Reactions to Nick Diaz run up and down the love-hate spectrum.
The longtime Cesar Gracie disciple first appeared on the mixed martial arts radar as a teenager in 2001, made waves with his incessant trash talk and the absolute disdain with which he greeted opponents, brought his talents to virtually every major promotion and morphed into an anti-establishment cult hero. Diaz captured titles in World Extreme Cagefighting and Strikeforce during his rise through the sport—a journey that included three separate stints in the Ultimate Fighting Championship. The Californian was at his apex from May 11, 2008 to Oct. 29, 2011, as he rattled off a personal-best 11 consecutive victories and cemented himself as one of the world’s Top 10 welterweights.
In a career packed with defining moments, here are five that stand out:
1. Perfect Storm
When Diaz confronted Robbie Lawler under the UFC 47 banner on April 2, 2004 at the Mandalay Bay Events Center in Las Vegas, controlled chaos ensued. They took turns tearing into one another with punches, neither of them willing to back down. It was the kind of perfect-storm setup upon which Diaz thrives. He spent much of an exhilarating first round luring Lawler deeper into his trap with vulgar taunts and animated hand gestures. Round 2 saw the two men trade in the center of the Octagon. Lawler tagged the Stockton, California, native with a clean left hook but misfired in his attempt to string together a combination. Diaz countered with a right hook from his southpaw stance, the punch timed so perfectly that “Ruthless Robbie” never saw it coming. The impact knocked Lawler senseless. He crashed face first to the canvas and tried to stand, but his equilibrium had been irreparable shaken. The Miletich Fighting Systems export stumbled to his feet and staggered across the cage before collapsing again, his fate sealed. Despite Lawler’s protests the fight was over 91 seconds into the second round.
2. A Matter of Pride
A crowd of 12,911 ravenous fans greeted Diaz at the Thomas & Mack Center in Las Vegas, as he locked horns with former Pride Fighting Championships lightweight titleholder Takanori Gomi at Pride 33 on Feb. 24, 2007. Gomi threw caution to the wind as soon as it started and floored his defiant counterpart with a crushing right hook to the jaw. An explosive early knockout appeared to be within reach, but the famously durable Diaz endured the punishment and fought his way back into the battle through sheer determination. He went punch for punch with Gomi, as he repeatedly rocked the Japanese star and eventually wore him down to the point of exhaustion. After a wild exchange at the beginning of Round 2 and with Diaz bleeding from a horrific laceration under his right eye, Gomi shot for an ill-conceived takedown out of desperation and soon found himself ensnared in the Brazilian jiu-jitsu black belt’s venomous guard. Diaz immediately transitioned to a gogoplata, tightened the choke and executed one of MMA’s rarest submissions, prompting the tapout 1:46 into the second round. Though the result was later overturned to a no contest after Diaz tested positive for marijuana, the bout still stands as one of Pride’s best.
3. Explosive Violence
Chants of “Diaz! Diaz! Diaz!” rang out across the arena, as he disposed of British knockout artist Paul Daley and retained his welterweight title in the Strikeforce “Diaz vs. Dailey” headliner on April 9, 2011 at the Valley View Casino Center in San Diego. Buried under the cumulative toll of Diaz’s punches to the head and body, Daley succumbed to the onslaught 4:57 into Round 1. Theirs was a brief but electrifying encounter. Diaz swarmed with his trademark high-volume attack, and Daley gave as much as he took. He dropped the champion with a ringing left hook with a little more than a minute to go in the first round. Emboldened by one of the sport’s sturdiest chins, Diaz kept his head moving, recovered on the ground and returned to his feet, where he again went on the offensive. He backed Daley into the cage and unleashed another volley of punches that put the wobbly British bomber on his back. From there, Diaz hunted the finish, cutting loose with elbows, punches and hammerfists until referee “Big” John McCarthy intervened.
4. Hawaiian Crunch
Diaz returned to the Ultimate Fighting Championship for the first time in nearly five years and did so in spectacular fashion, as he broke down former two-division titleholder B.J. Penn with relentless pace and aggression, refused to take his foot off the accelerator and captured a unanimous decision in the UFC 137 main event on Oct. 29, 2011 at the Mandalay Bay Events Center in Las Vegas. Never before had the proud Penn been so brutally beaten in a three-round fight. Diaz outlanded him by a staggering 178-88 count in significant strikes and 257-107 in total strikes. He was particularly effective in the second round, where he connected with 125 punches to the head and body. The battered Hawaiian’s face, especially his left eye, wore the damage incurred in his 15-minute encounter with Diaz and told onlookers everything the needed to know about what transpired.
5. Short of the Mark
Like so many others before him, Diaz had no answers for the amalgamation of finely tuned skills brought to bear by perhaps the greatest fighter of all-time. Georges St. Pierre struck for nine takedowns, bottled up the frustrated Californian with his suffocating top game and cruised to a unanimous decision to retain his undisputed welterweight crown in the UFC 158 headliner on March 16, 2013 at the Bell Centre in Montreal. All three judges levied 50-45 rulings against Diaz. St. Pierre put the former Strikeforce and WEC champion on his back in all five rounds, neutralizing him with punches, elbows and stifling control. The Tristar Gym lynchpin also outperformed Diaz while upright, as he outlanded the challenger 81-56 in total standing strikes and 73-41 in significant standing strikes.
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