At least, not the Diaz we’ve all come to know and love during his 11-plus years in the spotlight.
Oddsmakers see a mismatch in the offing here, with our partners at Odds Shark posting Diaz as nearly a 4-to-1 underdog. Even those numbers feel a bit conservative, and despite a last-minute promotional push, many spectators, including MMA writer Josh Gross, are preparing for a one-sided drubbing:
Josh Gross @yay_yee
@kennyflorian Solid card but currently I'm "meh" for Silva-Diaz. (Just feel like Silva dominates.) Massive month too, so some fight fatigue.2015-1-27 20:38:58
Setting aside the obvious—that Diaz is a welterweight, winless since 2011, jumping up in weight to challenge the greatest MMA fighter of all time—this bout represents a stylistic nightmare for him. The entire time we’ve known him, he’s been all about forward pressure, unbridled aggression and a high-volume striking attack.
Against a potent counterstriker like Silva, that’s a clear recipe for disaster.
So—knowing that Diaz likely won’t win if he fights a conventional Nick Diaz fight—perhaps the most intriguing question is whether the notoriously stubborn Stockton, California, native is willing to choose a different path.
The only way Diaz gets the better of a striking match against Silva is if the former middleweight champion shows up looking like a run-of-the-mill 39-year-old coming off a career-threatening injury. In other words, Diaz’s best hope is for Silva to have suddenly gotten old and, frankly, that seems like a long shot.
No, Diaz’s best chance to make a competitive showing likely isn’t on the feet at all. It’s to put Silva on the ground. Shoot takedowns. Clinch and trip. Pull guard, if he has to do it—anything to take “The Spider” out of a world where he’ll clearly dominate.
It bears repeating, of course, that despite a career-long focus on boxing, Diaz is also a fearsome Brazilian jiu-jitsu black belt. The few times he’s been forced to show us his ground skills—in the closing moments of victories over Takanori Gomi, Evangelista “Cyborg” Santos and Scott Smith—the results have been breathtaking.
Go ahead, watch Diaz take Carlos Condit’s back during the final 90 seconds of a loss at UFC 143 and see if you don’t come away feeling like he should rely more on his prodigious grappling skills.
Against Silva, this obviously won’t be a magic fix. The former No. 1 pound-for-pound fighter in the world has historically had pretty stellar takedown defense and has warded off the wrestling attempts of much larger men. His submission skills are also nothing to overlook, as Silva himself boasts a BJJ black belt.
But if there are lingering questions about that surgically repaired leg, about Silva’s overall fitness and about how he’ll react to spending the last 14 months in rehab, I’m willing to bet the best way to test him will be in the grappling stages.
The biggest obstacle to all of this may be Diaz himself. At least publicly, he’s shown very little interest over the years in trifles like growth and change. To say he seems set in his ways feels like a major understatement. There is no indication that he would consider a wholesale switch in style, even if it might give him the best chance to actually break out of his current 0-2 slump.
After all, Diaz spent much of the last year disinterested in fighting at all. As recently as April 2014, he told MMAFighting.com’s Ariel Helwani that he’d “rather work at Walmart” than fight in the UFC again. Since agreeing to return, he’s scoffed at the notion that he would be excited to fight Silva and has said he doesn’t care much about the title.
It was the lure of big money and a big fight against the recuperating Silva that coaxed him out of his semi-retirement.
Will the allure of victory be enough to make him break his own mold? That's the most interesting question about an otherwise cut-and-dried matchup.