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UFC 196: Nate Diaz, 'Fighter to Watch' tonight in Las Vegas

Get ready to take a trip down memory lane with as we take you through the rollercoaster ride Nate Diaz has endured over the span of his 12-year professional mixed martial arts (MMA) career before he faces Conor McGregor later tonight (Sat., March 5, 2016).

Reinhold Matay-USA TODAY Sports

Normally I would write this article on a fighter who is taking a step up in competition, or one who may see a breakthrough into the official rankings, but this isn't any ordinary UFC pay-per-view (PPV) card.

As much as the UFC 196 card suffered when Lightweight champion Rafael dos Anjos pulled out of his headliner with 145-pound titleholder Conor McGregor roughly two weeks before the contest was set to go down inside MGM Grand in Las Vegas, Nevada, later this evening (Sat., March 5, 2016), it may very well be more entertaining with the addition of one Nathan Diaz.

The rebellious and often times childish young brother of former Strikeforce Welterweight champion Nick Diaz, Nate finds himself in an interesting predicament. The Cesar Gracie disciple now has the big money fight he was angling for against McGregor fresh on the heels of his trouncing of Michael Johnson on the scorecards back in Dec. 2015.

What he does with this golden opportunity is for Diaz to decide.

Twenty-eight fights into his professional mixed martial arts (MMA) career and Diaz can prove he's much more than a needle mover. But, before we can begin to analyze his upcoming "Sin City" match with the outlandish Irish striker McGregor, take a trip down memory road and check out the path he took to get to this point.

Diaz began competing 12 years ago in then popular California promotions World Extreme Cagefighting (WEC) and Strikeforce. This is where fans first got a taste of the Stockton attitude. He achieved success quickly, piling up five wins in seven tries, with three of his victories coming via submission or technical knockout. His lone loss came when he ventured out of the states to the Pancrase organization in Japan.

For those who don't know, Pancrase was somewhat of a hybrid wrestling-MMA organization started in the 1990s. A then 19-year-old Diaz traveled to Japan to take on Koji Oishi in Aug. 2005, two months after the latter took out Nick at UFC 53 with strikes in round one.

It wasn't the easiest of outings for the southpaw as he was dropped twice in the first two rounds en route to a unanimous-decision loss. Oishi largely dominated the tilt with his powerful right hand and body kicks, which roughed up the Mexican-American.

Diaz made his way back to the ring several months later in March 2006, marking the beginning of his run toward the WEC 155-pound title. He racked up early stoppages of Tony Juares and Gil Rael to begin the year, before he took on Joe Hurley.

Hurley had no answer for the takedowns and grappling of Diaz, who secured multiple takedowns in round one and finished off the former with a triangle choke. It's not as if Diaz could've had an easier path to victory seeing as how Hurley was also submitted by his brother Nick and another high-level grappler in Vitor Ribeiro beforehand.

A 3-0 record in WEC was good enough to allow Diaz to compete for his first professional belt in Oct. 2006 when he faced UFC veteran Hermes Franca. The Brazilian jiu-jitsu black belt got the best of Diaz, forcing him to tap out to an armbar in round two.

The knock on Diaz at this juncture, and quite frankly in present times, was that if you could frustrate him early it would make him a hell of a lot easier to deal with in the later rounds. Apparently, his second loss lit a fire underneath him as he went on an eight-fight win streak, including his three submission victories over Gray Maynard, Corey Hill and Rob Emerson on The Ultimate Fighter (TUF) 5.

Following his win over Manny Gamburyan in the show's finale, Diaz continued to put his elite ground game to work, reeling off first-round submissions over Junior Assuncao and Alvin Robinson. What we saw from Diaz in those victories was an improved level of patience, making sure he found the openings before taking any chances.

He was a terror to deal with even off of his back.

The year was now 2008 and Diaz was 8-2 coming into a tussle with New Jersey's Kurt Pellegrino. The prolific wrestler had his way with Diaz for the entirety of the first frame, cutting him open with vicious elbows. It seemed like that pattern of violence would continue, but Diaz hung tough and upon being taken down for a second time in round two, he threw up his legs and locked up a triangle choke for the tap.

His victory over "Batman" was a testament to his heart and mind. Pellegrino had submitted many fighters before him so this was indeed a feather in the cap of Diaz.

Diaz hit a rough patch between 2009-11, where he evened out at 5-5. A few of his losses were to wrestlers like Clay Guida and Gray Maynard, but also top-tier strikers like a Rory MacDonald.

It was also during this period when Diaz moved up to compete at 170 pounds, which undoubtedly played a role in his losses to "Red King" and Dong Hyun Kim.

Diaz moved back down to Lightweight later in 2011 and engineered a run that to the title that included signature wins over Jim Miller and Donald Cerrone. His win over "Cowboy" was one that he could hang his hat on as he outstruck the future Lightweight title challenger 238-96.

Unfortunately for Diaz, his title bid didn't go quite as well as his victory over Cerrone. Then champion Benson Henderson pretty much wiped the floor with Diaz, who was repeatedly taken down and punished by the MMA Lab-trained product.

Things didn't get much better for him as he alternated wins and losses between 2013-15. There was also that self-imposed retirement by Diaz, who tried to play hard ball -- as the Diaz brothers always do -- with UFC President Dana White.

Diaz was beat up by Strikeforce veteran Josh Thomson and future titleholder Rafael dos Anjos in that time frame, bringing on speculation as to whether his passion for the sport had left him.

He answered the critics very clearly in a lopsided win over the Blackzilians star Johnson. Diaz put forth a striking clinic against "The Menace" and kept the straight left in his opponent's face all night long for the unanimous decision.

That led to a call out McGregor, which more than likely played a role in him receiving the call to clash with McGregor on short notice. It will be a tall order, so to speak.

Diaz, at 6'0," is fresh. Not only is he training for a triathlon, but he just competed in Dec. 2015 and suffered no injuries realistically. The one thing you can't knock the Diaz brothers for are there cardio. Now, cardio doesn't win you a fight. I get that. However, styles make fights and this is certainly an intriguing affair.

Diaz is able to take an incredible amount of punishment -- he's only been finished twice in a 12-year pro career. That's saying a lot. But, I also recognize that McGregor is truly a special athlete, who moves with grace and fluidity that is rarely ever seen in the Octagon. Love him or hate him, the Irishman's striking is something to behold.

With that being said, Diaz can fight tall and protect his chin, but he can also throw himself into harm's way at times. That's where the discipline comes in and where many of McGregor's opponents, like Chad Mendes and Jose Aldo, have faltered.

McGregor's talk and pre-fight grandeur have a way of invading the minds of his foes. He does this effortlessly.

Although Diaz is a southpaw and will surely expect the missile of a left hand that McGregor boasts to be coming, I see him eventually being finished off late in round one. I just don't see this working out well for him, unless he plays it cool and mixes in a few takedown attempts.

That's my prediction. Have any questions or comments? You know what to do.

Thanks for reading! Enjoy the fights.

For continuous coverage of the entire UFC 196 card, including live updates and play-by-play, click here.

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