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Fighter on Fighter: Breaking down UFC 202's Nate Diaz

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MMAmania.com resident fighter analyst -- and aspiring professional fighter -- Andrew Richardson breaks down the mixed martial arts (MMA) game of UFC 202 headliner Nate Diaz, who looks to smack his foe down once more this Saturday (Aug. 20, 2016) inside T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas, Nevada.

Long-time veteran and scrappy finisher, Nate Diaz, is set to rematch with knockout artist and megastar, Conor McGregor, this Saturday (Aug. 20, 2016) at UFC 202 inside T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas, Nevada. Diaz is nearly a 10-year Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) veteran, but he’s nonetheless bringing new tricks with him into the cage and coming into this bout off the best pair of wins in his career thus far. Now, rather than move forward, the world is doubting Diaz once more, as the Stockton-native must prove himself opposite McGregor a second time.

Still, this is a massive bout for Diaz. With a victory, he’s successfully headlined two of the year’s biggest pay-per-views (PPV) and will be close to a Lightweight title shot. However, defeat will knock him a step back, as there’s little chance that Diaz would get his own shot at revenge.

With the high stakes in mind, let’s take a closer look at Diaz’s skill set:

Striking

Diaz and his older brother bring along a few pretty unique tools to the table, and their boxing coach Richard Perez has helped them develop a style that makes sense for the lanky boxers. There’s definitely been some adjustments made over the years — as other fighters have begun planning specifically for the "Stockton Slap" style of striking — but overall his entire game capitalizes on his length and impeccable conditioning.

The Diaz game plan has long been to pressure and clinch or work the opponent into the fence. Either way, it revolved around forward movement and closing the distance, which fleet-footed opponents managed to negate, often with movement and low kicks.

Since Diaz stands with his lead foot turned inward -- which is common in boxing -- and is rather flat-footed, he has historically been quite susceptible to low kicks. Against Rafael dos Anjos, for example, Diaz’s lead leg was knocked around early on, and it effectively hobbled him.

In his last two bouts with Southpaws, that really hasn’t been much of a problem.

While the most recent victory may be the biggest of his career, his victory over Michael Johnson is likely the best of his career. Johnson is unquestionably one of the best strikers in the division, an athletic and quick Southpaw refined by Henry Hooft. Early on, Johnson looked to employ the standard anti-Diaz strategy, moving well, using his speed, and landing low kicks.

However, Diaz did not try to tough out his opponent’s strategy. First and foremost, he did his best to move his lead leg out of the way or check the kicks. Besides that, Diaz did not pursue heavily, waiting for Johnson to come to him and countering with his usual 1-2s and check hooks.

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.

These kicks carried into his bout with McGregor as well. Opposite the Irishman, Diaz routinely matched his opponent’s kicking offense, answering McGregor’s linear kicks with quick little digs of his own.

Even with the growth, Diaz’s main attributes on the feet are his length and volume, coming at his opponent with dozens of long range punches.

More than most, Diaz makes great use of his right-handed jab. 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 (GIF).

If Diaz is able to back his foe into the fence, it’s another area that he excels. After punching a bit at range, he’ll move to the clinch, where Diaz does a nice job keeping good head position in the clinch and ripping into his opponent's body (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.

Relentless straight punches and clinch work are the quickest way to wear out any opponent.

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).

A major part of Diaz’s strategy revolves around capitalizing on his opponent’s fatigue. Early on, he’s more hittable, as Diaz is still finding the range himself and is not the quickest fighter. However, as the fight wears on, it becomes Diaz who lands cleanly, and his opponent will often come up within inches of Diaz’s chin.

Missing punches is tiring as well.

Diaz exhausts his opponent’s largely by never allowing them to rest. For most athletes, an MMA fight is a series of sprints. Conor McGregor, for example, will step in with a big combination or kick — a sprint, if you will — and then return to his stance and movement, recovering until the next big assault.

Meanwhile, Diaz handles the fight like it’s another triathlon. He stays on his opponent at all times, feinting, jabbing, or countering constantly. He may never run quite as fast as the sprinter, but Diaz often catches up and takes the lead when his foe no longer has the chance to take a breather.

Wrestling

Wrestling has long been the other path to victory opposite a Diaz brother, though it is still a dangerous road to walk. As for Nate Diaz, he’s definitely improved on his offensive and defensive takedowns, and his increased strength definitely helps as well.

It’s still not his forte.

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 and lock his hands.

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).

In Diaz’s last fight, he showed some solid instinct to catch one of McGregor’s kicks and land a quick takedown. He lifted his leg to check what was actually a body kick, but it ended up working out for him. The raised leg trapped McGregor’s kick a bit, allowing Diaz to get a solid grip and land the single leg dump.

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.

Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu

Diaz background has always been jiu-jitsu, and his black belt under Cesar Gracie is an impressive milestone on its own. As Diaz said himself, his foes quickly turn to wrestlers after taking a few hard punches, which has helped Diaz secure 12 submission victories.

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. While this type of escape can expose the back, Diaz is confident enough to use it anyway.

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.

The McGregor fight is a fantastic and recent example.

With McGregor hurt and tired, the Irishman decided that a sudden double leg could pull him out off danger. Rather than try to defend the shot, Diaz latched onto the neck and reversed McGregor.

From top, Diaz showed his expertise, both in jiu-jitsu and in smashing a wounded foe. He quickly slid into the mount, where a flurry of punches forced McGregor to buck and allowed Diaz to transition to the back easily. From there, he quite literally punched his opponent into the choke, making an incredible moment and victory somehow even more cool (GIF).

Another great example came in 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).

Lastly, Diaz capitalized on his opponent's takedown in 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).

Conclusion

Diaz has hung around the top of his division for years now, and shutting down McGregor twice will open up a world of opportunities for him. Diaz has proven himself an elite fighter, capable of making some great fighters look terrible. However, the wrong style match up can also make Diaz himself look pretty ordinary, improvements or no. With a win, there is a question that quickly arises: Is Eddie Alvarez a bad style match up for Nate Diaz?

*****

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.