Lightweight boxing and Brazilian jiu-jitsu fighter, Nate Diaz, is set to collide with Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) Featherweight roost-ruler, Conor McGregor, in a Welterweight bout this Saturday (March 5, 2016) at UFC 196 inside MGM Grand Garden Arena in Las Vegas, Nevada.
As usual, things are rarely simple with the Diaz brothers. After fighting infrequently for a couple years and seeing his ranking fall as a result, Diaz scored an upset victory over Michael Johnson, propelling himself back into the Lightweight Top 10 several months back.
Thankfully, Diaz is already back in the Octagon, but it's opposite a red-hot Conor McGregor on less than two weeks' notice. Can the Stockton slugger upset McGregor and shock the world?
Let's take a closer look at his technical skill and find out:
Diaz, along with his older brother Nick, have been taught extensively by boxing coach Richard Perez, developing their own style of boxing known unofficially as the "Stockton Slap." This style is designed to take advantage of Diaz's long reach and incredible conditioning, as the both brothers can push an incredible pace that really saps their opponents.
Over the years, the counter to this style of striking has been developed. Diaz stands with his lead foot turned inward -- which is common in boxing -- and is rather flat-footed, a pair of details that make him quite vulnerable to low kicks. Furthermore, Diaz very much fights as a pressure fighter and does great work against the fence/in the clinch, so lots of lateral movement can also throw him off his game.
Thankfully, it seems that Nathan Diaz has begun to adapt.
In his last bout, Diaz faced off with one of the division's absolute best strikers, the highly athletic Henri Hooft trainee Michael Johnson. While Diaz still absorbed some hard low kicks, he also made a conscious effort to both check and avoid the strike rather than simply toughing it out. Since he was no longer hobbled by low kicks, Diaz was able to take over later in the bout as his opponent began to slow down.
Furthermore, Diaz showed a far more effective kicking arsenal that he'd ever displayed prior. Utilizing low kicks to the inside and outside of his opponent's lead leg, linear kicks to the leg, and at one point a snapping high kick, Diaz effectively caught his opponent off-guard and landed solid strikes.
While Diaz now has a deeper bag of tricks, his original strengths of length and volume still apply. When allowed to work from the boxing range, Diaz is a very effective fighter.
Diaz absolutely takes full advantage of his range and uses his Southpaw jab well. He throws the strike with enough snap to make it a threat, but Diaz actually uses the strike correctly. Often, it's simply a measuring tool, used to line up Diaz's long straight left (GIF).
Additionally, Diaz does a nice job of drawing his opponent out with the jab. After getting touched by a jab, many fighters will look to immediately return with their own punches. Diaz is aware of this and will pull back or simply let his foe miss -- reach is a beautiful thing -- and counter with his own left cross or right hook.
Diaz often backs his foe into the fence, and from there he'll move into the clinch. Diaz does a nice job keeping good head position in the clinch and ripping into his opponent's body, which further expands his conditioning edge (GIF). For example, Diaz loves to secure an underhook, dig his forehead into his opponent's jaw, and then relentlessly chip away at his foe with his free hand.
Knees have also become an effective weapon for Diaz over the years. He really weighs down on his foe in the clinch and is active with hard knees to the body and head. Diaz will also look to snap his opponent's head down into the front headlock position, where he can deliver more knees (GIF).
Regardless of whether it's at range or in the clinch, Diaz's pressure fighting is exhausting for his opponent. Diaz simply never allows his foe a moment to breathe, and he compounds this problem by ripping to the body fairly often. While his opponent is forced to stay on edge and is firing full speed, Diaz manages to stayed relaxed and throw plenty of half-speed shots, setting up his real power shots.
Plus, the whole running Triathlons helps him out a bit.
Since fighting him is such an exhaustive experience, Diaz has become excellent at swarming opponents. Once his foe begins to tire, Diaz steps into more of his punches and usually forces a finish.
The largest critique against the Diaz brothers has been there lack of wrestling. Although that appears to be changing as well -- Diaz did well in wrestling exchanges with Johnson and is on a different strength regiment now -- it's unlikely that it's a strength.
On occasion, Diaz will shoot for a double leg takedown against the fence. It's not always set up well and Diaz's posture isn't great, but he is actually fairly effective if he manages to get in on his opponent's hips.
Diaz has some experience in Judo and Sambo, and that shines through in his clinch work. He occasionally will work for trips, but Diaz does his best with hip tosses. Utilizing his opponent's underhook against him, Diaz will step across his opponent's body and flip him over (GIF). Additionally, Diaz has utilized a similar throw after digging under the body lock, as both throws take advantage of his opponent's attempts to hold onto the clinch/force a takedown (GIF).
Diaz's takedown defense at this point in his career is difficult to get a read on. It looked good against Johnson, but Johnson had no real desire to grapple with the submission specialist. Prior to that bout, dos Anjos had little trouble taking Diaz down, but he also mangled his leg to the point that Diaz could barely stand up.
Which, of course, has a significant effect on his ability to defend the shot.
On the whole, it's pretty unlikely that Diaz has blossomed into a fighter with elite takedown defense. However, he's also not an easy man to take or hold down.
Though he's well-known for his exciting stand up battles, Diaz is first and foremost a jiu-jitsu practitioner. A black belt under Cesar Gracie with 11 submission wins under his belt, Diaz's ground game should not be taken lightly.
From the bottom, Diaz likes to use both the butterfly and open guard. His bottom game has evolved quite a bit over the years, as he moved from climbing his legs up high on his opponent's shoulders to inverting in search of leg locks. Most recently, he seems to have settled on a more open, fluid guard where he looks for armbars and triangles while occasionally rolling for leg attacks.
Another of Diaz's favorite techniques is the kimura. When on his back, he'll wrap up his opponent's arm and try to finish the submission or get a sweep. If neither works, he'll roll up to a turtle position, where he can either stand or try to roll for the submission. If he stands and his opponent stills hangs onto him, then he'll step across and go for a throw, usually while still controlling the kimura. Most recently, he used this get up to briefly toss Maynard.
Using the kimura like this is a dangerous technique, as it exposes his back. However, Diaz is confident enough in his jiu-jitsu defense to risk it.
Most of Diaz's submissions come from scrambles, or when his opponent tries to take him down. Takedowns create space, and Diaz is excellent at capitalizing on these opportunities.
A prime example of this is his fight with Kurt Pellegrino. After dominating the first round, "Batman" shot for a single-leg takedown and slammed Diaz to the mat. While in the air, Diaz grabbed a guillotine and transitioned to a fight-ending triangle. To finish the submission, Diaz adjusted his angle and squeezed his legs, leaving his hands free for his signature celebration (GIF).
Another example of Diaz capitalizing on his opponent's takedown is his guillotine choke finish of Melvin Guillard. Guillard shot in on Diaz with a double-leg, but left his neck exposed, allowing the Stockton native to loop his arm around the neck. From there, Diaz switched his grip and applied pressure, finishing "Young Assassin," who did little to defend himself (GIF).
The guillotine is likely Diaz's most dangerous submission. Diaz utilizes the Marcelo Garcia-style guillotine but adds his own twist to it. At first, he'll snatch up his opponent's neck and arm, as it allows him better control. As he swims the choke deeper, Diaz will wait until the opportune moment to release the arm and fully attack the neck. Additionally, Diaz often looks to roll his opponent into the mount, where he can really extend through the choke (GIF).
Diaz asked for this fight, and while it may not be under ideal circumstances, he now has it. If Diaz is in shape, he's a real challenge for the Irishman, as Diaz is not one to walk into a counter punch knockout. That means Diaz has a decent chance of dragging this bout into deep water, where the Stockton-native excels at drowning his opponent with endless punches and some choice trash talk.
Andrew Richardson, a Brazilian jiu-jitsu purple belt, is an undefeated amateur fighter who trains at Team Alpha Male in Sacramento, California. In addition to learning alongside world-class talent, Andrew has scouted opponents and developed winning strategies for several of the sport's most elite fighters.