When Nick Diaz steps into the cage to face UFC welterweight champion Georges St-Pierre, he’s going to be facing the greatest fighter in the history of the welterweight division.
If that wasn’t enough, he’s going to be facing a fighter who is the best where Diaz is the weakest—takedowns vs. takedown defense—and if that wasn’t enough, there’s more problems ahead.
St-Pierre is much stronger, more explosive, faster, seasoned and arguably the more well-rounded fighter between the two of them.
Still, all is not lost for the brawler from the 209—he still has some areas of advantage over the champ, but he can’t rest on the notion that those alone will carry him to victory.
Diaz needs to be imposing his will as much as possible. In a title bout against a man like GSP, if you are not giving him things to think about (and ideally worry about) then you are inviting him to be bold—a bold St-Pierre is nearly impossible to overcome in 25 minutes, no matter how tough you are.
The things Diaz normally does—throw punches in bunches, sprawl and brawl—he will be doing off hand in this fight; it just is part of his style and he will need to do them all night long if he wants to have any kind of success.
It’s the questions about the other areas of the fight that Diaz needs to be able to address, because it is certain that the champ and his camp have poured over countless hours of Diaz footage looking for weaknesses.
While these areas are not new to anyone in the fight game, they are nonetheless available to anyone who wants to use them, and in the biggest fight of his life, Diaz should use anything he can.
While Diaz is primarily a fighter who attacks with his fists, he has, from time to time, thrown kicks—more often than not they have been somewhat lazy.
Given that he is not the fastest fighter in the world, Diaz should avoid throwing any kicks, but if he feels he must, they cannot be lazy. They must be thrown with attention to timing, distance and energy due the intent: to do damage at the right time.
Anything less will give GSP another opportunity to score an easy takedown, and given how exceptional the champ is at snatching them out of the blue anytime he pleases, this is a bill Diaz cannot afford to pay on fight night.
Plodding forward one heavy foot at a time, or worse, standing still, is not going to help Diaz avoid the takedown attempts of GSP—it’s going to make it worse.
Diaz needs to be constantly circling or moving in and out, never giving the champ a stationary target.
Anything less is basically giving the takedowns away, and with the takedowns goes the fight. It is highly improbable that Diaz is going to be able to stage a continuously successful revolution against the top game of the champ.
We’ve seen it happen far too often in big fights: a man stands there looking for an opening, buys on one feint and ends up getting his leg blasted.
For a man as slow as Diaz, he cannot afford to let this happen.
GSP is a very smart fighter—any opening he can use, he will. Rendering Diaz as immobile as possible, via leg kicks, will make those takedowns even easier than they probably already are.
Diaz needs to be able to keep moving and circling all night long if he’s going to avoid giving away any unnecessary takedowns, and to ensure he can, he’s going to need to check those leg kicks all night long.
For a while now, Georges St-Pierre has shown that he knows how to use a good jab and can use that as a staging point for just about any kind of attack he wants to mount.
In order to shut that down, Diaz needs to establish his own jab early and keep driving it into the face of the champ anytime he is standing still.
The jab doesn’t discriminate; it will work for anyone who wants to employ it, and Diaz could use it to keep St-Pierre from settling in to mount any number of attacks, especially takedowns.
In addition, should Diaz prove he is able to out-jab St-Pierre, he could score not only a moral victory over the champ, but force him to react as opposed to Diaz reacting to him.
After all, in a fight like this, it is better to lead than to follow and end up out of place and off balance when the music stops.
As much as it pains anyone to admit—especially if they are a Diaz fan—if the challenger wants to walk out of the fight as the champion, he’s going to have to score points anytime he can.
One way Diaz can do this is by committing to throwing a heavy right over any jab GSP sends his way—given the reach Diaz enjoys, if he times those right hands correctly, he can catch the champ coming in or on his way out.
One of the great things about the St-Pierre jab is that he commits to it, fully. If he didn’t, he wouldn’t have damaged Koscheck’s eye with the first jab he threw in their fight.
But committing totally has its drawbacks; in this case, it puts the champ in the position to eat a heavy right hand flush, and should Diaz get into the rhythm of landing his right, he can take away another advantage GSP has enjoyed in past fights.
If he takes away enough of the champ's striking advantages, then his takedown game is going to be a lot more predictable, and that makes it stoppable.
One of the more undervalued and unappreciated weapons in the game of MMA, the use of a good uppercut, delivered in close quarters or as a defensive measure to intersect with a GSP takedown attempt, could open up many doors for Diaz.
GSP is no stranger to nearly all aspects of the striking game, but most of his really polished weapons are long range. Up close, he’s going to clinch and go for the takedown, or use strikes that will allow him to explode out of the shoe box and back into open ground.
Up close and tight, when vision is limited and movement even more so, a solid, committed uppercut can be brutally effective—not only could Diaz use it to rock GSP, but upon landing he could use the space created in response to circle out and away from the cage.
As one of the few striking weapons that doesn’t need to be fast to land, the uppercut does a surprising amount of damage while traveling only half the distance, or less, as other kinds of punches.
If Diaz can land this weapon, be it while in the clinch or as a counter to a GSP takedown shot, he will give the champ pause.
Sometimes, when Diaz gets taken to the mat, he settles into a kind of passive mode that sees him looking for either submissions or opportunities to get back to his feet.
He needs to keep on doing this while at the same time throwing any kind of attack he can at the champ.
GSP has a stifling top game that shuts down most opponents simply because his base is so damn strong. From there, they tend to resign themselves to a defensive mindset, almost as if they believe the opportunity for a reversal will be handed to them somehow.
Diaz cannot afford to think like this—as much as it pains him to admit, odds are this fight is going to a decision and he cannot afford to do anything but attack, no matter what position he is in.
In his fight with Carlos Condit, GSP was tested like this, and while he did attack, he was many times reacting to Condit’s aggression.
If Diaz can get GSP to react the same way, opportunities for sweeps or submissions may become available—openings Condit didn’t see as he is a different kind of fighter than Diaz on the ground.
And even if the opportunity for a sweep or submission never occurs, Diaz can still impress upon the judges that the fighter on his back is still fighting and scoring—an important impression to make given how many MMA bouts are scored.