In this edition of Pundit Arena’s ‘Fighter Of The Week’ series, we’re going to take a look at a man who has been heavily rumored to finally make his long-awaited return to this octagon this year, Nick Diaz.
Nick Diaz may well be the most unique character in mixed martial arts history. For years, he stood as one of the sport’s biggest stars as a direct consequence of his very genuine, no bulls**t personality but beyond that, I would make the argument that he’s among the most entertaining fighters that the game has ever seen.
With some serious buzz building surrounding his possible return to competition this year, the time is perfect to take an in-depth look at the fighting pride of Stockton, California, and hope and pray together that July’s UFC 213 card will feature his first walk to the octagon in nearly two-and-a-half years.
Nick Diaz’s rise to the top of the MMA game wasn’t perhaps the most consistent or fluid or even as unanimously praised as some of his counterparts but over the course of his 37-fight career we have been blessed with some of the most truly astounding moments of the last decade and a half.
Diaz’s first run in the UFC – despite his record of 5-4 – contained thrilling battles with the likes of Diego Sanchez and Joe Riggs, where Nick displayed the type of ever-improving skills as a boxer that only strengthened and complimented his iron chin, relentless cardio and unquestionably polished ground game perfectly.
The one contest that stands head and shoulders above all others, however, was his unbelievable win over the future-welterweight champion Robbie Lawler.
I can’t say enough about this fight but in summary, Diaz went into that fight at 20-years-old as a well respected and proficient grappler facing a vicious and notorious knockout artist in Lawler who had proven beyond all doubt at that stage that he was nothing to be trifled with on the feet.
Diaz, from the opening bell, raised his hands up high and taunted the ‘Ruthless’ one with shouts of ‘Stockton’ and ‘b**ch’ before knocking him out in the second round.
No one had predicted that the grappler Diaz would employ a striking-only attack against the ferocious Lawler but he did, it worked and he won. It was the type of audacity that would be a constant over the course of the rest of his career.
His somewhat patchy showing in his first UFC run caused his security within the promotion to be in question and though he followed up a three-fight losing streak with two straight wins, Diaz left the world’s premier mixed martial arts organisation and began plying his trade elsewhere.
PRIDE were the first to come a’knocking for his services when they put him up against the then-top-5 pound-for-pound Takanori Gomi at PRIDE 33 in 2007. Gomi at the time had won 13 out of his 14 fights and was a heavy-favourite against the promotional newcomer in Diaz but what transpired on the night was amazing on so many different levels.
Nick annihilated Gomi and picked him apart with some beautifully executed volume striking, something that forced the helplessly gassed ‘Fireball Kid’ to shoot a desperate takedown and land himself into one of the most famous submission finishes in MMA history.
Five more fights followed his gogoplata win over Gomi but it was when he made the move to the now-defunct Strikeforce organisation that his truly legendary run began.
Six fights and six wins saw him rise to the top of the pile and defend his welterweight title a record three times. His wins over Marius Zaromskis, KJ Noons and the all-time classic that was his one-rounder with the hard-handed Brit Paul Daley all stood among the greatest fights of their respective years and each and every time he made that walk, he looked every bit the world champion that he was.
Word began to spread about the iron-chinned ‘bad-boy’ with inhuman cardio who had been taking guys out left, right and centre while flying just under the radar and sure enough, after five years on the road, Nick Diaz was back in the UFC.
Nick Diaz’s four fights during his second run in the UFC put him up against a who’s who of all-time greats and absolute killers and after his UFC 137 thrashing of BJ Penn he, for the second time in his career, dropped three straight losses, this time to Carlos Condit, Georges St-Pierre and Anderson Silva.
Is that really that bad of a streak, though? All three were decisions and the Condit fight was a very close encounter in which the ‘Natural Born Killer’ employed a strategy which involved moving away from Diaz that successfully nullified his attack for the most part. All credit to Condit but with some adjustments on the part of Nick, things may have gone quite differently.
Of course, his highly-controversial suspension halted the progress of his UFC career but now, with his dues paid, how much of a splash can he actually make in today’s completely stacked welterweight division?
Well, we know Nick’s focus isn’t entirely fixated on competing, or at least that’s what he says. What we do know for certain, however, is that his obsession with training and improving is stronger than ever. Nick, like his brother Nate, is a fighter in every sense of the word, who regardless of scheduled fights or big paydays will still be in that gym rolling and sparring without fail.
His elite level cardio is a result of his love of triathlons and under the mentorship of Richard Perez and Cesar Gracie, his talents as a grappler and boxer can only have grown during his time off. Diaz currently possesses a third-degree black-belt in Brazilian jiu-jitsu and when you consider that the masterful Demian Maia owns a fourth-degree black-belt, it’s easy to see why Diaz’s skills are so highly-rated.
If he does take on Tyron Woodley this summer, his style could prove to be the perfect foil for the ‘Chosen One’ and whether he deserves a title-shot or not, I would urge you to make a point of revisiting the career of Nick Diaz because in it lies some of the most entertaining moments you will ever see inside this sport.
Cillian Cunningham, Pundit Arena