Two very talented lightweights coming off recent title challenges will meet this Saturday night (April 20, 2013) as Nate Diaz takes on former Strikeforce 155 pound champion Josh Thomson on the UFC on Fox 7 main card in San Jose, California.
Nate Diaz was on a rampage in the UFC lightweight division, reaching to heights which put him on position to challenge for the lightweight title this past December, but he came up short to champion Ben Henderson in a dominant five round decision. He'll be looking to get back to his winning ways against Thomson.
Josh Thomson earned a trilogy fight against rival Gilbert Melendez for the Strikeforce 155 pound belt and put on a tremendous performance but he also came up short, losing a close and controversial decision. After some time off, he's back and returning to the UFC.
Record: 16-8 overall, 11-6 in the UFC
How he got here: Diaz didn't take the easy road. He made his MMA debut in the WEC and by his seventh professional fight, he was fighting for the promotion's lightweight title against Hermes Franca at the Brazilian's peak, losing via submission in the second round.
Undeterred, Diaz tried out for TUF 5, the first season to showcase the lightweight division. The self-assured Stockton native was one of the season's stars, constantly arguing with castmates, guest coaches and the like. He defeated Rob Emerson, Corey Hill and most impressively Gray Maynard via submission to compete in the Finale where he would be gifted the show's championship after fellow finalist Manny Gamburyan separated his shoulder in the main event.
Diaz got off to a hot start, defeating his first five UFC opponents before being derailed by tough wrestlers Clay Guida and Joe Stevenson. After an impressive second round submission of Melvin Guillard, Diaz would lose a split decision to Maynard, which would fuel his decision to bump up a weight class.
At welterweight, Diaz stopped both Rory Markham and Marcus Davis in his first two fights. This would put him in a position against some of the toughest young 170 pounders. Diaz had trouble getting outmuscled by Dong Hyun Kim in a tightly contested match and would get tossed around the cage by Rory MacDonald in a bout where he was completely physically dominated.
This spurred the decision to return to lightweight, as suggested by his coach Cesar Gracie and Diaz was paired up against Gomi, a scrappy fighter with some serious history against his brother. The former TUF winner destroyed Gomi, crushing him in the stand up and then finishing it on the ground with a nifty armbar transition from a triangle choke. He followed that up by absolutely dismantling both Donald Cerrone and Jim Miller in consecutive fights to more than earn a shot at the champion.
In his title fight, Diaz was dominated by Ben Henderson over the course of five rounds. He's hoping to return to his winning ways against Thomson, one of Strikeforce's top lightweight transfers.
How he gets it done: Diaz is becoming more and more like his older brother, Nick, every time we see him in the Octagon. It appears that after starting out as more of a submission fighter earlier in his career, he wants to stand and bang now. As Nick has grown in his boxing, so has Nate. He showed remarkably similar tendencies in his striking during his last few bouts with Gomi, Cerrone and Miller: talking trash, taunting with both arms, throwing quick precision strikes and a high volume of them.
Diaz needs to keep the pressure on Thomson in the stand-up. Thomson probably wants to keep his distance and work some push kicks but that plan will be foiled if Diaz can get in his face and really force him to make mistakes.
If the bout goes to the ground, it will be initiated by Thomson, but don't discount Diaz and his judo techniques. He's got very underrated ability to use his opponent's momentum against them and if his hometown opponent gets reckless shooting in for a takedown, he could either find himself reversed onto his back, stuck in a guillotine choke or even Diaz's patented double middle finger triangle choke special.
Expect constant forward pressure, some taunting and a huge volume of strikes headed Thomson's way. Diaz could potentially submit Thomson if he's aggressive enough, but if he could clip Thomson with his striking, "The Punk" could be weakened enough to not be able to stop a submission attempt.
Record: 19-5 (1 no contest) overall, 2-1 in the UFC
How he got here: Josh Thomson, now 33 years old, has been competing in mixed martial arts professionally since 2001. After just six fights, he was already making his UFC debut in 2003, which was right before the promotion shut down the division for a few years.
"The Punk" went 2-1 in the UFC before transitioning to Strikeforce where, after losing a title fight against Clay Guida in his debut, he was able to take over the division with an eight fight winning streak which included capturing the title and defending it twice, even defeating Gilbert Melendez in a thrilling five round battle.
Unfortunately for the American Kickboxing Academy product, Thomson would suffer a series of leg injuries which forced Strikeforce to create an interim championship, and he would lose his title to Gilbert Melendez in his return. Since losing hit belt, Thomson has narrowly squeaked past Pat Healy and JZ Cavalcante and was defeated by Tatsuya Kawajiri.
He's had his Strikeforce return delayed by another long string of injuries but was finally healthy and ground out an ugly decision in his last bout against Noons to earn one last shot at the Strikeforce belt. He put up a valiant effort, but came up just short, losing a close decision.
Now, after Strikeforce called it quits, he is back with the UFC and looking to make an immediate impact against Diaz.
How he gets it done: Thomson is a bit of a jack-of-all-trades. He's got a very well-rounded game and, when healthy, he's one of the most dangerous lightweights in the world.
In the stand-up department, he should really focus on bringing back those brutal push kicks which were so effective in the first fight with Gilbert Melendez. He got away from them in the rematch and he hasn't really gone back to them much. They could be a big boost for him if he goes back to his push kick roots against Diaz, who's been very susceptible to kicks in the past.
I'd highly recommend he not stand and trade punches with Diaz in the pocket as he'll just be asking for trouble.
Thomson likely has a short window in this fight so if he wants to make something happen, he needs to do it early. His cardio has been inconsistent at best and Diaz is known as a conditioning machine. "The Punk" has a pretty solid wrestling game, something he used to great effect against K.J. Noons. If all else fails, he could fall back on that against Diaz and try to stifle him on the ground.
Who will come out on top at UFC on Fox 7? Tell us your predictions in the comments below!