Anthony Pettis will welcome Nate Diaz back to the UFC octagon in the UFC 241 co-main event in a fight that could well single out a top welterweight contender.
And it’s almost odd to see this pair of career lightweights plying their trade in the upper echelons of the welterweight division but as unlikely as it may seem, a future challenger to the divisional title may be crowned by the time all is said and done tonight.
Anthony Pettis is a resurgent force in recent times and after kicking off his 170lb run with a stunning knockout of Stephen Thompson earlier this year, finds himself as a real dark horse in Kamaru Usman’s stacked division.
Kicks are the name of the game for the taekwondo black-belt and in many ways, perhaps hold the key to him pulling off the win in this, the biggest fight of his career to this point.
Don’t get me wrong, Showtime has been in some huge bouts in the past, but everything about this contest screams ‘blockbuster’ and a win for him will likely be enough to catapult his name into the mainstream eye in a way that would perhaps even eclipse the highest peaks of his past fame.
With such a massive emphasis always placed on his flashy attacks and clinical ground-work, he has never really gotten the credit he deserves for his incredible grit and toughness.
In a fight against Stockton’s finest, that could well be a recipe for a classic.
Nate Diaz is, of course, the event’s main-attraction and after three years out of action, the questions that loom over his ability to compete after all this time have been one of the biggest talking points of the week.
The thing is, Nate is one of the hardest workers in the sport and based on both the word of his training partners and his social media activity, he has hardly left the gym – despite making his last walk to the octagon in August of 2016.
As far as the skills he brings to the table, Diaz is something more akin to a complex puzzle for opponents to solve.
With an endless supply of gas in his tank, slick boxing and jiu-jitsu, and an impenetrable chin, Nate over the years has perfected the approach that both he and his brother Nick have used over the years.
The version of Nate that fought Michael Johnson and later Conor McGregor, in my opinion, was a completely different animal to the one that stuttered his way through the 155lb ranks in years passed.
This fight will come down to two things, the condition that Nate arrives in and, of course, his ability to deal with Pettis’ kicks.
On the ground, these guys are evenly matched enough to make a submission unlikely but in all honesty, I think Showtime’s tendency to get crowded against the fence will be his undoing here.
Though he showed phenomenal countering ability against the elusive Wonderboy, I think his clear issues in the realms of boxing defense will be a problem against the volume that Nate throws.
As I said before, his toughness is a factor, but I just think that Diaz is going to look every bit as good as he’s being billed and should enjoy a strong return to form that will set him up for a huge 2020.
Prediction: Nate Diaz by decision
Cillian Cunningham, Pundit Arena