For those fans of the sport who joined in during the last half-decade, you may have a very different view on who Nick Diaz is. After headlining UFC 183 opposite the then recently dethroned Anderson Silva in 2015, Nick Diaz was subject to one of the worst demonstrations of power by any athletic commission in the sport of MMA. While this would see him initially banned for five years due to testing positive for marijuana, the backlash and uniting of fans behind the son of Stockton began a new cult following of Nick Diaz and something changed in his legacy.
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Today, Nick Diaz is a cult hero and almost a legend within the UFC mythos. There is a large library of fights showing just how exciting he has been since the early days of the UFC, and his unapologetic attitude has come off as one of the most genuine and real in an age of showmen and entertainers. The success of his younger brother may have overshadowed the elder Diaz since his first departure from the sport, but as he works his way to return at UFC 266, a refamiliarization with Nick Diaz is in order.
Diaz made his first run in the UFC from 2003 to 2006 varying only briefly to fight in the ICFO once. Promotionally debuting at just the age of 20, he would go 6-4 in this initial run before moving to the PRIDE banner in order to fight lightweight champion Takanori Gomi in a non-title bout. After beating up a fatiguing Gomi on the feet, Diaz pulled off the rare Gogoplata submission – however, although announced a win for Diaz on the night, the ruling would be overturned as Diaz tested so high for marijuana that officials believed he had to have been high in the ring.
After a couple of years spent in Elite XC and DREAM, Diaz would be signed by StrikeForce in 2009, opening with a fight against UFC legend Frank Shamrock. This would begin a three-year era defined by Diaz and his crew, the Skrap Pack made up of both Diaz brothers, Gilbert Melendez, Jake Shields as well as a couple of others. At this time Diaz, Melendez, and Shields all held belts across lightweight, welterweight, and middleweight within Strikeforce and made headlines outside the cage in the infamous Nashville Brawl.
A direct competitor with the UFC, Strikeforce was believed to be one of the few leagues that may house talent ready to rival the Ultimate Fighting Championship, so it was a big deal when UFC announced the buy-out of Strikeforce in 2011. This would mean champions like Diaz would make the move over and fight the UFC’s best. Originally this meant Diaz would be matched up with UFC champion Georges St-Pierre, however in typical Nick Diaz fashion, would miss a press event and be pulled from his title bout. He would instead put on a boxing clinic against BJ Penn, earning his next fight, a shot at interim gold against Carlos Condit. Although losing, the fight was competitive enough to prompt a compelling match-up with St-Pierre afterward but Diaz would be outwrestled by the French Canadian. This brings us to Diaz vs Silva, a failed Marijuana test, and a six-year layoff.
Still, even years away from his last performance, and an 0-2-1 record in his last three against some of the sport’s best, everyone is chomping at the bit to see the return of Nick Diaz. Coupled with his unique character, this is largely due in part to an even more unique fighting style, which deserves in itself a detailed breakdown.
Early in Nick Diaz’s long career, he was believed to be a young grappling phenom, due to his reputation under Cesar Gracie. This belief was earned, as Diaz is an educated and respected black belt, especially off his back. With unusual dexterity and technical prowess, Diaz will defend well from his guard, utilizing a high guard in order to negate the threat of strikes.
He rarely shoots for takedowns himself, but due to his high-level striking often finds others shooting on him, Diaz does not accept the bottom position easily, he will roll with a takedown in order to get a step ahead en route to a submission. Watch him over-rotate while being taken down in order to land on the hip he wants so as to throw up triangles, armbars, and omoplatas. This is even how he secured the rare gogoplata in MMA years ago.
In one of the last fights before his hiatus, Georges St-Pierre demonstrated to an extent a game plan that could be used to counter Diaz’s grappling style, however few other than St-Pierre may have the ability to execute it. By sticking to transitioning into few positions St-Pierre was able to stay in positions where Diaz could only defend. Specifically, the loose back control while Diaz turtled, side control while controlling the legs, and standing just outside of the guard allowed Georges St-Pierre to control Diaz while staying safe, this is a route many MMA fighters would not be able to pull off with discipline because it requires one to consistently not take advantage of potential submissions or ground and pound and it is based on immense patience along with skill.
As stated before Diaz is rarely the fighter initiating the groundwork because, while he does have wrestling, it is not an integral part of his unique game. Diaz’s high-paced and suffocating striking style is the means for Diaz to get onto the mat. Primarily a boxer, Diaz stands southpaw, with a high guard and plods forward. He is not explosive and throws with only about 60% power which allows him to pour on a pace matched by few.
Look for him to showboat and taunt his opponents, often this is discussed in terms of Diaz’s character and reputation as a street tough-like fighter but it is also a key part of his strategy. By drawing his opponents into an emotional fight he forces them to trade with him. Diaz more than anyone else is a master at long combinations and he will throw eight to ten punches straight without any hesitation, along with his iron chin this usually ends with him outlasting his opponents who fade under his pressure. Furthermore, his punches are not crisp but they evidently sting, they won’t necessarily put his opponents out but eventually each punch ends up leaving his opponents clearly dazed for moments within exchanges. Diaz’s style has a snowball effect to it and as these moments of stunning his foes build, he just gets better as the fight goes.
Some of his most successful boxing combinations follow a common theme. He will throw lightly, five to six jabs and straights in varying order to draw his opponent’s guard high, these won’t be particularly impactful, not enough to push his opponent back but at the least let them feel that their high guard is purposeful. He will then load up on a left hook to the body or a big punch over the top. Vice-versa, when he finds himself pushing his opponents back to the cage, he will go forehead to forehead and rip eight to ten shots to the body, slip the big counter and come back with a high hook of his own.
It would be remiss to discuss Nick Diaz’s arsenal of techniques without speaking on the Stockton slap. Made famous by Diaz, particularly in the first Robbie Lawler fight, Diaz slapped Lawler while shouting “Stockton motherf*cker.” As with his other means of showmanship, this technique is often chalked up to a thuggish mentality, but it very much also serves a strategic purpose. One, once again it’s a challenge to draw out the emotional side of his opponent. Two, it resembles Diaz’s best punch, his check right hook. Often Diaz will look to push forward and land long combinations, but afterward will fade back and look for the counter right hook as his opponents try to push back.
The Stockton slap sets a precedent for how much power Diaz can generate from that motion, the slap itself doesn’t do much but provoke, but he will plant his back leg and rip through the right hook with his shoulder with a largely juxtaposing power. By doing so, overzealous opponents, aggravated by the slap but feeling relatively unthreatened by it become victim to the hook in its place the second time around.
Ultimately Diaz’s style relies on high pressure, high pace, and high volume. He wants to force his opponents back with half-power shots in order to get them stuck between the cage and exhaustion. When they lash out in desperation, he knows he has the chin and mentality to tough it out and pour relentless boxing on them further to the breaking point. If that breaking point materializes in a wild takedown attempt, he is more than willing to jump on a transition and hunt the submission but at all points in the fight he is firing on all cylinders.
It’s the combination of this unique and exciting fighting style and his equally unique personality that captures the attention of fans. Between talking openly about hating the process, a rough past on the streets, and an indifference for the stardom that comes with fighting in the UFC, Nick Diaz brings something innately ‘real’ to the sport. This is why he has become such an iconic figure, and a name forever kept in the history books of the UFC.