Nate and Nick Diaz

Is there a more iconic pair of MMA brothers than Nick Diaz and Nate Diaz?

Casual fans see them as overblown, gangster wannabes whose popularity far outstrips their skill. True fans look past their onstage persona and see genuine human beings who are willing to go out on their shield when it comes down to it. There is a survival story, with Nick grappling with the moral implications of leading Nate into the fight life to escape crippling poverty. One only needs to listen to Nate’s post-Conor McGregor interviews to realize that he’s incredibly perceptive.

However, when it comes to fighting style, fans have an annoying habit of grouping the two together. Yes, they share certain superficial traits but peel back the UFC marketing and you’ll see that the brothers are quite different. 

Nick Diaz isn’t a traditional southpaw

Many fans don’t realize that Nick is a natural orthodox fighter who opens southpaw by choice. That means his lead hand has the inherent power and dexterity you develop from everyday usage. Nate is a traditional southpaw, so his power hand is in the rear.

They both possess “tapping” jabs that disrupt an opponent’s rhythm, but the effect on the opponent differs greatly. Because Nick’s jab comes from his power hand, he can legitimately rattle foes if he lands too many unanswered. If he catches his opponent with a power shot, he can keep them “damaged” with simple jabs until an opening presents itself. Nate uses his jab more traditionally as a “guide” for his left hand; it stings but doesn’t punish.

The lead hook is a disproportionately effective weapon and notoriously difficult to perfect. Nick has avoided this problem entirely by literally putting his best hand forward. Nate’s lead hook is only effective as a check or blind counter, but Nick can land it anywhere. Who can forget the picture perfect counter shot that made Robbie Lawler topple like a redwood?

Nick Diaz vs, Anderson Silva and they trade punches in their middleweight bout during UFC 183
Nick Diaz and Anderson Silva trade punches during UFC 183. (Source: Steve Marcus/Getty Images North America)

Nate Diaz’s defense is better

Everyone knows the Diaz brothers are tough, but they may not realize how tough. Well, in a combined 68 professional fights Nick Diaz and Nate Diaz have only been finished twice apiece. Many fans group the brothers together and say “they have great chins.”

Well, Nick does.

Nick possesses a legitimate brawler’s jaw. He has eaten clean shots from men with dynamite in their fists and responded with only a sneer. In the rare moment he is knocked down, it’ll be onto his ass and hands rather than his back. Who can forget the image of Takanori Gomi lifting Nick off his feet with a haymaker, only for him to come right back and score a submission win? Nate can do no such thing; if he eats a clean power shot to the chin or temple, he staggers more readily than his older brother.

But Nate compensates with good defense.

Primarily a lightweight, Nate has enjoyed a significant height and reach advantage compared to most opponents. Consequently, he developed the outfighting defense that Nick has never needed. He’s masterful at leaning back and countering with a jab or check hook. When his opponent is still fresh and able to close distance, he’ll roll his shoulders to make the punches glance off him rather than penetrate.

Nick can take a better shot, but Nate is less likely to eat one to begin with.

Fence Brawling vs. Clinchwork

Neither brother is a Muay Thai fighter, so you won’t see the typical double-collar tie in the clinch. Nick can at least go forehead to forehead and alternate between hooks to the body and head until his opponent wilts but Nate has no such option. The younger Diaz is lanky for lightweight and has a natural disadvantage in close.

Yet it is Nate who has developed a sophisticated clinch game.

He’ll press an opponent against the cage with one knee limiting the movement of his opponent’s leg. From there, he’ll grab an opponent’s wrist and wrench their arm away from their head and periodically let go to throw short punches. He doesn’t have the best knees, but his height gives him extraordinary leverage. Understanding his strength disadvantage, Nate doesn’t try too hard to hold his opponents in place as much as he forces them to expend energy and absorb damage trying to escape.

Nate Diaz celebrates after defeating Conor McGregor during UFC 196
Nate Diaz celebrates after defeating Conor McGregor during UFC 196 (Source: Rey Del Rio/Getty Images North America)

Which Diaz brother has true knockout power?

Quick! Between Nick and Nate, who has the knockout punch?

You said Nick, right? After all, he owns 13 wins by knock out to Nate’s paltry 4 and his face-plant of Lawler is still the best highlight between either of them. Nick’s tendency to brawl has given us a highlight reel full of opponents crumpling to the ground.

Look a little deeper though, and you see issues with that choice.

Nick can’t change the course of the fight with a single punch. He relies on an accumulation of damage before a final shot to the chin or ribs ends his opponent. It’s akin to chopping down an enormous tree with a series of well-placed blows from an axe; one of those chops will bring it down, but it won’t be solely responsible. Except for Lawler, Nick hasn’t (nor will ever) hurt a fresh opponent without prior damage. In fact, Nick has the higher knockout rate, but Nate has the higher finishing rate overall.

And that’s because Nate’s left cross is one of the best weapons in the sport.

A single connection renders opponents who have taken no significant prior damage to stumble like they’re in a roller rink. It is not an exaggeration to say that this left cross has played a huge part in almost every single one of his UFC victories. Conor McGregor was certainly tired in their first meeting but hadn’t eaten any clean power shots from Nate. However, the moment the left cross found his jaw, the previously unrattled Conor shook to his heels. Nate has an incredible number of submissions because so many opponents shoot in on him after getting concussed.

Nick and Nate both kill their prey with startling efficiency. But Nick needs a thousand cuts, while Nate must slip his rapier through the defense only once.

Stubbornness vs. Fight IQ

Both Diaz brothers espouse the “kill me to stop me” attitude, but only Nate has the brains to back it up.

Nick Diaz is content to walk his opponents down and brawl. When his opponents are content to strike with him, the results are fantastic. Scott Coker, the PT Barnum of MMA, understood that putting flashy but unpolished strikers in front of Nick would make him look like a savant. But his post-Strikeforce career in the UFC has been quite disappointing, with matches ending with him wrestled or counter-struck to pieces. Who can forget the image of Nick chasing a fleet-footed Carlos Condit with no idea how to cut off a cage?

Nate Diaz, while still limited, is capable of formulating a game plan. The best example of this was his rematch against Conor McGregor. The infuriating Irishman, to his credit, had started out hacking Nate’s legs and herding him into counter shots on the left side. Nate, badly wounded, allowed Conor to throw against his forearms and then initiate vicious clinch-battles to get back into the fight. This is the type of improvisation that Nick couldn’t pull out to save his life.

As we’ve seen from the analysis, Nick Diaz and Nate Diaz are actually quite different. They share peerless cardio and a “don’t give a f**k” attitude, but they are machines built with different purposes in mind.

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  1. Fantastic article. Great analysis. Sick of listening to casual McGregor-related new comers underestimating the importance to MMA of these two brothers.

  2. Top shelf write up ! The Nick and Nate show has been one for the books , had a chance to meet Nate and was I suprised to find that he is one of the nicest guys in the world. I hope we haven’t seen the last of them eirther way , because I think they still have a lot to offer..

  3. I hope they don’t blow their prime partying. I’m a huge fan and want to see them at events, not casinos.

  4. Highly analytical article, really made a stark contrast between the two. I’m a big fan of the Diaz brothers, but I kept catching myself saying, “Oh shit he’s right” about 37,987 times while reading.