In an MMA world where styles are blending more and more evenly and thoroughly (into something so smooth and predictable it may be spreadable on warm toast), Nick Diaz proved this past Saturday that going against the grain can work just as well.
Scott Smith showed he was ill-prepared for the odd "praying mantis" boxing technique that Diaz does so well. His face had the look of a speed bag as Diaz peppered it again and again, seeming to land shots at will.
What is it that makes Diaz so hard to defend?
First and foremost, there is no substitute for talent and preparation. The Diaz brothers train under Luisito Espinosa, former WBA and WBC world champion. Nick also trains with Andre Ward, an Olympic gold medalist.
The best way to improve at anything is to hang around with people who are world class. They will force you to improve and though you may never be as good as they are, you'll be better than you were.
The fact that Nick trains with traditional pugilists makes it even more intriguing that he and his brother opt to use a nontraditional stance and technique.
Standing with his hands so far in front of him costs Nick some power. He doesn't have as much air and opportunity to build up speed and force before landing the blow. When he strikes, he's coming in from a foot to a foot and half instead of the entire length of his arm.
Even though he sacrifices the power that would have been created over this distance, he also costs his opponent an equal amount of reaction time. His hands were already right there in your face before the punch even began. Nick will use this proximity to his advantage, effectively measuring the distance with one hand, then tagging you with the other.
Scott Smith showed how difficult it can be to get out of the way in such a small amount of time. The proportion of punches landed to punches thrown was obviously frustrating him as his head was bobbed backward over and over. He simply had no answer.
It isn't just the short distance that throws opponents off, however. It's also the timing. Nick isn't in a hurry to finish you. He likes to fight and he's well aware of how much time he has to work with. He wants to lull you to sleep before he makes his move.
His critics would say Nick is the king of pitter patter or patty cake or "quit hitting yourself" or any of a long list of names belittling his power. I assert that Diaz is actually king of the "change up".
If you throw fastball after fastball at a major league hitter, eventually he's going to get your timing down, wait for it and put your stuff in the cheap seats. So many MMA fighters do this exact thing. They throw every punch as hard as they can. Sure, if it connects, it's all good.
But what about when it doesn't? You're burning your arms up while you're giving away your timing.
Guys like Lyoto Machida make a living predicting the timing of fighters like this, slipping the punch and making their own move.
Diaz has figured out a way to stay on the offensive, score points with the judges and keep his opponent guessing. What's coming? Is he going to lazily reach out and try and grab my wrist or is he going to swing for real this time? Is he going to tap me or is he going to put something on it and really stick me? Only Diaz knows.
Love him or hate him, he's on to something and I wouldn't be surprised to see more fighters start following his lead.