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Big Matt's Fight Chat: Assessing Nick Diaz

I’ve walked a long, strange road with Nick Diaz.  In my MMA infancy he was a prospect with a bad attitude who lost as often as he won.  I didn’t particularly like him, but more than that, I didn’t really think he mattered.  Three fight losing streaks will do that.  When Diaz eventually left the UFC, I assumed I’d never see him again.  Good riddance to bad rubbish, thought I.  Better to root for the salt-of-the-earth Christians at the Miletich camp*.

*I actually never, ever liked those guys, and I still don’t (although the old man version of Hughes has grown on me a bit).  But I was a white Diaz-hater from Kansas City.  I’m guessing the vast majority of that demographic loved the Bettendorf boys. 

Words like “Dream” and “Strikeforce” meant nothing to me then.  PRIDE was merely a foe to be vanquished.  The UFC was my world, and whatever was happening in Japan was none of my concern.  I scoffed at Diaz’s departure.  And when his brother came along, I scoffed at him too.  These brothers and their antics were decidedly not my cup of tea.  I was officially a Diaz hater.

Fast-forward to the present day and Nick Diaz is my favorite fighter in the world.  Nate is near the top of my list as well.  They make me laugh, they make me stand and cheer, and I root for them unconditionally no matter what they do or who they fight.  How did I get here? (cue Once In A Lifetime)

As soon as Nick Diaz left the UFC he went on a tear.  The more cynical among you are thinking “big surprise.”  Fine.  But it all started with a gogoplata win over Takanori Gomi, who was at that point arguably the best lightweight in the world.  Hardly sub par competition.  The fight was ruled a no-contest due to Diaz testing positive for marijuana, but anyone scoring that as anything other than a fantastic victory for him is, for lack of a better word, a tool.  Either that or they simply hate Nick Diaz, and have allowed said hatred to cloud their vision.

Diaz is 10-1 since that legendary Gomi fight, with only two of those wins coming via decision.  Admittedly, he hasn’t been fighting the best of the best.  But neither has he been shooting tin cans like his critics would have you believe.  His last six wins have all come against respectable competition.  Not top 10 fighters, but guys who could certainly hang in the UFC.  Diaz has beaten all of them convincingly.  Big fish in a small pond?  Maybe.  But that at least acknowledges that he is indeed a big fish.  One of the biggest.

Strikeforce-bashers* are now saying Diaz is being protected.  He had problems with wrestlers FIVE YEARS AGO, so obviously he must be dodging them today.  And not just dodging them, but having them dodged for him.  Because apparently Scott Coker and Strikeforce are in on it too.  Right.  Keep in mind Diaz has been champ for all of one year.

*It still boggles my mind that anyone would bash Strikeforce.  Or DREAM, for that matter.  If you’re a fan of the sport, you should be pulling for both of them.  But thats another topic for another post.

The reality is that Strikeforce simply doesn’t have many elite wrestlers.  Most of those are in the UFC.  There are a variety of reasons for this, but I think the main one, which is often overlooked, is that the UFC doesn’t allow their fighters to compete in outside events and Strikeforce does.  There isn’t really any money to be made outside MMA for American wrestlers, so fighting only for the UFC isn’t a problem for them.  Kickboxers, on the other hand, have a market for their skills elsewhere and are thus less willing to be tied down.  And foreign fighters in general are more likely to want the option of fighting on their home soil.  So for them, Strikeforce is often a more attractive option.  The result is a natural movement of wrestlers towards the UFC and kickboxers to Strikeforce.

It’s possible Diaz would still struggle mightily with boring wrestlers.  His brother certainly does, and they have the same style (and the same shitty takedowns).  But we won’t know for sure until we see Nick back in the UFC, where the wrestlers roam.  What we do know, right now, is that he can out-strike the best strikers in the world at his weight.  Cyborg, Noons and Zaromskis may not be top ten fighters, but they’re definitely world class strikers.  Diaz stood with all of them and got the better of it.  If he can do that, he can certainly strike with anyone in the UFCs welterweight division, and that includes Thiago Alves.  Cyborg looked like an Alves clone Saturday night, and Diaz weathered the storm.  Honestly, I don’t see a standup storm at welterweight that he couldn’t weather.

And on the ground?  He might not be a wrestler, but we all know his jiu-jitsu is legit.  That’s never been in question.  Neither has his gas tank or his chin.  The guy runs triathlons and hasn’t been knocked out since 2002.

What do you get when you combine a fabulous ground game, endless gas tank, iron chin and superb striking?   You get a top 5 fighter, I don’t care what organization he fights for.  Diaz has mad skills and his fights are always entertaining.  If you’re hating on him, its time to assess your motivation.  Personal?  I can understand that (although I now find everything he does hilarious).  But lets not pretend he isn’t a great fighter.  Willful ignorance is very unbecoming.

Tags: Nick Diaz

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