After becoming the first man to stop Jim Miller at UFC on FOX Nate Diaz earned himself a title shot against the winner of this summer's rematch between Frankie Edgar and Benson Henderson.
The submission of Miller extended his current win streak to three fights and placed him atop the other contenders in the UFC's lightweight division. Diaz is undefeated since returning to the lightweight division after a 2-2 stint at welterweight.
The current champion, Benson Henderson, is riding a four-fight win streak that was capped off in Japan by winning the championship via a close decision against Frankie Edgar. The contentious decision victory set-up an instant rematch against Edgar, leaving the remainder of the division in flux once again as contenders such as Diaz sit on the shelf and wait.
All four of Henderson's UFC victories have come by way of decision, including one against Jim Miller. Diaz, on the other hand, has finished his opponents in over half of his 11 UFC victories.
The rematch between Henderson and Edgar is slated for August 11th in Denver. While Diaz will be waiting for some time for that title shot it is never too early to take a look at the potential fight with the current UFC Lightweight Champion. We take a look at potentially the most exciting fight of the year.
When breaking down the fight this is without question the closest battle between the two elite lightweights.
Diaz's boxing is among the best in the game today. He also will hold a six inch reach advantage against Henderson. Should he be able to stick Henderson repeatedly, Diaz may see another record-setting striking performance. On the other side of the coin, Henderson is much more varied in his striking attack.
Diaz chooses to not check leg kicks a lot of the time and leaves himself open to being swept off of his feet as seen in the Donald Cerrone battle. That could be a major point of emphasis for Henderson should the two meet later this year.
While Diaz may be the more proficient boxer it is Henderson's varied attack and mobility that has the upper-hand in the fight. Utilizing leg kicks to keep Diaz at bay and take power off of his shots can be an effective strategy for the current champion.
Diaz has a variety of sneaky techniques. Especially in the clinch. Diaz likes to toss his opponent on to the mat using his underrated Judo skill set.
But Henderson brings an impressive wrestling attack to the fight. Offensively and defensively.
Henderson's wrestling has allowed him to dictate where the fight will take place. He is explosive in his shot to take the fight down, and has incredible balance to avoid hitting the canvas. And with a strong base and powerful hips it will be hard for Diaz to implement his Judo against the champion.The champion should be able to once again dictate where the fight happens.
Many will immediately hand over the edge to the Cesar Gracie black belt, but it does deserve a deeper look.
Of Henderson's 10 finishes eight have come by way of submission. And half of those by guillotine choke. An underrated aspect of the champion's skills. However, outside of WEC title fights against Cerrone and Jamie Varner, he has yet to prove his submission game against the elite of the division.
Diaz, on the other hand, just finished taking out Jim Miller. An impressive feat considering that Gray Maynard, Edgar and Henderson were unable to stop the contender. Diaz often gets the chance to put on a stand-up show because of his opponent's unwillingness to test his black belt on the mat.
With 11 submissions, many over-lightweight contenders, this is clearly in favor of the Stockton native.
Both fighters have great cardio and have a high output of offense in their fights. If this fight does take place later this year the fans could be treated to a five round war with little drop off in offense.
Diaz and Henderson also fight smart. For the most part they stick to their gameplans and work within the framework they worked on in camp leading into the fight.
Where Diaz could have the slight edge is his ability, much like his older brother, to draw fighters into fighting their fight. Henderson is an emotional fighter and Diaz has the opportunity to exploit that in this fight.
If Diaz can talk his way into having Henderson abandon his multi-faceted attack and looking to simply trade with the rangy boxer it could lead to the 209 having its first UFC Lightweight Champion. It is no small task, but the possibility is there.
This has the makings of an incredibly fun fight to watch.
While one fighter may have the advantage in one particular area it comes down to who is able to make it their fight. Henderson will need to mix up his strikes and be careful on the mat should he take it there. Diaz can strike at range but needs to avoid being taken down and being held on his back.
Both men are tough and hard to stop, and I do not see either being able to get a stoppage.
Over the course of five rounds Henderson has the best chance to outpoint the top contender and retain the 12 pounds of gold. A more varied attack will look better for the judges at cageside and garner the champion a clear decision.
Prediction: Henderson defeats Diaz by Unanimous Decision