LAS VEGAS — The old version of Nate Diaz returned Saturday night at the Mandalay Bay Events Center, while the old version of Gray Maynard may be gone for good.
Diaz put an emphatic stamp on a largely listless The Ultimate Fighter finale event, finishing Maynard with multiple strikes in the main event. It was a severe beating, one that referee Yves Lavigne botched badly by allowing Maynard to take far too much punishment. Maynard was essentially out on his feet, only remaining standing by the force of Diaz's punches pushing him back against the cage.
After the fight, Diaz proclaimed himself and Gilbert Melendez the best lightweights in the world, despite indications that Diaz will move back to welterweight for his next fight.
He also called out both Josh Thomson—who beat Diaz earlier this year—and Benson Henderson, who beat Diaz almost a year ago. And then Diaz proclaimed that he had things to do and was hungry, though he chose more colorful language than I'll use here.
Diaz may not always make sense, but he'll always be entertaining.
What did we learn? We learned that Diaz is still one of the most exciting fighters in the lightweight division. He may never beat the Hendersons or Pettises of the world, but he'll compete with just about anyone in the top 10.
For Maynard, however, the end may be near. He simply cannot take the kind of punishment he used to take on a regular basis. He's suffered three knockouts in his last four fights, and the fight Diaz clipped him with to start the fight-ending barrage was the kind of punch Maynard would've simply walked through in the past.
When your chin goes, it's time to start considering other career options. And unfortunately for Maynard, that time might be now. It can't be a good feeling to come as close as Maynard did to that lightweight championship, only to fall short. But even though it hurts, taking more punishment like he did Saturday night in search of a goal that might be futile will hurt even more in the long run.