch to a butterfly guard, and try to knock his opponent over.
Diaz is more than willing to sacrifice position for submission. One of his favorite techniques is to stand up while his opponent has his back. He then tries to latch onto a kimura. He hasn't finished anyone with it yet, but it forces them to let go. Against Dong Hyun Kim, Diaz often turtled up and then tried to roll for a knee bar.
Most of Diaz's submissions come from scrambles, or when his opponent tries to take him down. Takedowns create space, and Diaz is excellent at capitalizing on these opportunities.
A prime example of this is his fight with Kurt Pellegrino. After dominating the first round, "Batman" shoots for a single leg takedown and slams Diaz to the mat. While in the air, Diaz grabbed a guillotine and transitioned to a fight-ending triangle.
Diaz's technique is perfect here. Instead of trying to pull the head down, he gets an angle and squeezes.
Another example of Diaz capitalizing off of a takedown is his guillotine of Guillard. After losing the first round, Diaz landed a nice punch that hurt Guillard, who responded by shooting in for a takedown, but left his neck out. Diaz quickly latched on and finished the choke.
One of Diaz's best moves is his guillotine choke. He uses the Marcelo Garcia-style guillotine or "Marcelotine." The Marcelotine is the most effective of the many styles of guillotines. In addition to the above finish of Guillard, his finish of Miller was a perfect Marcelotine. Miller was rocked by punches and shot in for a sloppy takedown. Diaz grabbed his neck and sprawled, then decided to go for the choke. Miller tried to roll to avoid it, but Diaz came up and finished from the mount.
Pace and toughness
Diaz, a triathlete, is in extraordinary shape. His fantastic cardio is what allows him to attack in such high volume without slowing down. As his opponent slows, Diaz just keeps attacking them, breaking them physically and mentally. Diaz quickens this process by throwing nasty body shots, and pushing his opponents into the cage,one of the most grueling aspects of MMA.
Diaz presents a unique problem to opponents. His chin is sturdy, and his jiu-jitsu is just as sound. His opponents know going in that if they want to win, it will be by decision. Beating Diaz at this point in his career will be an arduous task --there is no easy path to victory.
Best chance for success
Diaz needs to employ the exact same game plan he used against Miller. He needs to come out swinging and try to clinch with Henderson often. If Diaz can tie up Henderson and sap his strength, he will win the fight in the championship rounds.
Diaz also needs to avoid Henderson's powerful leg kicks. He can do this in two ways, the first being the clinch. The other way is to crack Henderson with an over hand every time he kicks, which Frankie Edgar did in the second fight. If he lets Henderson kick him without retaliating, he is in for a rough time.
He should do his best to avoid Henderson's takedowns, but if he's taken down, he needs to attack immediately. Cerrone and Pettis threatened Henderson multiple times, and their jiu-jitsu isn't nearly as technical as Diaz's. If Diaz can lock on something, Henderson will likely be unable to get out.
Will Diaz bring the belt back to the 209, or will Henderson send him back down the ladder?