The Ultimate Fighter (TUF) 5 winner, Nate Diaz, takes on longtime rival and two-time Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) Lightweight title contender, Gray Maynard, in TUF 18 Finale main event this Saturday (Nov. 30, 2013) at Mandalay Bay Events Center in Las Vegas, Nevada.
Diaz has had an erratic mixed martial arts (MMA) career, punctuated by win streaks where he looks phenomenal and setbacks that make him appear quite mediocre. After his short trip to Welterweight, which proved an unimpressive journey at best, Diaz was on the upswing. He first put on a perfect performance against Takanori Gomi, lighting up the Japanese star before choking him out.
Next, he brought the fight to Donald Cerrone, boxing up the lanky kickboxer with ease for three rounds. Cerrone was closing in on a 155-pound title shot at the time of this defeat, thrusting the Stockton-based fighter into contention. And then an absolutely dominant victory over Jim Miller earned Diaz that shot against then-champion Ben Henderson.
Unfortunately for the Californian, "Smooth" was just too good that night, easily taking a decision over Diaz. His next fight against Josh Thomson ended in particularly devastating fashion, as Diaz was stopped via strikes for the first time in his career by a "Punk" head kick.
Can Diaz turn it all around once again verses Maynard?
Let's find out:
Nate, along with his brother Nick Diaz, possesses one of the most unique boxing styles in any martial art. Known as the "Stockton slap," Diaz will plod toward his opponent flicking out a high volume of punches, rarely throwing at full speed or power. This style takes advantage of his height and reach, as he can start his combination outside of his opponents' range before stepping in with harder shots.
From the outside, Diaz will pick and poke at his opponent with a pawing jab. In addition to disrupting his opponents' rhythm, it allows him to establish his range. While Diaz does most of his work while in close, he can land effective jabs and straights.
As he gets a little closer to his opponent, Diaz will mix hooks and uppercuts into his attack. This is where Diaz will begin throwing in a higher volume, as well as digging body shots.
Diaz loves to work over his opponent from the clinch. Alternating between the head and body, he'll constantly batter his opponent with both small and hard shots. One of Diaz's favorite techniques is to get an underhook, grind his forehead into his opponent's jaw, and attack with his free hand. When Diaz is working from the clinch, he does not rest, always chipping away at his foe.
Recently, Diaz has also begun using his knees in the clinch. He uses knees just like his punches, preferring to throw at a high pace rather than look for the knockout blow. He'll also work his opponent's body with knees.
One of the biggest keys to Diaz's striking game is pressure. Diaz, a triathlete, has absurd conditioning, allowing him to push a pace that very few opponents can match, especially since moving backwards and attacking is more exhausting than lumbering forward like Diaz. Despite his pressure based style, Diaz doesn't do the best job cutting off the cage, allowing craftier opponents to continually circle away from his offense.
The best example of Diaz's effective pressure is his bout with Cerrone. "Cowboy" is an excellent kicker, something Diaz has historically struggled with. However, Cerrone wasn't able to handle Diaz's forward movement, as the Cesar Gracie-trained fighter steadily pushed forward and landed shots, not allowing Cerrone the space necessary for effective kicks. It was a record setting performance for the younger Diaz brother, as he stole his brother's record for most significant strikes landed in a three round fight.
There is a reason so few fighters fight like the Diaz brothers, and that's because it is a flawed style. Both are flat-footed, which allows their opponent to circle away and kick out their legs, which makes it fairly impossible to land hard punches. Additionally, their constantly stalking while lowering their hands leaves them vulnerable to counters.
Diaz generally only loses to two types of fighters: Expert kickers and smothering wrestlers. The second is because of his fairly weak wrestling ability, although he does have experience in Judo and Sambo.
He has a decent double-leg takedown. When Diaz tries a double-leg, he likes to use the cage. After pinning his opponent back to the cage, he will try to pull his hips into him and drag them off the cage.
Diaz's best takedowns come from the clinch, where he knows how to use his height advantage. He often works inside and outside trips, mixing them in with his striking. In addition, if his opponent secures a strong underhook, Diaz will step across and attempt a hip toss.
It's hard to get a read on Diaz's takedown defense. At welterweight, he was fairly helpless against the bigger men. But in his current lightweight run, it's been hot and cold. Against Jim Miller, who's a pretty talented wrestler, Diaz stuffed every shot and tired Miller out in the process, then out-worked him from the clinch.
In the fight immediately after, against Ben Henderson, Diaz was taken down at will, barely defending anything. After that horrible performance, Diaz went 1-1 on takedowns with Thomson, a very talented wrestler. His inconsistency is fairly astounding.
Diaz, a Cesar Gracie black belt, started off as a jiu-jitsu based fighter and, despite his greatly improved boxing, still is. A majority of his finishes are via submission, and he has displayed his grappling excellence inside the Octagon more than once.
From the bottom, Diaz likes to use both the butterfly and open guard. His bottom game has evolved quite a bit over the years, as he moved from climbing his legs up high on his opponent's shoulders to inverting in search of leg locks. He seems to have settled on a more open, fluid guard where he looks for armbars and triangles.
One excellent example of Diaz's smooth submission game off of his back -- as well as his dynamic boxing -- is his finish of Gomi, which can be viewed below.
Another of Diaz's favorite techniques is the kimura. When on his back, he'll wrap up his opponent's arm and try to finish the submission or get a sweep. If neither works, he'll roll up to a turtle position, where he can either stand or try to roll for the submission. If he stands and his opponent stills hangs onto him, then he'll step across and go for a throw while controlling the kimura, which he did to Junior Assuncao.
Using the kimura like this is a dangerous technique, as it exposes his back, but it's one that him and his brother love to use, often to get back to standing.
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. For whatever reason, Pellegrino doesn't move very much, not even trying to posture out of the triangle.
Diaz's technique, as usual, is perfect here. Instead of trying to pull the head down while straight with his opponent, he gets an angle and squeezes, forcing Pellegrino to submit.
Another example of Diaz capitalizing on his opponent's takedown is his guillotine choke finish of Melvin Guillard. Guillard shot in on Diaz with a double leg but left his neck exposed, allowing the Stockton native to loop his arm around his neck. From there, Diaz switched his grip and applied pressure, finishing "The Young Assassin."
The Guillard finish is an excellent example of Diaz's best submission, his nasty guillotine choke. Diaz utilizes the Marcelo Garcia-style guillotine but adds his own twist to it. At first, Diaz wraps up his opponent's neck and arm. Then, he'll swim his choking arm deep around their neck, until his hand is next to their ear. Once his arm is sufficiently deep, he'll let go of the arm and connect his grip. From this position, he can effectively block both carotid arteries and put his opponent to sleep quickly. If his opponent tries to freak out to escape, Diaz will simply roll him into mount, further increasing the pressure.
Best Chance For Success
Diaz needs to establish his jab early in the fight like he did against Gomi. He can't afford to brawl recklessly into the clinch, where Maynard will be able to ragdoll him. Instead, he should work his range attack and try to hurt Maynard with his straight punches.
Staying at range doesn't mean Diaz should decrease his volume of punches. Cardio is likely his biggest advantage, so he can't afford to waste it. However, if he avoids the clinch, Maynard's knees will be irrelevant and he'll have to shoot from a far range to get Diaz to the mat. A far out shot can leave Maynard vulnerable to a guillotine and make it easier for Diaz to stuff the shot.
If Maynard does come in with the plan of taking down Diaz, he should focus on getting back to his feet rather than work from his back for submissions. It's fine if he attacks during transitions or takedown attempts, but it would probably end poorly if he let Maynard maintain top position while he threw up triangle attempts. Instead, he needs to utilize his kimura or butterfly guard to get back to his feet.
Can Diaz end his losing streak or will Maynard win the rubber match?