After more than one year of promotional drama and assorted Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) fight card-reshuffling, Welterweight champion Georges St. Pierre and Nick Diaz finally meet tonight (March 16, 2013) at the Bell Centre in Montreal, Quebec, Canada, in what remains a mixed martial arts (MMAA) marquee match ups.
After a string of defenses in Strikeforce that showcased his potent stand up and high-volume pressure attack, there are no mysteries as to what Diaz’s gameplan will be in the UFC 158 main event: He’s going to come in the same way he always does, looking to force exchanges and mentally break "Rush."
For the champion, Diaz presents a tactical quandary that will have to be solved carefully. He can probably rely on his powerful takedowns and stifling top game to shut down Diaz’ jiu-jitsu, while winning rounds, but he’ll be tempted to try stand up first to gauge how well he matches up here.
No matter what happens, given Diaz’s durability and fighting spirit, he’ll be dangerous as long as the fight’s still going, even though it’s a lock that he gets bloodied and battered should it go past a few rounds.
Check out a complete breakdown of the UFC 158 main event between Georges St. Pierre vs. Nick Diaz below:
The key element in foiling the Diaz stand up style, as nicely demonstrated by Carlos Condit and Ben Henderson, is punishing the lead leg as they wade in to set up shots. Diaz rarely uses kicks and isn’t very effective with them when he does, preferring instead to put a lot of weight on the right leg and pivot in and out on it, tossing off shots and forcing a numbers game which he almost always wins.
For St. Pierre, the key to disrupting Diaz’s centerline are sharp kicks to the leg, as well as switching back and forth from conventional to southpaw. It’s generally a sucker’s game to get into a headhunting contest with Diaz because his excellent chin is underwritten with solid head movement and smart positioning of his torso and hands; therefore, St. Pierre should look to smash the body and the lead leg instead of unloading at the head early.
For Diaz, getting frustrated in fights is usually the norm when the other guy won’t cooperate with his gameplan. He showed it visibly against Condit, who simply refused to stand and trade, using circular movement and angles to consistently get off first. If Diaz starts gesturing and talking smack, that’s a sign that he’s probably getting outstruck and trying to lure St. Pierre into a war.
On the ground, St. Pierre has many options there, too. His takedowns are the best in the game and he should have few problems wresting Diaz to the mat. How much St. PIerre decides to ground-and-pound versus maintaining position is a keen ability of his. If you watch the Condit bout, he makes consistently smart decisions on when to improve position, when to strike, and he has a great sense of when submission set ups are developing.
Diaz is probably more likely to win by knockout than submission, but that doesn’t mean he won’t try, especially if St. Pierre consistently takes him down and dominates the action. Conditioning is a huge factor in this bout because there are few fighters who run opponents out of gas as effectively as St. Pierre, who can basically ride foes all night and give few if any opportunities to score.
It’s incredibly taxing to fight from the bottom with a masterful top-game stylist grinding away, and at some points, Diaz may have to give up his back or take a positional risk to return to his feet. If he lays there with a scowl on his face while St. PIerre chips away and banks rounds, he’s losing the fight.
Diaz can certainly take notes from Condit’s decision loss in St. Pierre’s last outing at UFC 154, during which "Natural Born Killer" had some good spots standing and even stunned the champ with a big head kick in the third round, putting the champion in the worst trouble he’s been in since the Matt Serra upset in 2011.
If Diaz is to win, he has to fight a near-perfect bout, executing laser-sharp stand up and the kind of takedown defense we still haven’t seen from him. However, St. Pierre remains one of the best gameplanners in the sport and he simply may have too many options.
I’m not sold on the fact that he’s not going to be able to stand with Diaz because the Stockton scrapper has a much more complete arsenal, rarely attempting takedowns, which means we can probably expect some sharp kicks from St. Pierre. He’ll mix it up with his excellent left jab, scooting in and out and outpointing Diaz, who’ll land the occasional looping hook but be outscored 3-1 on the feet early.
After a round or two of this, St. Pierre will feel confident enough to switch up and hit takedowns, showing his huge advantage in wrestling as he ragdolls Diaz to the win, landing ground-and-pound to cut up the challenger. It’d be a huge feather in St. Pierre’s cap if he could get a stoppage, but given his penchant for playing it safe and riding out comfortable advantages to keep his belt -- combined with Diaz’s excellent ability to absorb shots -- it’s hard to see this one going much different than the Condit bout.
St. Pierre will score on the feet and then nail consistent takedowns, punishing Diaz over an increasingly one-sided five-round drubbing, riding to a comfortable unanimous decision win.
St. Pierre via unanimous decision
Remember that MMAmania.com will provide LIVE round-by-round, blow-by-blow coverage of the UFC 158 pay-per-view (PPV) main card action, which is slated to start promptly at 10 p.m. ET. Up-to-the-minute updates and fight-by-fight coverage will begin to flow earlier than that, however, around 6:30 p.m. ET with the "Prelims" bouts on Facebook and FX.
Jason Probst can be reached at twitter.com/jasonprobst