|Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports
Diaz (right) taunts Conor McGregor during their UFC 196 main event.
It’s been a staggering 1091 days since we’ve seen Stockton favorite Nate Diaz step foot in the Octagon. UFC 202, to be precise, was the last time Diaz competed in mixed martial arts competition, in arguably one of the most high profile bouts in the history of the sport. That night, the T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas played host to Diaz vs. McGregor II, a re-run of the pair’s UFC 196 grudge match. Despite the almost three year hiatus from the sport, Diaz remains in stellar physical knick and reassured fans and reporters alike that he had since been honing his craft consistently. Diaz was of course booked to meet current interim lightweight champion Dustin ‘The Diamond’ Poirier at UFC 230 last November, until an injury to the Lafayette striker scuppered the pairing.
UFC 241 in his home state of California presents somewhat of a similar bad-blood matchup for the grappler, as he meets former lightweight best, Anthony Pettis in the co-main event. Long rumored to meet during their lightweight days to avenge fellow ‘scarp pack‘ member Gilbert Melendez’s submission loss, the bout failed to come to fruition as Pettis lost his title, and Diaz tested welterweight waters after a loss to future champion Rafael dos Anjos. The Cesar Gracie Jiu-Jitsu product has one of the most active guards in mixed-martial arts today, as well as a slick boxing foundation under Richard Perez. Below, I delve into the long and storied career of the brash Nathan Diaz.
Both Nate Diaz and Anthony ‘Showtime’ Pettis have spent the early stages of their professional career’s competing in the World Extreme Cagefighting organization. During the first two years of Diaz’s career, the Stockton native fought four times under the WEC banner, winning three of four fights. Hermes Franca scored an armbar victory over Diaz, only one of two men to finish the 34-year-old ahead of his thirty-first fight this weekend. During his brief stint in the WEC, Diaz three scored three stoppages, finishing Tony Juares and Gilbert Rael with strikes, after a debut submission win against Alejandro Garcia.
The Ultimate Fighter Victor:
Successfully auditioning for the fifth season of The Ultimate Fighter, Diaz made the leap to the UFC in 2007. Drafted onto Jens Pulver’s team, Diaz picked up three consecutive submission triumphs, besting Rob Emerson, Corey Hill, and Gray Maynard to book his place in the season finale against Manvel Gamburyan. After dropping the opening round to the Armenian, Diaz emerged the victor after Gamburyan suffered a dislocated shoulder whilst shooting for a takedown in the second round. With The Ultimate Fighter season 5 trophy in hand, Diaz made a brisk rise through the lightweight division in the coming year.
Three straight submission victories over Junior Assuncao, Alvin Robinson and a particularly infamous triangle win over Kurt Pellegrino followed, as Diaz was paired with Josh Neer, headlining his premier UFC event alongside the Iowa native. Diaz’s first Octagon loss came against one-time Strikeforce lightweight gold holder Clay ‘The Carpenter’ Guida in a close split decision, with Clay utilizing some superior wrestling. A second straight defeat to lightweight championship challenger Joe Stevenson forced Diaz to regroup.
Nate’s most impressive victory in his naive UFC career came in his next pairing, as he stopped the heavy-handed Melvin Guillard. Despite eating some heavy shots early and often, a second-round combination rocked Guillard as Diaz sprawled and executed a guillotine finish midway through the round.
Despite the eye-catching victory over Guillard, Diaz elected to test the waters a division higher at 170 pounds after a decision defeat to Gray Maynard in the pair’s rematch. Diaz famously explained his plans to compete at both welterweight and occasionally lightweight, putting the UFC on blast over their payment scheme. A divisional bow against Rory Markham was scheduled for UFC 111. Despite Markham missing the welterweight target by an incredible seven pounds, the pairing continued at a catchweight, with Diaz stopping the consensus better striker via knockout in the opening round. Once more against a far superior striker in the form of Marcus Davis, Diaz secured a submission triumph via a now patented guillotine.
An exciting clash with Dong Hyun Kim was booked in January 2011, with Diaz failing to defend Kim’s takedown attempts in the opening two rounds. Diaz showcased some decent boxing in the final round but dropped his first defeat at welterweight. Diaz’s last foray at 170 pounds came against the superbly well rounded Tristar product Rory MacDonald. The Canadian dominated Diaz for almost the entire clash, notably securing three quickfire suplex takedowns in the final round to claim a one-sided unanimous decision.
After going 2-2 at welterweight, Diaz announced his intentions to return to 155 pounds, earning his one and only title opportunity in his UFC career to date in the process. Facing former PRIDE FC pioneer Takanori Gomi upon his return, Diaz utilized his much better striking before submitting the Japan favorite via an expertly applied armbar. In a memorable back and forth with fellow fan-favorite Donald ‘Cowboy’ Cerrone, Diaz knocked Cerrone’s hat off his head during a pre-fight press conference, as tension built. During the three-round clash, we witnessed arguably the best striking display of Diaz’s career. Doubling up on jabs and straights, Diaz rocked ‘Cowboy’ on multiple occasions, showcasing a phenomenal gas tank to boot as the pair claimed Fight of the Night honors.
A third straight victory followed as Diaz met fellow grappling ace, Jim Miller. Diaz’s tendency to force a takedown attempt after considerable pressure and output came to the forefront in this meeting yet again, as the Stockton native stuffed and immediately locked in a guillotine, something we will later in his career against Conor McGregor.
A ‘Smooth’ Showdown:
Diaz’s eye-catching victories since his second run at lightweight earned him a meeting with fellow dangerous grappler Benson ‘Smooth’ Henderson, with championship gold up for grabs. Failing to ever get started in the five-round match, Diaz was consistently outpointed, with Henderson sweeping and famously throwing jabs to the heavy lead leg of Diaz. A second consecutive loss to Josh Thompson followed. The former Strikeforce lightweight best joined an exclusive list alongside the aforementioned Hermes Franca as he stopped Diaz, this time via a picture-perfect head kick and follow up strikes.
A rubber match with fellow TUF alumni Gray Maynard was scheduled for the final of the eighteenth installment of The Ultimate Fighter. Diaz’s boxing ability since his UFC debut has significantly improved and was on full display against rival Gray Maynard. Diaz remained composed and didn’t rush the finish as he laid combination after combination on Maynard inside the opening round, beckoning referee Yves Lavinge to step in and halt the barrage.
Diaz left the Octagon after displaying one of the best performances of his career and would return an entire year later. Facing then perennial lightweight contender Rafael dos Anjos upon his return, Diaz’s lead leg was chewed up early and often with punishing leg kicks from the pressuring Brazilian who exercised a one-sided win over the course of the three-round affair. Another year would pass until we saw Nate Diaz back in the Octagon, but in one his best career exhibits, Diaz countered beautifully against sharp boxer Michael Johnson in their co-main event feature.
Speaking with UFC color-commentator Joe Rogan after he was awarded the unanimous decision win, Diaz cut one of the most memorable and infamous promos in Octagon antiquity, as he issued a challenge to then featherweight champion Conor McGregor. ‘The Notorious’ one was expected to meet the victor of that night’s main event title tilt between the previously mentioned dos Anjos and Donald Cerrone, something Diaz strongly disagreed with.
“F*** that, Conor McGregor, you’re taking everything I worked for motherf***er, I’m gonna fight your f***ing ass, you know what’s the real fight, the real money right is me, not these clowns you already punked at the press conference, don’t no one wanna see that, you know you beat them already, that’s the easy fight, you want that real s*** right here.” The seed had been planted.
“Hey, I’m Not Surprised“:
With Diaz gunning for a showdown with Conor McGregor, the polarising Stockton native inadvertently got his wish. Just two weeks ahead of Rafael dos Anjos’ lightweight title defense against McGregor at UFC 196, the Brazilian suffered a broken metatarsal in his foot whilst sparring. Rumblings suggested McGregor would remain in the headlining slot with the likes of José Aldo, Frankie Edgar and even ‘Cowboy’ Cerrone set to replace RDA. After some negotiating between the three parties, the UFC announced McGregor vs. Diaz for UFC 196, in a five-round welterweight matchup, which would take precedence over Holly Holm’s bantamweight title defense against Miesha Tate.
Both men exchanged verbal barbs during pre-fight press conferences, with McGregor going as far as slapping Nate’s left hand during an intense staredown. Come fight night, a lot of questions surrounded the pairing. Could McGregor overcome the adversity of a slick grappling game that Diaz presents, or would he simply steamroll the Californian in a similar fashion to his most recent thirteen-second stoppage of José Aldo? McGregor, who was making his 170-pound professional bow, landed heavy and often throughout the opening exchanges. The abundance of scar tissue surrounding Diaz’s eye opened inside the opening five minutes as Diaz stuck behind a long jab and one-two combination. The first came to an end with McGregor on top via a sweep, after misplacing a body kick.
Round two started with McGregor jabbing at Diaz. “I can go all day, all day I can go.” Not the best choice of words in hindsight. ‘The Notorious’ one continued his left-hand assault, with Diaz notably backing up less and less and starting to find his own range. Midway through the second round, Diaz slapped a jab straight combination on McGregor’s chin, with the Dubliner’s legs sinking and stiffening up. McGregor, visibly rocked began to circle away and gestured that he was fine, an almost sure sign in mixed-martial arts that the opponent is anything but fine. Now taking deep breathes, McGregor was swarmed with shots from an uncomfortable clinch.
A second flurry from Diaz forced McGregor to shoot for a frail double-leg attempt. Diaz stuffed and immediately wrapped up a guillotine. The Dubliner executed ‘The Heartbreaker’, an SBG patented guillotine escape but gave up full mount in the process. Diaz began raining down strikes as McGregor rolled to his back. Flattening out with ease, Diaz punched McGregor’s head into the crook of his right arm and locked up a rear-naked choke. Herb Dean pealed Diaz off McGregor as the Stockton native picked up an earth-shattering win and handed McGregor his first Octagon defeat. Diaz circled the Octagon as the world watched in awe. Joe Rogan posed the question, “Nate Diaz, you just shook up the world, how’s that feel?” Nate’s response, “Hey, I’m not surprised motherf***ers.” Cool as you like.
“I’m Too Real For This Sport.“:
With the biggest victory of his mixed-martial-arts career firmly in check, Diaz entered the rematch with McGregor at UFC 202 as the consensus favorite. Originally planned to headline the monumental UFC 200 event, a lack of time for preparation for McGregor halted the re-run. That August, Diaz and McGregor met in the Nevada desert once more to throw down in the second most successful UFC pay-per-view of all time. Implementing outside leg kicks from the southpaw stance, taking a page from Rafael dos Anjos’ blueprints McGregor found success early in the opening round, dropping Diaz with a left-hand counter. A much more measured McGregor made his way into the second round full of energy and landed two quickfire knockdowns.
Diaz recovered quickly and sensed McGregor was fading toward the round’s culmination, putting pressure on McGregor, landing combinations and forcing the clinch. A similar third-round display seen Diaz take the judges’ nod. Somewhat of a ‘second wind’ for McGregor allowed him to narrowly edge out Diaz, landing a punishing right-left combination on the now claret masked Diaz in the fourth round. During the final exchanges of the bout, Diaz executed an outside trip and took McGregor down right before the buzzer.
As the judges totted up their respective scorecards, Diaz and McGregor exchanges pleasantries as both corner’s began calculating the rounds each had won. A majority decision in favor of McGregor brought the tie to one apiece, with a trilogy bout at lightweight teased by ‘The Notorious’ one. Diaz immediately called for a rubber match. “They can’t have a motherf***er like me win, I’m too real for this sport. Hey Conor, we’re going for three.” Despite the three year layoff, Diaz vs. McGregor III is a legitimate possibility if Nate can overcome Anthony Pettis this weekend at UFC 241. During a recent sit down with ESPN writer Brett Okamoto, Diaz explained how he had no intentions of meeting either Kamaru Usman or Khabib Nurmagomedov in the future but was keen on standing with McGregor, Pettis and welterweight riser Jorge Masvidal.