Photo by Esther Lin for Showtime
MMAmania.com resident fighter analyst Andrew Richardson breaks down the mixed martial arts (MMA) game of UFC 158 headliner -- and former 170-pound Strikeforce champion -- Nick Diaz, who will attempt to crack the smothering top control code of Welterweight kingpin George St. Pierre this Saturday night (March 16, 2013) in Montreal, Quebec, Canada.
Former Strikeforce Welterweight Champion, Nick Diaz, takes on Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) 170-pound kingpin, Georges St. Pierre, this Saturday (March 16, 2013) in the main event of UFC 158, a pay-per-view (PPV) event that takes place at the Bell Centre in Montreal, Quebec, Canada.
Diaz's entire mixed martial arts (MMA) career has been an intense journey filled with highs and lows. Between getting cut from the UFC in 2006 and his upcoming title fight, Diaz has failed drug tests and missed press conferences, while making time to smash some of the best fighters in the world.
In Diaz's most recent fight, he battled "The Natural Born Killer" Carlos Condit to a controversial decision loss. After the fight, Diaz failed a drug test for marijuana metabolites and was suspended for one year. He tried to sue the Nevada State Athletic Commission, but ultimately failed. Despite the drama, Diaz will still get a title fight in his return fight because the champion requested it.
Does Diaz have the skills to finally bring a UFC belt to Cesar Gracie's gym?
Let's find out:
Trained by Richard Perez, both Diaz brothers have a unique, high volume style of boxing known as the "Stockton Slap." They are also among the very few fighters who constantly dig to the body. While this aggressive style has made them some of the best fighters in the world with a devoted fan base, it also has some serious flaws.
One of the keys to Diaz's striking is his constant aggression. He is always stalking his opponent, attacking him with long combinations before pushing them into the cage and continuing his assault.
Before Diaz has his opponent pinned against the Octagon, his attack comprises mostly the jab and straight left. Diaz often doubles or triples up his jab, doing his best to constantly keep his hands in his opponent's face. Diaz still throws his trademark looping hooks, but he doesn't throw them as often because he can't control his opponents' postures, which means their punches are more dangerous.
Once Diaz has his opponent pinned against the cage, he will really let loose with his strikes. Diaz alternates between the head and body, ripping hooks and uppercuts. From this position, Diaz can really tire out his opponent. Constant pressure combined with body shots is exhausting, and once his opponent slows, Diaz gets even more aggressive, putting all his weight behind his punches.
When Diaz is clinch fighting, he constantly controls their arms or heads with one arm. He'll push their hands away from theirs face and then attack them with his free hand. This is the main reason Diaz can constantly out-strike his opponent from the clinch -- even when he doesn't move his head and his opponent is stronger. Notice in the below .GIFs, Diaz pushes on his opponents' heads and bodies or grabs their hands before attacking.
While Diaz is normally too aggressive to counter his opponents' strikes, he occasionally responds to his opponents' counters. After a long Diaz combination, many of his opponents will attack with a single power punch. Diaz knows this, and will try to counter their punches by coming over top with a hook.
When Diaz's opponents are sucked into a brawl with him, he's going to come out on top. It doesn't matter if it's one of the hardest punchers in the division, Diaz will eventually overwhelm him.
If his opponent refuses to brawl with him, that's when things get a little more difficult for Stockton's finest. Diaz doesn't like -- or doesn't know how -- to adapt when his opponent refuses to fight how he wants. K.J. Noons and Carlos Condit were both able to frustrate Diaz with constant movement instead of letting him pin them against the fence.
Diaz's forward movement, combined with the fact that he puts much weight on his lead leg, making him very susceptible to leg kicks. Instead of checking them, Diaz normally tries to gut through them. And while he's tough enough to endure the pain, leg kicks interrupt his combinations and earn his opponents points on the judges' score cards.
Another big flaw in Diaz's game is his complete lack of head movement. Diaz invites his opponents to punch him in the face, anything to get them to brawl with him. This is great if his opponent takes the bait, but if they remain composed and pick their shots, it can cause Diaz problems.
The weakest aspect of Diaz's game is clearly his wrestling. It's clear that Diaz spends most of his time working on his boxing and jiu-jitsu rather than takedowns.
On the rare occasion Diaz decides a takedown is necessary, he'll go for a low single leg takedown. Then, he'll try to lift the leg and knock his opponent off balance. He will also attempt a double leg against the fence, but it is very ineffective.
The most recent, and in my opinion most impressive, takedown Diaz has shown was in the fifth round of his interim title fight against Condit. Diaz ducked under Condit's punch and secured a grip around his waist. From there, Diaz deftly kicked out Condit's ankle, yanking him to the mat and easily taking his back.
Diaz's takedown defense is a bit of an enigma. He hasn't faced a truly elite wrestler since he fought Sean Sherk at UFC 59 in 2006. Diaz's takedown defense was quite impressive in that fight, stuffing 17 of Sherk's 19 attempts. This was a good sign, but Diaz has such a huge reach advantage on Sherk that it could be a bit misleading.
According to Fightmetric, Diaz has a respectable 64 percent takedown defense percentage. While this is encouraging, it doesn't erase the fact that Diaz lost to Sanchez and Riggs primarily because they spent the majority of the fight on top. Realistically, even if Diaz's takedown defense has improved tenfold since those losses, St. Pierre will still be able to take him down at will.
Diaz earned his black belt under Cesar Gracie in 2007. Before he was a boxer, Diaz was a feared submission specialist, and eight of his wins come via tap out.
Most of the time we see Diaz's jiu-jitsu, it's from his back. Diaz has a very active guard and is always either setting up a submission or looking for an opportunity to stand back up. Most of Diaz's recent submissions come from attacking his opponent when he is hurt rather than just pursuing the submission from the start.
It's clear just from looking at Diaz's record that he likes to attack his opponents' arms. When he's on the bottom, Diaz will constantly isolate an arm and then quickly rotate his hips under his opponent. Once he gets a good grip, he'll roll under his opponent, flip them, and then finish the arm bar. Diaz did this to finish both Hayato Sakurai and Evangelista Santos. Diaz also looks for kimura grips, which he will either use to sweep, submit, or transition to an arm bar.
To see one of Diaz's older arm crunching submissions click HERE. Diaz isolates Santos' arm and then rotates under:
After distracting "Cyborg" with a quick hammer fist to the gut, Diaz wrenches the arm and hips in:
The most famous submission of Diaz's career, one of the most famous submissions ever, is his gogoplata finish. The gogoplata is a notoriously difficult move to pull off, but Diaz managed to finish the choke against Pride FC legend Takanori Gomi.
After a back-and-forth brawl, it was clear that Gomi was dead tired. Diaz was picking him apart, so "The Fireball Kid" went back to his roots and shot in for a double leg takedown. He knocked Diaz off his feet, but Diaz quickly threw his legs up looking for a submission. He pulled his leg in front of Gomi's face and tucked it under his neck and then trapped Gomi's head with his free leg. Diaz pulled on his head, ending the fight. Although it was overturned because of a positive drug test for marijuana, this fight put Diaz on the map.
More important than a fighter's offensive submission capabilities is his defensive ability. We rarely get to see Diaz fight someone who is willing to grapple with him, but B.J. Penn was more than willing to try to submit Diaz. Penn is one of the most decorated and talented American jiu-jitsu practitioners ever, and Diaz was able to defend himself extraordinarily well.
In the first round, when Penn was still fresh, he attempted a single leg takedown. Diaz reached over Penn and rolled him, ending up on top in half guard. However, Penn was determined and used an under hook to attempt to take Diaz's back. Diaz never allowed Penn to get his second hook in, eventually getting back to his own half guard. Not long after, Penn allowed Diaz to get back to his feet.
A large number of MMA fighters are terrible at controlling fighters once they take their backs. If you watch a season of The Ultimate Fighter (TUF), you'll see at least a dozen guys just slide off when their opponents make minor moves. Penn is not one of those guys. On the contrary, his back mount is deadly, made even more dangerous by his incredibly flexible hips, and Diaz was able to escape in less than one minute. This is a very impressive feat, as Penn was able to finish some very accomplished grapplers from this position such as Matt Hughes, Kenny Florian and Joe Stevenson.
Diaz is well known for his rather unique way of training for fights. Most MMA athletes go through rigorous eight-week camps, focused almost entirely on getting in shape, while reinforcing their gameplans. Instead, Diaz actively trains cardio year round and focuses on building his skills all the time.
A triathlete, Diaz's entire game is to put on a pace that his opponent can't match. Constant pressure tires his opponent, and he adds to the process by mixing in a large amount of hard body shots. Diaz can keep a pace for 25 minutes that most fighters can't for a round.
Indeed, there is a good reason both Diaz brothers are seen on FightMetric's "Most Significant Strikes Landed in a Fight" list.
It is common to see Diaz get hurt in the beginning of fights, he often gets dropped or rocked in the first two minutes. The reason this doesn't continue throughout the fight isn't because he adjusts his defense or changes his gameplan, it's that his opponent doesn't have the energy to throw bombs at him. Once his opponent can't hurt him, Diaz knows the fight is over, and it's just a matter of time until his opponent crumbles.
Best chance for success
St. Pierre is a big favorite over Diaz and for good reason. The champion has a caliber of wrestling that Diaz has never faced -- he hasn't even fought a good wrestler in years. Adding on a year of ring rust, Diaz has a serious challenge waiting for him in Montreal.
In reality, this fight will hinge on whether or not GSP makes a mistake. Skill-wise, Diaz is a bit outmatched. I'd say the striking is about even, but St. Pierre will be able to take the fight to the ground whenever he wants to. Luckily for Diaz, his style is very good at causing his opponents to make mistakes.
Diaz needs to be even more aggressive than normal with his striking. He has to eat a few of St. Pierre's jabs in order to get in close and then rip punches to the body as fast and as often as he can. If he has any advantage, it's his cardio.
St. Pierre has great cardio himself, but it's his ability to recover in between rounds that is unmatched. If Diaz can land power shots to the body, it will slow the champ's recovery and give Diaz a better shot in the later rounds. Additionally, body shots will open up shots to GSP's head, as Serra proved when he upset the French-Canadian.
This fight will inevitably go to the ground. Frankly, I think it's pointless for Diaz to train to defend St. Pierre's takedowns. Instead, he should focus on attacking from his guard. St. Pierre really likes to use a can opener to pass his opponents' guards, which opens up arm bars. This suits Diaz quite well, and he should do his best to take advantage of it.
Will Diaz bring a belt home to Stockton, or will the champion keep the belt in Canada?