After delivering one of the more shocking upsets the mixed martial arts (MMA) world has seen in recent years, Josh Thomson showed that he's been paying attention in class. In his second-round "Knockout of the Night" of the eminently durable Nate Diaz (watch the replay here), Thomson made a triumphant return to UFC, where he hadn't competed since 2004.
In short, like his brother Nick, Nate Diaz has now lost his last two bouts. And given their identical fighting styles, it's clear that opponents have embraced what's worked against them and adjusted to shape their strategies around it. Both will have to add elements to their game as a natural counter to this evolution, or suffer for it.
Now, to be fair, it isn't like the Diaz brothers are fighting scrubs.
Far from it. Nick's decision loss to Carlos Condit was seen as controversial by some (not this writer, however) and like everyone else lately, he was steamrolled in a title challenge against Georges St. Pierre. And Nate's five-round whitewashing at the hands of lightweight champ Ben Henderson was a gutty -- if outgunned -- performance. But the dramatic swing of fates lately makes it obvious that the rest of the fight game has paid close attention to what works and what doesn't against the Diaz style.
For starters, "The Punk" clearly paid close attention to a key thread running through all three of the Diaz brothers' previous losses: attack the lead leg while being as mobile as possible and constantly changing directions to prevent them from setting up in the pocket and forcing exchanges. And at all costs, prevent from getting smushed up against the cage, where they excel at bashing, grinding and ultimately wearing people down.
And he steered clear of exchanging in the pocket beyond one or two quick shots prior to making a hasty exit.
If given this range, the Diaz brothers are incredibly tough to discourage, and invariably end up bouncing punches off your head while you swing at the target. Backed with their solid chins, top-notch conditioning and stifling jiu-jitsu game, they, in a straight-up punchout, are absolutely in their element and very tough to beat.
But throw in some movement and kicks, and they are suddenly quite human.
It's one of the great mysteries how neither Diaz has ever developed even modest kicking ability. Sure, they'll throw one now and then, but they're telegraphed and, frankly, terrible-looking, almost like a passing team calling a running play now and then to keep the defense honest. It's too bad, too, because with their skill set, better kicking would be a huge asset. Very few fighters are willing to go to the ground with them, so there's less worry about being taken down (a common failing with kicks) and it would also allow them to negate movement and expand their attacking range.
MMA is constantly adjusting as fighters take notes on what works, and what doesn't.
It's clear that opponents have seized upon the Diaz brothers' weaknesses: a lack of kicking, a disdain for defending them, and a general hard-headed approach to how the stand-up game should transpire. They've never been short on toughness, but future bouts will be a real measure of how well they can adjust to a hole that their opponents have readily seized upon, and will continue to do so until it's closed.