Nate Diaz got his revenge against Gray Maynard. | Josh Hedges/Zuffa LLC/Getty Images
Nate Diaz has flirted with the idea of returning to the Ultimate Fighting Championship’s welterweight division. Perhaps his latest performance will give him pause.
Diaz -- who still has never lost three fights in a row -- wrecked Gray Maynard with a straight left and a barrage of follow-up punches in “The Ultimate Fighter 18” Finale main event on Saturday at the Mandalay Bay Events Center in Las Vegas. Referee Yves Lavigne gave Maynard every opportunity to recover, but he had seen enough after a prolonged, unanswered beating and called for the stoppage 2:38 into round one.
A three-time NCAA All-American wrestler at Michigan State University, Maynard struck for a quick takedown but failed to corral “The Ultimate Fighter” Season 5 winner. Diaz returned to his feet undamaged and took aim at his target. A well-placed left put Maynard on rubbery legs, with the Cesar Gracie disciple in pursuit. Diaz uncorked a relentless barrage of power punches, most of them finding their mark. Maynard stumbled around the cage in a dazed state and could not adequately defend himself, leading Lavigne to intervene.
The one-sided victory halts Diaz’s two-fight losing streak and keeps him in top 10 talk at 155 pounds. There is no shortage of potential suitors for the polarizing 28-year-old Stockton, Calif., native. Rafael dos Anjos has rattled off five consecutive wins, moving from fringe contender to definite person of interest in the lightweight division. The 29-year-old Brazilian last fought at UFC Fight Night 27 in August, when he downed Donald Cerrone by unanimous decision at the Bankers Life Fieldhouse in Indianapolis.
Maynard’s future seems far more uncertain after his third knockout loss in four outings. Now 34, advancing age and cumulative damage seem to have taken their toll on the American Kickboxing Academy export. Maynard has just one win -- a split decision over Clay Guida at UFC on FX 4 -- since August 2010. Even more alarming, he has absorbed 260 significant strikes from his past four opponents according to FightMetric figures. Should “The Bully” move forward with his career in the cage, a matchup with the loser of the forthcoming UFC on Fox 9 showdown between former King of the Cage champion Bobby Green and Strikeforce veteran Pat Healy makes some sense.
In the wake of “The Ultimate Fighter 18” Finale, here are five other matchups that ought to be made:
Julianna Pena vs. Julie Kedzie-Bethe Correia winner: Pena was nothing if not dominant against Jessica Rakoczy in “The Ultimate Fighter” Season 18 women’s bantamweight final. The Sik-jitsu representative scored with a pair of takedowns, advanced to full mount against Rakoczy and finished the boxer with first-round ground-and-pound. Given her skill set, Pena could move quickly in a still-fledgling division. Kedzie and Correia will collide at UFC Fight Night 33 in Australia.
Chris Holdsworth vs. Alex Caceres-Mitch Gagnon winner: A favorite at the outset of the competition, Holdsworth completed his run through “The Ultimate Fighter 18” bracket with his second-round submission against Davey Grant. The Team Alpha Male-trained Brazilian jiu-jitsu black belt kept his cool under heavy fire from Grant and lured the Englishman to the ground, where he seized back control and cinched the fight-ending rear-naked choke. With Holdsworth still only five fights into his professional career, UFC brass figures to bring him along slowly. Caceres and Gagnon will match fists and wits when the UFC heads Down Under on Dec. 7.
Joshua Sampo vs. Dustin Ortiz: Outside of his failure to make weight, Sampo did not disappoint in his Octagon debut. The world-ranked flyweight submitted fellow UFC rookie Ryan Benoit with a rear-naked choke 4:31 into the second round of their entertaining encounter on the undercard. Sampo, who has already captured gold within the Championship Fighting Alliance promotion, will carry a five-fight winning streak into his next appearance. A highly regarded Roufusport prospect, Ortiz touched down in the Octagon at UFC Fight Night 32 in November, wiping out Jose Maria Tome with punches at the Goiania Arena in Goiania, Brazil.
Akira Corassani vs. Jim Hettes: Corassani moved to 3-0 in the UFC after his unfortunate encounter with a Maximo Blanco knee strike resulted in the former King of Pancrase’s disqualification. Blanco secured a takedown inside the first 10 seconds, but his aggressive tendencies and lack of discipline erased his good work. Corassani gathered himself against the cage, a knee and a hand on the mat, and was met with an illegal blow to the head. Visibly dazed and bleeding from the nose, the Swede was unable to continue but exited the cage victorious. Hettes bounced back from his first professional defeat in October, when he choked Robert Whiteford unconscious with a second-round triangle at UFC Fight Night 30.
Tom Niinimaki vs. Charles Oliveira-Andy Ogle winner: Niinimaki made the most of his first chance to compete in the UFC, as he outdueled 2007 Abu Dhabi Combat Club Submission Wrestling World Championships gold medalist Rani Yahya to a split decision. The 31-year-old Finnish export has not lost since November 2006, having pieced together a streak of 12 straight wins. Oliveira and Ogle will do battle at UFC Fight Night 36 in February.