Photo by Esther Lin for SBNation
The Diaz brothers are cut from the same cloth.
Both are hard-nosed scrappers who are nearly impossible to finish; however, both have also had trouble with larger fighters who were able to keep the fight on the mat.
Such was the case with Nate Diaz's move up to welterweight. He did exceptionally well in his first two bouts, earning stoppage wins over Rory Markham and Marcus Davis, but hit brick walls in the form of Dong Hyun Kim and Rory MacDonald, the latter of which tossed Diaz around like a ragdoll.
Despite his six-foot frame, the younger Diaz didn't have the muscle or wrestling chops to crack the upper echelon of the welterweight division. So, a move back to the more natural 155-pound weight class was in order.
His first fight back at lightweight was against an old family foe, Takanori Gomi. "The Fireball Kid" and Nick Diaz clashed at PRIDE Fighting Championships' penultimate event and put on one of the greatest mixed martial arts (MMA) displays in history. The Japanese fighter opened a chasm under Diaz's eye and broke his orbital bone only to fall straight into a gogoplata submission, securing the win for Stockton native.
Nearly five years later, Nate Diaz looked to pick another win for his family at UFC 135 against the former number lightweight in the world.
He steps inside the Octagon this Saturday (May 5, 2012) against Jim Miller in the main event of UFC on Fox 3 with a potential title shot on the line. But, before he does, let's examine his one-round thrashing of the Japanese champion.
Each fighter begins pawing their jab at each other and while Gomi's fist hangs about half a foot away from his opponent's face, Diaz is nearly tagging the Japanese fighter every time he sticks his arm forward. Gomi, thinking he might have the distance figured out, eats a straight right from the Stockton native and looks to counter with a haymaker of his own.
Instead, a quick left jab from Diaz stuns Gomi and "The Fireball Kid" drops to the mat, albeit momentarily, before getting back to his feet. Immediately, Diaz begins to stalk his opponent, backing him up against the cage and using his superior reach to his utmost advantage. A solid body punch lands for Gomi but just about everything else whiffs through the thin Denver air.
Pressure is the name of the game for Diaz, who constantly throws punches, forcing Gomi to work tirelessly to avoid getting hit. As the Japanese fighter circles away, the Stockton native moves laterally to cut off the Octagon, keeping "The Fireball Kid" with his back literally against the wall. One of Gomi's patented whirlwind right hands is dodged by Diaz who counters with a solid hook that staggers the former PRIDE champion.
Gomi answers back with another body punch but the cardio possessed by the Diaz brothers is legendary in the sport. A few punches to the ribs won't affect them one bit. The two lightweights clinch up after an exchange and Diaz really begins to open up.
Midway through the round, Diaz starts dropping his hands and taunting his opponent. He waves his hand in front of his face before popping a jab off and snapping Gomi's head back. Punch after punch land against the Japanese fighter's skull. Nearly every single strike throw connects and "The Fireball Kid" has no answer for it.
He attempts to drop to the mat for a takedown but Diaz's Brazilian jiu-jitsu training kicks in and he defends perfectly, quickly transitioning to Gomi's back. Before anything of consequence can occur, they're both back on their feet and the onslaught from the Stockton native continues. Gomi is able to get Diaz onto his back but just like older brother Nick did at PRIDE 33, the American instantly works towards a submission.
He nearly locks in a triangle choke but Gomi is able to avoid at least for a moment. As Diaz's legs begin to squeeze against his opponent's head and neck, "The Fireball Kid" shifts to his side so Diaz transitions to a perfectly executed armbar, immediately forcing a tapout.
It was a dominating return to lightweight, a performance Diaz replicated against Donald Cerrone a few months later.
Now with a possible title shot on the line, can he make it three in a row against Miller?
We'll find out on Saturday.