Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) Welterweight talents Leon Edwards and Nate Diaz will go to war this weekend (Sat., June 12, 2021) at UFC 263 inside Gila River Arena in Glendale, Arizona.
Edwards has to be in one of the more confusing positions in recent history. The Englishman hasn’t lost in forever, but his unbeaten streak is marred by his recent eye poke “No Contest” against Belal Muhammad, as well as an extended layoff that wasn’t really his fault (details). The “No Contest” surely cost him a title shot, but rather than jump into Welterweight’s shark tank for a title eliminator, he’s going high-profile vs. Diaz. Speaking of the younger Diaz brother, what is Nathan’s game here? This is not at all an easy fight for Diaz, nor is it the most profitable match up available. Maybe he really does want to make a run at the 170-pound title — that’s the only reason that makes sense.
Let’s take a closer look at the keys to victory for each man:
Record: 18-3 (1)
Key Victories: Rafael dos Anjos (UFC on ESPN 4), Donald Cerrone (UFC Fight Night 132), Vicente Luque (UFC Fight Night 107), Gunnar Nelson (UFC Fight Night 147), Albert Tumenov (UFC 204), Bryan Barberena (UFC Fight Night 115)
Key Losses: Kamaru Usman (UFC on FOX 17)
Keys to Victory: Edwards is one of the most composed, technical athletes on the roster. He manages range extraordinarily well and punishes any attempts from his opponents to control the flow of the fight, which very often leads to “Rocky” shutting his foes down.
In this match up of Southpaws, the low kick is an obvious weapon for Edwards. Diaz’s ability to check has improved greatly over the years, so one can no longer simply spam the strike, but Diaz’s boxing stance remains. If Edwards times the kick as Diaz jabs or sets it up offensively with punches, he’s going to do damage that builds over time in this five-round contest.
Aside from low kicks, the other standard anti-Diaz strategy is takedowns. Edwards has proven remarkably good at wrestling for an English kickboxer, and he can be quite nasty with his elbows. If he’s ever feeling uncomfortable with Diaz’s constant pressure, a level change will keep his foe honest and potentially earn him some rest time.
Key Wins: Conor McGregor (UFC 196), Michael Johnson (UFC on FOX 17), Anthony Pettis (UFC 241), Donald Cerrone (UFC 141), Jim Miller (UFC on FOX 3)
Key Losses: Conor McGregor (UFC 202), Jorge Masvidal (UFC 244), Raphael dos Anjos (UFC on FOX 13), Josh Thomson (UFC on FOX 7), Ben Henderson (UFC on FOX 5)
Keys to Victory: Diaz may only compete every 18 months or so, but it’s always must-watch entertainment when he steps into the cage. The veteran brings high-volume boxing and excellent jiu-jitsu as his primary weapons, though pace is perhaps his greatest asset.
I don’t know if it was Diaz who requested 25 full minutes to work, but it certainly benefits him. Though Edwards does not have a weak gas tank by any means, he likes to coast. If Diaz can soak up whatever punishment Edwards throws his way and deny him that opportunity, well, things suddenly get real interesting.
Typically, Diaz does his best work at the boxing range and in the clinch, but he doesn’t want to get torn up by elbows early on, so getting too close to Edwards is iffy. Instead, Diaz has to close just enough distance that he can answer kicks with combinations yet still avoid getting wrapped up.
This is a tricky proposition, but it’s one that could be made easier if Diaz is landing his jab well. Once Diaz starts finding a home for his lead hand, he could double and triple up, keeping Edwards on his back foot while he lines up the power hand or targets the body. It’s much more difficult to kick while being pressured, and when Diaz starts up, he becomes really dangerous.
It’s still hard to know what to make of this match up.
Is a victory over Diaz really the final step for Edwards to score his title shot in 2021? He already arguably deserves such an opportunity, so I’m not totally against it, but ... it’s weird. If nothing else, perhaps this fight is designed to fix the perceived flaw with Edwards, in that relatively few fight fans tend to really care about “Rocky.”
Maybe kicking a fan favorite’s ass is the solution?
As for Diaz, he seems to operate outside the standard rules of UFC fighters. Most other fighters would be concerned with losing two of three, but Diaz ends up in potential title eliminators. While there’s much to gain here with victory, would another defeat really hurt the marketability of rematches with Masvidal or Conor McGregor?
Diaz is doing his thing, one way or another.
Remember that MMAmania.com will deliver LIVE round-by-round, blow-by-blow coverage of the entire UFC 263 fight card right here, starting with the early ESPN+ “Prelims” matches online, which are scheduled to begin at 6 p.m. ET, then the remaining undercard balance on ESPN/ESPN+ at 8 p.m. ET, before the PPV main card start time at 10 p.m. ET on ESPN+ PPV.
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At UFC 263, Leon Edwards and Nate Diaz will square off. Which fighter remains standing when the dust settles?