Strikeforce Welterweight Champion Nick Diaz of Stockton, California, U.S.A. defends his belt for the third time versus Paul Daley of Nottingham, England at the Valley View Casino Center in San Diego, California on Showtime this Saturday night.
The most compelling 170-pound bout in Strikeforce’s history is also the best fight in the division to occur outside the UFC since the Brit lost to Diaz’s teammate, Jake Shields, in an October 2008 EliteXC title contest. 25 minutes or 25 seconds can determine for whom the final bell tolls. Here are five reasons—one for each in the five-round championship clash—each fighter may walk away the Strikeforce Welterweight Champion.
The Champion: Nick Diaz (24-7-1 NC; Strikeforce 5-0, UFC 6-4)
1) Work Rate: A good round for Nick Diaz sees him throw as many punches as high volume boxers. His ability to keep consistent forward pressure is backed by a mix of verbal intimidation and fearlessness. It’s a psychological game Diaz drags his opponents into playing. The taunts are because he is confident he’s about to prove his opponent can’t work as hard as he does.
2) Guard: Criticism of Nick Diaz’s takedown defense is nullified considering Diaz believes no one can handle his Cesar Gracie jiu-jitsu black belt guard. It cost him four decisions in the UFC; however, the scoring system doesn’t come into play if he gets the submission. He feels his opponent makes a mistake by shooting on him.
3) Transitions: If Nick Diaz wants to force his jiu-jitsu in the fight, he does not need to wait for his pressure standing to cause his opponent to go for a takedown as he has in the past. He would demonstrate improvement in his overall game if he can link his boxing to his clinching takedowns with more fluidity. It’s the advice Jake Shields had in his corner during Diaz’s five-round affair with K.J. Noons and something Diaz likely focused on improving.
4) Digging: Paul Daley won’t have a chance to lay into his “Semtex” left hook if Nick Diaz is forehead-to-forehead with him. Diaz challenges his opponents inside like few others, never neglecting a body shot’s ability to topple an adversary. Factor in an already marked cardio advantage, sapping Daley’s energy with body punches speeds up Diaz’s chance to go in high gear.
5) Pulling Away: The reason Nick Diaz has stopped 20 opponents in his 24 career victories is his ability to call on endless energy to find the finish. If there’s an opportunity, he rarely misses it.
The Challenger: Paul "Semtex" Daley, (27-9-2; Strikeforce 2-0, UFC 2-1)
1) Sprawl: It’s no secret Daley’s clearest route to victory is where he can display his powerful English kickboxing game often honed at Golden Glory. He has stellar balance to fend off takedowns and can dictate where the fight occurs should Diaz seek the submission game.
2) Elbows: Diaz cuts. It’s Daley’s best interest to turn it bloody by employing elbows in the clinch and on the mat. Standing, he has the technique to land a KO elbow when Diaz pressures him inside, which may be the only way to put out a granite-chinned Diaz for good. On the ground, it can create damage and discomfort in the dangerous guard of Diaz.
3) Range: Controlling the distance standing will be necessary for Daley so he’s not at the end of Diaz’s long-range punches. Mid-range is where “Semtex” explodes.
4) Combinations: Daley can’t rely on one power shot. He’ll have to earn it. The more punches, the better shot he has at chipping away at Diaz’s solid chin. Finishing combinations with a leg kick could subvert Diaz’s forward fighting style too.
5) Pacing: Daley would be wise to conserve energy with precision. Diaz throws straight punches, so explosive energy to hook around, hit the in-your-face champion with angles and avoid him with head movement is paramount. Frustration can hurt an emotional fighter like Diaz. Despite holding the Cage Rage 170-pound crown, Daley has only fought through championship rounds once in a draw with Abdul Mohamed in 2004. Diaz is fresh off a 25-minute bout. Pacing is everything.
Danny Acosta is the lead writer at FIGHT! Magazine. Follow him on twitter.com/acostaislegend