At first glance, Anthony Pettis vs. Nate Diaz is a weird fight for fans to go bananas over. Nate has fought an average of once a year in the past seven years with a 3-4 record. And since losing his title, Pettis is 4-6 and hasn’t managed to string a single pair of wins together. Tony Ferguson vs. Donald Cerrone this is not.
And yet, I’m excited. Pettis vs. Diaz at UFC 241 will be amazing not because of their strengths, but their weaknesses.
Neither can wrestle
With 19 submission wins between them, Diaz and Pettis can grapple. But neither of them wrestle to get the opponent there.
Nate smacks his opponent with volume boxing until, hurt or exhausted, they shoot on his hips. At that point, he’ll snake his gangly arms and legs around them to secure a finish. Overplayed as it is, his win over McGregor is an excellent representation of his finishing pattern. Pettis is a bear trap, able to secure submissions in a split second off his back. If not for some weird refereeing, he may well have submitted Dustin Poirier.
But watching either go for a takedown is downright sad. There’s a lot of “shoot a double leg and lay on them against the fence” when they actually try to wrestle. The most successful wrestling we’ve seen from the pair is when Pettis tried to bounce back from his debut loss to Clay Guida against Jeremy Stephens. And to be fair, that was several years and a weight class ago.
What I’m trying to say is that this fight will remain standing. Fans are guaranteed a rock’em sock’em fight because neither fighter can get the fight to the ground if it comes to it!
Neither can one-shot KO the other
Out of the two fighters, only Pettis has one-shot knockout victories on his resume; kicking Joe Lauzon’s jaw into low orbit and his superman hook against Stephen Thompson. But Lauzon, tough as he is, has gaping holes in his striking and the punch against Thompson was a fluke. Diaz can rattle men to their heels with his left cross but never sleeps them with a single punch.
This prevents the fight from concluding due to a “lucky” shot. As fun as it was to watch Jorge Masvidal crush Ben Askren in five seconds, did we learn anything? Masvidal is the clear winner, but do we actually know who is the better fighter? Did fans have more fun than if Masvidal KO’d Askren after a three-round back and forth war? I don’t think so.
Let’s not forget that both fighters possess incredible chins. Pettis has only truly been KO’d by Max Holloway, a fight in which he cut a titanic amount of weight against possibly the best MMA fighter alive. Diaz only lost by KO to Josh Thomson, a fight in which he was allegedly injured coming in and Thomson set up a brilliant faked head kick.
If either man wants to put the other down, they’ll have to earn it the hard way.
Neither is a welterweight
Hearing this fight would take place at welterweight was like hearing your best friend proposed to the love of his life at a sewage treatment plant. I’m thrilled that it’s happening, but why here?
Nate is tall but incredibly lanky, and he doesn’t have the physical strength to compete at welterweight. The worst stretch of his career was at welterweight when wrestlers like Rory Macdonald and Dong Hyun Kim controlled him with ease. Pettis is only 5-foot-10 and while he had no business cutting to featherweight, was a perfect lightweight. His move may have had more to do with his dismal lightweight record than a desire to “cut less weight.”
That being said, there’s a clear upside to the fight happening at welterweight.
MMA is the hurting business, so injuries are expected. But both Nate and Pettis suffer a lot of injuries either before or during fights. And while they still put on a show every time, it’s deflating for their fans to watch them struggle while not being 100%. Weight cutting can be brutal and often exacerbates the chance for injuries. It won’t stop injuries like Pettis’ broken hand against Tony Ferguson, but it should increase the chance that both fighters are at their healthiest on fight day.
Since the fight is only three rounds, the cardio aspect won’t matter as much. That being said, both men will fight with a full tank of gas.
It’s a dream fight for the nihilists of MMA fandom. None of it matters and neither fighter is elite. And yet, I’m drooling.
This may be the best fight of 2019.