Styles make fights. It’s a simple saying that has been around as long as combat sports and even in the ever evolving world of mixed martial arts still holds true
On Jan. 11 at UFC Fight Night 20, two of the fastest rising lightweight stars will enter the octagon in hopes of advancing towards a shot at B.J. Penn’s crown.
Undefeated Gray Maynard and jiu-jitsu wizard Nate Diaz have travelled much different journeys on their way to this bout.
One, a wrestler who is seemingly on a rocket straight towards a title shot, but his inability to finish fights has earned him a negative reputation of sorts.
The other, continues to bring in bonuses of one sort or another, but struggles in his brother's shadow to prove that he too can be a star in mixed martial arts. When these two meet in the cage, it’s more than just a clash of styles. It is a clash of personalities, lifestyles, and background.
Gray Maynard wrestled for the Michigan State Spartans where he had consecutive top 10 NCAA Championship finishes. Following his wrestling career, he was on the brink of retirement before getting a call from B.J. Penn to help him train changed his mind. Nine fights later and he is seemingly one win away from his long awaited title shot.
Before Nate Diaz had even made his mixed martial arts debut, he had already been seen on UFC television numerous times in the corner of his brother, the always tough Nick Diaz. He followed his brother's lead by getting into the sport, having his first professional bout at only 19. At 5-2, Diaz entered and won the Ultimate Fighter competition, earning him a multiple fight, six-figure contract. After five straight victories, he suffered back-to-back losses and is now looking to start another winning streak.
There are three main facts that need to be considered when breaking down this fight.
First, if Nate Diaz can get Gray Maynard on his back, Maynard could be in a lot of trouble. Historically wrestlers hate to be on their back, and Maynard will be no different.
Secondly, even from his back, Nate Diaz can be quite a lethal submission artist. He has 11 wins on his record; seven of those are via submission. Four of those were done via triangle choke, and two more via guillotine. Even if Maynard takes this fight to the ground, it is not a foregone conclusion that he has the advantage.
In his last fight, Maynard got a very tight kimura on Roger Huerta, but Huerta is not Diaz and that will not happen here.
Thirdly, Gray Maynard will decide where this fight takes place. Wrestling has proven time and time again to be a great equalizer for fighters. If Diaz is getting the better of the striking, Maynard always has the option of taking the fight to the mat. On the contrary, if Maynard is getting the better of the striking and Diaz wants to take the fight down, that option is null.
Now the question becomes, who has the advantage on the feet? There is no definitive answer to this question. The Diaz brothers have devised a style of stand-up considered to be similar to the workout style “boxercise.” Basically this style relies on quick, stinging shots which are used more to throw an opponent off his game than to knock him out. This style looks good on the judges’ scorecards and through the amount of shots landed could work well in helping Diaz towards a decision.
Maynard, on the other hand, has a much more flatfooted basic boxing stance. His technique has continued to improve and his hooks are some of the most powerful hooks in the lightweight division. When combining this with wonderful footwork it is clear that Maynard’s boxing has become one of his greatest tools. Diaz certainly has the better kicks, but he may be hesitant to throw them against such a high-calibre wrestler like Maynard.
You may have noticed that I did not mention their previous encounter on the Ultimate Fighter. I did this consciously as both fighters have evolved greatly since then. Comparing the Gray Maynard who took part in the Ultimate Fighter to the current version would be criminal. His improved striking game and added submissions prowess add numerous dimensions to his game that make him light years ahead of where he was three years ago.
Both men need to not only win this fight, but to win impressively. Maynard wants to prove that he is the No. 1 contender for Penn’s championship, and to do this convincingly he needs to finish Nate Diaz. Dana White
is always promoting the need to finish fights. If Maynard can end his five straight decision streak with an impressive finish of Diaz, he might just be the next challenger for the gold.
On the other hand, if Maynard goes to another decision, even if it is impressive, Frankie Edgar might just leapfrog him for that title shot.
Nate Diaz has a lot of prove not only to the UFC brass, but to himself. Although he has five straight fights with bonuses, only three of those fights are victories, and in the end, victories are what earn you championships.
This fight will tell us where the lightweight division goes from here. I will go out on a limb and state that if Maynard is unsuccessful in this fight, then Penn will only defend his title one more time against the aforementioned Frankie Edgar. A victory for Maynard at least delays Penn’s inevitable move by providing at least one more contender for the lightweight thrown.