Rafael dos Anjos saw to it that Nate Diaz’s week of bluster ended with a whimper.
From Wednesday to Friday, Diaz had largely set the pace for UFC on Fox 13, grabbing the lion’s share of the headlines when he slept through his open workout, cut a professional wrestling style promo on new UFC signee CM Punk and then missed weight by more than four pounds.
On Saturday, it was dos Anjos’ turn to offer a rebuttal.
The 30-year-old Brazilian pounded Diaz for 15 full minutes in their co-main event bout—punishing his legs with hard kicks from the outset and opening a large cut over his right eye during the second round. Diaz took it all in a style befitting his impetuous reputation, but by the time it was over, the judges called it a lopsided sweep for dos Anjos (30-26 x 2, 30-27).
“I’ll give him this, he’s tough as hell, man, (with) those leg kicks he ate,” UFC President Dana White said of Diaz after the fight, via Fox Sport’s Ariel Helwani. “Dos Anjos should’ve come back here and got arrested for attempted murder with that fight. He absolutely destroyed him. It was a one-sided beating. Nate Diaz either needs to get serious about this sport and get his head together, or retire.”
We already knew a win would keep dos Anjos in the discussion for a shot at the lightweight title in 2015. The dominating fashion with which he pulled it off now leaves him neck-and-neck with Khabib Nurmagomedov for immediate consideration. He’ll finish 2014 at 3-1, and (though he won’t win the award) he should get his name on a few Fighter of the Year ballots.
Considering his 17 fights and six years of service in the Octagon, however, he remains almost shockingly nondescript. Despite going 8-1 since May 2012, I’m still not sure most UFC fans could pick him out of a lineup. Perhaps this win over Diaz changes that, though what happens to him next likely depends almost entirely on the health of Nurmagomedov.
The undefeated Dagestan-native beat dos Anjos back in April, but he then had a proposed bout against Donald Cerrone called off after he suffered a knee injury. At present, the UFC doesn’t think Nurmagomedov will be ready to face champion Anthony Pettis in a timely fashion and company brass exited the weekend saying that made dos Anjos their top pick.
"Pettis texted me right after the fight and said ‘wow, (dos Anjos) murdered him. I'm ready to go. I'll fight either one of them.'" White said, via MMA Fighting.com’s Shaun Al-Shatti. "I would say if Khabib is healthy right now, probably Khabib (gets Pettis). But he's not. So it's dos Anjos."
We know how these sorts of promises go, though, right? With Cerrone still set to fight Myles Jury in January and Nurmagomedov already ambushing Pettis during press conferences, it’s still anybody’s best guess who ultimately turns up as No. 1 contender.
One thing we do know, it won’t be Diaz.
The junior senator from the 209 finds his MMA career in disarray after a weird week of promotion and then an uncharacteristically tepid performance on fight night.
Diaz had been out of action some 13 months while he quibbled with the UFC over his pay. Aside from the transgressions listed above, this week he also walked out of an official UFC interview and disparaged the organization’s new partnership with Reebok.
On fight night, he didn’t look at all himself. After missing weight, he appeared in slightly less than Diaz-quality shape. He tried to work his high-octane offense and slippery ground game throughout the fight, but it was clear he wasn’t operating at 100 percent.
After the strange week he’d had, there was speculation that perhaps Diaz was trying to get cut from the UFC on purpose. When it was over, however, he confirmed he fought with a preexisting injury—and for him to even mention it, it must’ve been pretty bad—but said he wants to fight again for the UFC, and all but assured his next performance will be a better one.
"I ran into some issues in camp and I wish I could've fought and won," Diaz told ESPN.com’s Brett Okamoto. "I know what I can do. I had to come and get paid. I had some issues and I was injured. I was not in the best type of shape I could be in. I'm here to fight, always. I'm here. You see me.”