Stockton slugger, Nate Diaz, will duel opposite Chechen gangster, Khamzat Chimaev, this Saturday (Sept. 10, 2022) at UFC 279 inside T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas, Nevada.
After months and months of negotiation, Diaz has received his wish ... sort of. Diaz is finally getting the final fight on his contract, but despite claims otherwise, I don’t believe Chimaev was the preferred opponent. Realistically, a fight versus someone like Tony Ferguson — WHO IS ON UFC 279’s CARD — would’ve probably been much more enjoyable for everyone involved.
Instead, Diaz has been given one last impossible task before he walks out the door. Let’s take a closer look at his skill set:
Diaz’s boxing game is built upon length and conditioning. Unfortunately, Diaz’s is not exceptionally lanky at Welterweight, nor is his cardio as untouchable now that Diaz is 37 years old.
The standard Diaz gameplan has long been to pressure and clinch or work the opponent into the fence. Either way, it revolves around forward movement and closing the distance, which fleet-footed opponents have 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 outside low kicks. Against Rafael dos Anjos, for example, Diaz’s lead leg was knocked around early on, and it effectively hobbled him.
Unlike his older brother, Nate Diaz has taken action to fix this issue. Beginning with the Michael Johnson fight, Diaz has been far more active in checking kicks. Against Johnson, Diaz also 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.
That bout is still likely the best striking performance of Diaz’s entire career.
In the Conor McGregor rematch, Diaz did suffer a good deal of damage to the Irishman’s low kick, but he also managed to break his foot with a check. That’s progress, even if an imperfect result. In his most recent victory opposite Anthony Pettis, Diaz continued along the path by working more teeps and marching steps into his offense, tactics that allowed him really frustrate the kicker.
More than most Southpaws, Diaz makes great use of his right-handed jab. He throws the strike with enough snap to make it a threat, but Diaz builds from it exceptionally well. Often, it’s simply a measuring tool, used to line up Diaz’s long straight left (GIF).
In addition, 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 among the quickest ways to wear out an opponent.
Knees have also become an increasingly 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). Against Pettis, Diaz was particularly brutal in pushing his foe’s head down to meet knees, wearing on Pettis and making him slow down considerably.
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 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, but 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. Again, that’s the benefit of long arms in a wrestling exchange.
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 first bout with McGregor, 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.
At Welterweight, Diaz doesn’t seem terribly difficult to drag down. Part of his improvement at Lightweight in the tail end of his 155-pound career was because of his ability to make the most of his size and length to stop shots, then capitalize on his clinch experience.
At Welterweight, he’s much more vulnerable to being manhandled. Jorge Masvidal was able to land takedowns with relative ease, and Leon Edwards really outworked him in the clinch. Over and over, “Rocky” was able to shuck towards the back and start tripping out Diaz’s base.
That’s a bad sign against Chimaev, who love nothing more than muscling his opponents around from the rear waist lock.
A jiu-jitsu black belt under Cesar Gracie is an impressive accomplishment. Diaz has secured 12 submission wins, often after first stunning his opponents with strikes or exhausting them from a high-pace battle.
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 first 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.
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 over 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). In this clip, he also looked to hook the arm the with his legs, a strategy which has become popular in finishing the anaconda choke.
Diaz is wildly outmatched here. He’s pitted against a stronger and younger opponent, one who would’ve been a miserable stylistic match up for Diaz at any point in his career. Diaz will surely require a bit of 209 magic to ride off into the sunset on a victory, but he’s been victorious while counted out several times before.
Andrew Richardson, a Brazilian jiu-jitsu brown belt, is a professional 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.
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