The Diaz brothers have a way of dividing the MMA community into camps that love or hate them. Regardless of your emotional state towards the pipe toting Stockton boys, I'm sure everyone was shocked to see Nate on the business end of a high kick Technical Knockout loss in his most recent outing against Josh Thompson. Personally, I picked Diaz to win via a late submission but was well aware that the former Strikforce contender had the wrestling to give Diaz some headaches. Like many, I did not think that Diaz's renown iron chin would finally wilt. A loss in itself can be devastating for one who competes at the upper echelon of the world's premier MMA promotion, a knockout loss, brings its own slew of obstacles. For Diaz fanboys (and that is a classification I fit into) the big question is: where does Nate go from here?
UFC on Fox 7 marked the first time that Diaz had been stopped via strikes. It was the second time that he had lost a fight inside the distance, the first occasion came in October 2006 when he tapped out to a Hermes Francaarmbar in a WEC Lightweight title fight. Shortly after that loss, Diaz was signed to compete in the Ultimate Fighter 5, and rebounded by winning the tournament, as well as his next five fights. For emotional fighters like the Diaz brothers, entering the cage on the heels of a loss often serves as added motivation. However, in the case of a knockout loss, certain fighters have returned to the cage with a more timid approach. The most heralded example would be George St Pierre. After a crushing first round KO loss to Matt Sera, GSP lost his Welterweight title, and in the eyes of many, his "killer instinct." GSP eventually came back to decision Josh Koscheck, armbar Matt Hughes, bulldoze Sera’s ribcage in a rematch for the title, decision Jon Fitch, and finally obliterate BJ Penn before wrasslin’ his way to six straight decision victories. The criticism thrown towards GSP in his second run as champ that he is "fighting safe," is often traced to the fact that his loss to Sera chipped his confidence in a way that his armbar loss to Matt Hughes could not.
It is often hard to tell how a KO loss effects a fighter. Chris Leben andRashad Evans present similar cases though. In June 2006, Chris Leben entered the cage to face Anderson Silva as a 15-1 fan favorite with a long highlight reel of brutal KO’s, but he woke up 60 seconds later with a lot of thinking to do. As a fighter who relied heavily on the strength of his chin and willingness to absorb punishment, getting stopped on the end of another man’s fists shatters his assurance in most effective tool. The results for Leben were obvious, while he came back to knock out Jorge Santiago (who doesn’t knock out Jorge Santiago) he lost his next two, to Jason MacDonald and Kalib Starnes and began a trend where he would lose a couple then win a couple. What makes it strange is that the level of competition is in some cases irrelevant, of the seven men to defeat Leben after his loss to Silva, three are no longer with the UFC. Rashad Evans, like GSP, lost his belt in a knockout loss, his coming at the hands of Lyoto Machida. While he came back with a four fight win streak over Thiago Silva, Rampage Jackson, Tito Ortiz, andPhil Davis; he was only able to secure a finish over a washed up version of Ortiz, with the other three wins turning into lay-and-prey affairs.
Going back to Nate Diaz, he is 28 years old and 18 fights seep into his UFC career. He has gone 11-7 in that run and has fought for a title along the way. As a fan, I hope to see him come back on a tear (some TD defense and kickboxing wouldn’t hurt). My biggest concern is that he loses that aggression that made me a fan in the first place. While a part of me is confident that Diaz will be back to shoving guys at weigh ins, flicking them off in the cage, and running his mouth in the clinch, I would hate to see him come back and shoot for double-legs all night. As a fighter who has relied heavily on the strength of his chin and indifference to absorbing punishment, the Thompson loss is going to give him a lot to think about as he gears up for his comeback.