Nick Diaz is a man who commands attention. When Nick speaks, people listen. His no-bullshit attitude and dry humour come in equal measures and it’s a combination of both that have endeared him to fight fans all the way throughout his career.
With his return to action imminent and his stock at an all-time high, I feel it is an appropriate time to hypothesise on Nick’s first step as a reinstated UFC athlete and put forward my own thoughts on a comeback fight.
So who exactly should he face upon his return? In my mind there is one bout that trumps any other potential matchup that could be made. A bout with history, one that requires a look back to an earlier fixture, and one that – in my view – was amongst the most thrilling in the history of the sport.
2004 was the year and UFC 47 was the event. Nick Diaz stood on one side of octagon aged just 20 years of age. He boasted a strong grappling pedigree and a long lanky frame that was slowly becoming accustomed to the patented style of boxing he would grow to perfect in the years that followed.
Standing across from him was the ‘Ruthless One’ Robbie Lawler, a man that at 22 had already amassed six career knockout victories and was showing early signs of the fighter he would eventually mature into.
Nick, fighting the more powerful, aggressive striker, chose to abandon his jiu-jitsu entirely and literally stood toe-to-toe with the genuinely frightening Lawler, taunting him with shouts of ‘Stockton’ and calling him a bitch repeatedly in an attempt to get a rise out of the Miletich Fighting Systems prospect.
Commentator Joe Rogan, just like the rest of us, had to suspend his disbelief as Diaz marched Lawler down, showing absolutely no respect for his power, trading shots with him with a complete and utter disregard for his own safety. At one point he threw one of his now-famous Stockton Slaps, something that caused his visibly angered opponent to plunge into a bout of fiery rage – swinging wildly and furiously.
A dogfight ensued. Both men were taking damage but continuing to swing for the fences. It became apparent as the first round went on that the underdog Diaz was actually gaining the advantage in these striking exchanges, with him successfully pressuring Lawler against the cage and using his long reach and radically improved boxing to somewhat nullify his offence.
The first five minutes concluded and Lawler was given the opportunity to regroup. It was pretty plain to see that he had in no way anticipated what had just happened. The mental aspect of combat sports is something that cannot ever be underestimated and as far as that opening round was concerned, Nick Diaz had successfully rattled Robbie Lawler.
The second round began and still Diaz marched onwards. Again, both commentators wondered whether the Stockton fighter was biting off more than he could chew, citing the sheer power of Lawler as a key factor as the fight went on. What happened next was something no one could have seen coming.
A minute and a half into round 2, Diaz caught Lawler with a supremely well-timed counter-right hand, knocking the future champion out stiff and earning himself the biggest win of his career to date. Nick had beaten Robbie at his own game; he had defied all expectation and powered his way to a hard-fought, highly entertaining and expletive-laden win.
A rematch between these two is extremely sellable and since it comes with a narrative already built in, it would be nothing short of a marketer’s dream. Twelve years on, two of the most exciting fighters to ever feature on the roster, and a rematch!
As of right now Lawler has no fight booked having turned down a UFC 205 bout with Donald “Cowboy” Cerrone, instead opting to recuperate after a vicious first round knockout loss to current champion Tyron Woodley.
In his last four fights he has been in some bonafide classics, with his UFC 189 title defence against Rory MacDonald a fight that may go down as one of the greatest ever seen inside the octagon. The fight directly after that one – his controversial decision victory over Carlos Condit – was one that also received similar praise, particularly for its exhilarating fifth round.
Nick Diaz, having served his 18-month suspension from competition, is now free to fight under the UFC banner once more. The only thing holding him back right now is his failure to pay back the entirety of his $100,000 fine to the Nevada State Athletic Commission, something that has prevented him from cornering his brother Nate during his two historical bouts with the featherweight champion Conor McGregor.
Once he settles his outstanding debts do not be surprised to see an announcement in the weeks that follow. Diaz has no shortage of prospective opponents and has fought everywhere between lightweight and middleweight during his career. However, it has to be said that his body has gained a bit of bulk in recent times so you have to feel a bout at 170lbs or 185lbs seem to be the only realistic options for him.
In my mind, this is a fight that makes a lot of sense. I feel both men would want it, the fans will certainly want it and it is amongst the most tantalising prospective matchups the UFC can make right now. With UFC 209 due to take place in the early months of next year, it would be an absolute shame to miss out on an opportunity like this. UFC 209: Lawler/Diaz 2. You can’t deny it has a ring to it!
Cillian Cunningham, Pundit Arena
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