UFC 158 Georges St. Pierre vs. Nick Diaz: The Achilles Heel of Stockton's Pride

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UFC 158 Georges St. Pierre vs. Nick Diaz: The Achilles Heel of Stockton's Pride
Photo via Nick Laham / Zuffa LLC

I would hope that it is pretty much common knowledge by now that if a fighter chooses to brawl with Nick or Nate Diaz, he is going to have an awful time from bell to bell or until he drops from the combined effects of exhaustion and 300 punches over every inch of his upper body. Yet time after time, we see fighters fall into the same traps—doing well in a punching match early and then simply be ground down by the volume punching and durability of the Diaz brothers.

The Diaz siblings get hit a lot and they get dropped or stunned with strikes in the early goings of a great many of their fights. Someone will eventually knock one of them out if they stick around long enough, but being the first to do so is not a suitable strategy for a fighter to hang his hat on.

I am hard pressed to think of fighters whose weaknesses and strengths are so clear to anyone who has studied their bouts and yet continue to dominate world class opposition. In case you haven't followed their careers throughout I shall briefly explain, calling on previous analyses I have written including one from before Nick fought Carlos Condit, the great strengths and flaws in the striking game of the Diaz brothers.

The topics which we shall cover today are the Diaz brother's (and more specifically Nick's):

  • Volume punching strategy
  • Head placement, parrying and hand control
  • Stance and it's importance to reach
  • Mediocre footwork and ringcraft

 

Volume Punching

The most obvious departure from regular striking form that the Diaz brothers make to the eye of the casual observer is their hyperactive offensive output and seeming lack of commitment to the punches that they throw. One will hear continual reference to how they throw "60 percent power" shots, but these accumulate over time. To anyone who hasn't witnessed the strategy, it is actually helpful that commentators constantly remind us. Because when watching the Diaz brothers' punches, the majority of them don't seem as though they could cause much worry to a conditioned fighter.

The volume punching strategy works on a few levels—firstly it is taxing on the opponent's mind and numbs their reactions. It is easy to deal with the impact of fighters who throw one or two strikes at a time—bracing one's body for six to eight strikes in rapid succession is extremely taxing and this is how seemingly weak punches slip in on opponents with an impact, which wouldn't worry a fighter who was prepared for them. It also turns bouts into an endurance contest—something which the triathlon-loving Diaz brothers are uniquely suited for.

One of the cornerstones of the Diaz brothers' style is the ability to slip in moderately hard straight punches through making these punches uncompromisingly straight. A great example is Nate Diaz's bout with Donald Cerrone. Cerrone likes to brawl and his punches are hard, but his elbows bow out slightly when he throws his straights. The Diaz brothers, meanwhile, throw their straights with tight elbows and Nate was able to slip his punches inside of Cerrone's harder, more energy consuming punches throughout the fight.

Diaz's straight slips inside of Cerrone's flaring elbow.
A second example of Nate Diaz's uncompromising straight jab.
Here Nick has drawn Frank Shamrock's hands forward and connects his terrific left body hook behind Shamrock's elbow.

The commitment that both Diaz brothers make to body punching puts them head and shoulders above everyone else in their divisions in terms of offensive savvy. Whenever I am asked what differences there are between high-level striking in boxing, kickboxing and Muay Thai, and the relatively low-level striking we see in MMA, I always am drawn back to the point that in MMA, the head seems to be the only target for punches.

A final and often overlooked strength of the volume punching style is that opponents often attempt to fire back as soon as there is a break in the Diaz’s combinations. This allows Nick and Nate to perform the lean back right hook which they both love, and often results in the opponent eating a far harder punch than those that they had been peppered with beforehand. Marius Zaromskis and Robbie Lawler both ate a knockout right hook as they lunged to catch Nick Diaz.

Here Nick Diaz is battering Scott Smith - he connects a nice left straight on Smith's brow.
As soon as Diaz misses one of his probing, half power punches he knows that a retaliation is coming.
Diaz's leans back and avoids Smith's telegraphed, teeth clenched uppercut.

As soon as Smith's punch has missed Diaz's right hook smacks across Smith's jaw.

Every Diaz fight is filled with salvos of probing shots to a lean-back counter hook and the more you look for them, the more you will notice them. Marcus Davis ran on to Nate Diaz's lean back hook over and over in their bout.

 

Head Placement, Parrying and Hand Control

As a fight progresses and Nick Diaz’s volume punching strategy begins to pay dividends, he will begin to play a more offensive game by working to eliminate his opponent’s hands so that he can better rattle off his digging body shots.

The strategies Nick uses to do so range greatly throughout the fight. One of the most memorable is Nick's mugging at the opponent with his arms stretched out to the sides (in the "come at me, bro"posture) only to pull back and land his counter right hook when his opponents do attack him. Another example is Nick's stretching both his hands well out in front of him to force the opponent to fire all of their attacks through his hands, which then slap the attacks downward and counter with short, irritating punches (most clearly visible against Gomi and Inoue).

Diaz is also phenomenal at muscling his opponents around within infighting range. Take a brief look at how he manhandled a covering Marius Zaromskis when he finally got ‘The Whitemare” along the fence. Diaz is constantly cross facing opponents, pulling down on their heads, pushing on their shoulders—all to stifle one side of their body and open the other side to his punches.

Diaz leans with his left forearm on the back of the covering Zaromskis' neck.
Diaz cups the back of Zeromskis' neck and pulls him over to the left, exposing Zaromskis' left side.
Diaz lands a brutal right hook to Zaromskis' exposed left flank.
Nick Diaz cross faces Zaromskis with his left forearm. As Zaromskis struggles to stand up Nick prepares his right hand.
Marius Zaromskis stands up into Nick's right hook.

Muscling opponents around in this manner is something that you will find rarely talked about, but it is a common feature of many great strikers from all sorts of sports. Joe Louis used to lean on and pass off opponents in exactly the same manner Nick did in the above sequence. Fedor Emelianenko and Anderson Silva have had much of their striking success in clinching range by pushing their opponents around to expose striking opportunities.

Another interesting quirk of Diaz’s game is that he will often allow himself to be caught in a double-collar tie (what some simplify as “the Thai clinch”). A great many of Diaz’s fights have seen him actively fighting from the double-collar tie, countering with body punches in a similar vein to Fabio Maldonado, but never getting kneed in the face for his troubles.

The reason for Diaz’s opponents attempting to control him in the double collar tie so often is that Diaz uses a very old fashion style of infighting—the kind you will see Edwin Haislet or older coaches talk about. Traditional infighting involves the placing of the head on the opponent’s sternum, pushing him into the ropes and landing short flurries of shots to his floating ribs. Diaz, however, is taller than most of his opponents and opts to place his head against their head as he lands these shots.

Diaz drives his forehead against Evangelista Santos'
Diaz alternates body shots. Here he lands a left.
And here Diaz lands his stinging right.
Edwin Haislet's depiction of infighting by pressing the head against the opponent in "On Boxing".

 

Early in a fight, this seems to offer the opponent the double-collar tie. But later in the bout—once the opponent has had his brain rattled by a few of Diaz’s hooks and his will sapped by body shots—he will almost certainly stay covered against the assault. No one has been able to use infighting as well in MMA as Nick Diaz. In fact, the practice barely exists due to the ease with which most fighters can tie a fighter up at this range.

 

Stance and Mediocre Ringcraft

The Diaz brothers, along with B.J. Penn, share a more traditional boxing-oriented stance with their lead foot turned in. Both Diaz brothers also stand in a much longer and thinner stance than most MMA fighters. By effectively making themselves side on to their opponent, this reduces the target presented for punches. It also serves to place the lead shoulder closer to the opponent—effectively extending the reach of Diaz’s lead hand.


Unfortunately, this boxing-centric stance is the cause of most of the Diaz’s failings. By having the lead foot turned in and the stance so narrow, it is extremely easy to off-balance and break the Diaz’s stances with low kicks to the outside of the lead leg or even low karate style sweep kicks to the calf and ankle. In an article from before the Condit-Diaz bout, I spoke about this at length.

Notice how Ben Henderson's kicks completely destroy Nate Diaz's side on stance. This is not due to their power but due to Diaz's narrow base.

Donald Cerrone was able to get the better of Nate Diaz when he stuck to kicking techniques, and Carlos Condit easily outmaneuvered Nick with kicks. Most recently, Nate lost his bout to Benson Henderson in the striking department and it was almost entirely due to Henderson’s refusal to let Nate close in on him—kicking his lead leg and circling away whenever he felt threatened.


The turned-in lead leg also makes it much more difficult for the Diaz’s to pivot to face opponents who circle away from their rear hand. As southpaws who are often fighting orthodox fighters, this is the direction in which they are always going to need to pivot in order to stop opponents simply running out to their right side—just as Condit did so routinely against Nick.

I am sure there is still a great deal of bitterness over that fight, but it wasn’t a case of Condit not coming to fight. It was a case of Nick Diaz being unable to make the bout into a fight and instead being picked apart at range—albeit with a lack of venom—but Nick was clinically out struck nonetheless.

Nick Diaz backs Carlos Condit towards the fence - where he does his best work.
Condit slips Nick's first punch and lands a right hook to the body.
Condit moves out to Diaz's lead side.
Diaz is unable to stop Condit from getting off of the cage and is back to walking him down.

For Nick vs. Condit and Nate vs. Henderson, the faults of stance and poor ringcraft compounded as their opponents broke their stance and balance with low kicks and continued to circle to the lead side without effective retaliation from the Diaz brothers. 

Inability to stop an opponent circling away has been there throughout Nick Diaz's career. In his first bout with K.J. Noons, Noons would simply counter Diaz as Diaz walked in and then run out to Diaz's side to avoid getting dragged into the soul sapping exchanges in which the Diaz brothers excel. In the rematch between the two, Nick showed uncharacteristic fight IQ by switching stance to orthodox stance for a good deal of the fight and really using the massive reach advantage that he had over the lightweight Noons.

 

Conclusions

Obviously it is difficult to do the style of a world-class fighter justice in a couple thousand words, but the strengths and weaknesses in Nick (and Nate) Diaz's game are so obvious and well known at this point that it is almost entirely down to how disciplined their opponents are and how effective the Diaz brothers are in drawing the opponent into a brawl.

As long as the Diaz brothers fight in a narrow stance with their lead foot turned in, they will be slow to pivot, less effective at cutting off the octagon (difficult anyway due to the lack of corners) and continue to have their stance and movement compromised by even light low kicks (such as the infamous Condit "leg jabs") to the outside of their leg.

How Nick Diaz will fair against a world-class MMA wrestler trying to take him down and stay on top of him is a question which no one can really answer because he hasn't fought a wrestling-based fighter in over six years. That is unless you consider lightweight punchers Takanori Gomi and B. J. Penn as equal to the bulk of the welterweight division's elite wrestlers such Johnny Hendricks, Josh Koscheck, Jake Ellenberger, Jon Fitch and the like.

The last true top player that Nick fought was Sean Sherk over half a decade ago and Nick Diaz surprised everyone by stuffing the majority of Sherk's takedowns. The other surprise in that fight, however, was how much Nick exposed himself to strikes in the process—getting out-boxed in spite of the 67" reach of Sean Sherk. 

I, of course, have no idea how the fight between Diaz and St. Pierre will play out. I have always maintained that fights are only predictable if both fighters are. While the Diaz brothers have proven reluctant to adapt to their opponents in the past, a year off and an attempt at the world title could have given Nick Diaz plenty of time to make the small adjustments which have hindered his and his brother's game against world class fighters in the past.

Let us await UFC 158 with the excitement which any Nick Diaz fight brings.

**************

Jack Slack breaks down over 70 striking tactics employed by 20 elite strikers in his first ebookAdvanced Striking, and discusses the fundamentals of strategy in his new ebookElementary Striking.

Jack can be found on TwitterFacebook and at his blogFights Gone By.


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