Next weekend UFC 158 marks what many people believe to be the last true test for Georges St. Pierre at 170 lbs, Nick Diaz. The general consensus around the fight industry is that St. Pierre should win the fight and maintain the championship title that he has wielded for so long – but, are people writing off Nick Diaz too quickly? Can Diaz be a champion yet again?
Diaz is no stranger to having his hat in the ring during championship bouts. Many know Nick most notably from his time as the Strikeforce welterweight champion; however, this was by no means the first time that Diaz fought and won a title match. Interestingly enough, Diaz actually won the IFC United States Championship in only his second professional match-up – against a tough competitor in Chris Lytle. After winning the IFC championship, Diaz went on to fight for the King of the Mountain welterweight championship. While he lost at King of the Mountain, he did gain greater experience when the pressure was on. In March 2003, Nick went on to beat Joe Hurley for the WEC welterweight championship. Again in 2003, Diaz was on the big stage when he defended the IFC championship. Diaz wouldn’t fight for a championship again until 2007 when he fought (and lost to) KJ Noons for the Elite XC championship. Three years later Diaz won the Strikeforce championship in 2010, which held onto until returning to the UFC in 2011.
Many thought that Diaz was poised to end the reign of GSP when he returned to the UFC and a match was scheduled against GSP; however, an ACL injury to St. Pierre would intervene, cancelling the fight. As a replacement for St. Pierre, Carlos Condit would ruin the parade before it even started. When Condit and Diaz met to determine the Interim Title, and next number 1 contender at 170 lbs, it was supposed to be just a stepping stone for the biggest welterweight match-up seen in years (re: St. Pierre vs. Diaz). Condit, however, put together a solid game plan and won the match-up.
Now, at UFC 158, after Diaz was suspended for positive use of marijuana and coming off fresh off the loss from Condit, the UFC did what they do and gave Diaz a shot anyway (much to Jonny Hendricks dismay). In the meantime, St. Pierre disposed of Carlos Condit at UFC 154.
So, can Diaz return to championship form and win the title that he covets so much? I don’t think the answer is as easy as everyone thinks.
I’ll be honest, I am in the camp that GSP will railroad over Diaz – and I have good reason to believe so. GSP is stronger, faster and outside of BJJ equal to Diaz in every category (yes, even boxing). GSP averages more successful takedowns per round, is FAR more successful on the takedowns (78% vs. 32%, respectively). Even if Diaz does go for the shoot, St. Pierre has some of the best takedown defence in the game, at 86%. Believe it or not, while GSP may not have as well-rounded a BJJ game as Diaz he does average more successful submissions per 15 minutes than Diaz (1.23 vs. 1.13, respectively). While Diaz lands more significant strikes in general versus GSP, his accuracy is far weaker (63% vs. 75% respectively; and again Diaz’s defence is also far inferior on the feet.
With all of the above noted factors combined, how could one think for a second that Diaz has even the remotest of chances against St. Pierre? Well, the most important thing to consider is that MMA is not just a game of numbers – there’s a mental factor that comes into play as well. In my heart I believe that Diaz is walking into this fight like he has nothing to lose, which realistically he doesn’t – no pressure. You can watch Diaz start to lose a fight when he loses his head; as long as he can keep his cool and stick to his game plan than he does have a legit shot. Clearly, Diaz has championship experience – so, I don’t think the lights and cameras will throw him off his game. St. Pierre is coming with a serious hate-on for Diaz, which could throw him off his game. Diaz on the other hand is in a perpetual state of hate towards the world in general.
Believe it or not, I think a Diaz win is more likely to come on the ground not the feet if it is to come at all…
Diaz may be at a disadvantage with respect to the takedown, but he is a master at working off his back. St. Pierre wins many of his fights through a good old fashioned wrestling ground-and-pound; if Diaz can keep his cool off his back and try work for the submission he could pull off the victory. Lord knows he may have plenty of time with which to set-up a submission victory.
That doesn’t mean Diaz can’t win on the feet. I don’t think GSP will take this one to the ground as he normally does, I honestly believe he will try to stand and bang with Diaz – as per what he did with Koscheck. Between the two fighters, Diaz has a significant advantage on the feet when it comes to landing significant strikes; while St. Pierre showed impressive fortitude against Condit when rattled, we all know what happened against Serra. I am not suggesting that Diaz should look for the home run swing, but he needs to find the opportunity to land one square on the chin of the current champ.
If Diaz follows the game plan, and keeps his cool – I think he could win this fight and be the champion again. That said, the odds are definitely not in his favour, and as I mentioned I do think GSP will end the fight his hand raised (by decision). Both fighters are cardio machines and I think they will slug this one out for a full five rounds, but Diaz is still just too far a distance back from the current champion in terms of skills. Diaz will ultimately lose the fight, and finish out his days as a welterweight gate-keeper… no more championships for you, Mr. Diaz!
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