Nate Diaz vs. Leon Edwards: A Head-to-Toe Breakdown

Tom Taylor@@TomTayMMAContributor IJune 8, 2021

Nate Diaz vs. Leon Edwards: A Head-to-Toe Breakdown

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    Saturday's UFC 263 card in Glendale, Arizona features to two title fights, but much of the pre-event buzz surrounds a main card welterweight scrap between Leon Edwards (18-3) and Nate Diaz (20-12).

    This Edwards vs. Diaz fight, which is scheduled for five rounds despite not being a title fight or main event, is a bit of a weird one. England's Edwards is on a nine-fight unbeaten streak—a streak that has earned him the No. 3 spot in the crowded welterweight rankings. California's Diaz, on the other hand, hasn't fought since he was strafed by Jorge Masvidal in 2019, and isn't even ranked inside the welterweight top 15. He is, however, one of the most popular and exciting fighters in the sport, which is a big part of what makes the fight so alluring.

    Despite Edwards and Diaz's starkly different stations in the welterweight division, their fight looks like it could be a very fun one on paper—particularly when their respective games are put under the microscope.

    Keep scrolling to see how these two welterweight stars match up skill-for-skill.

Striking

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    Leon Edwards and Nate Diaz are both great strikers, but they have very different styles.

    Edwards is more of a kickboxer, backing up his punching game with devastating kicks across all levels, while Diaz is a boxer through-and-through, with particular affection for body work. They're also quite different when it comes to volume. Edwards lands just over 2.5 significant strikers per minute, while Diaz connects with 4.62. However, Edwards is the slightly more accurate striker, landing at a 47 percent clip compared to Diaz's 45 percent. The Brit also absorbs far less punishment, absorbing just over 2 strikers per minute compared to Diaz's 3.78. 

    Based on all of that information, it seems possible Diaz that could have some success on the feet, but it's hard to shake the memory of his recent loss to Jorge Masvidal. Contrary to the arguments put forth by his fans, he was woefully out-struck in that fight, absorbing a procession of punches to the head and kicks to the body—precisely the kind of attacks Edwards favors.

    Edge: Edwards

Wrestling

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    Nate Diaz is a great at a lot of things. Wrestling is not one of them. The fan favorite Californian has a long history of being taken down—particularly when he's competing in the welterweight division which, to this day, seems like the wrong weight class for him.  

    A quick look back at his fights with Dong Hyun Kim and Rory MacDonald—both unanimous decision losses—are all the proof of that you need. In the 30 minutes he spent in the cage with those two men, he surrendered 10 takedowns and succumbed to 13:33 minutes of control time.

    Edwards, meanwhile, is a very solid wrestler—despite being from the UK, where good wrestlers are in notoriously short supply. He completes 1.35 takedowns per 15 minutes, with an overall success rate of 30 percent. Throw in Edwards significant size and strength advantage, and Diaz's less-than-stellar 42 percent takedown defense rate could drop even further by the time this one's over. 

    Edge: Edwards

Submissions

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    Here's where this fight gets interesting.

    While Edwards seems to have a pretty clear-cut wrestling advantage, it might be in best interest to avoid tying up with Diaz. The Californian is a lethal Brazilian jiu jitsu black belt who is almost always hunting for submissions—he attempts 1.4 per 15 minutes—and frequently finds what he's looking for: Of his 23 wins, 15 have come in this fashion. 

    Of course, it's worth noting that Edwards has flaunted some pretty solid defensive grappling, particularly in his 2019 decision win over Gunnar Nelson, but there's no question he's at a disadvantage in this phase of the fight.

    Any time he spends on the mat with Diaz is potentially dangerous.

    Edge: Diaz

X-Factors

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    Edwards X-Factor: Ignore the Superstitions 

    Leon Edwards has been so unlucky of late that one could safely assume he's been cursed.

    Five of the last six fights he's been scheduled for have been canceled or postponed—the majority through no fault of his own—and the lone time he actually made it to the cage, for a March fight with Belal Muhammad, the fight ended with a No Contest due to a series of inadvertent eye pokes.

    Edwards doesn't seem like a superstitious guy, but it would be hard to blame anybody in his position for starting to wondering if there's some kind of sorcery at play. He needs to avoid those thoughts, and keep his mind on the task at hand: thumping Nate Diaz. 

    Diaz's X-Factor: Don't Be Bullied 

    Nate Diaz is not a welterweight. He never has been. 

    His supporters, who are among the loudest in MMA, will undoubtedly remind that he has some wins in the division, but most of those wins are against natural lightweights like Anthony Pettis and Conor McGregor. When he fights legitimate welterweights, he tends to be out-muscled and occasionally, absolutely rag-dolled. 

    Edwards isn't just a legitimate welterweight, he's a big one. He's going to be far bigger than Diaz in this fight, so if Diaz has any hope of winning, he needs to find a way to avoid being bullied.

    Spoiler: that's going to be easier said than done.

Prediction

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    The simple truth is that this is a nightmarish matchup for Nate Diaz. Outside of a submission, which will not be easy to find against a guy like Leon Edwards, he seemingly has no paths to victory.

    He'll be at a disadvantage on the feet. His BJJ could make the grappling phases of the fight interesting, but he'll probably be at a disadvantage on the mat too, thanks to Edwards' surprisingly good wrestling and sheer physicality. Not even Diaz's vaunted cardio is likely to get him through. Edwards has fought for five rounds on numerous occasions, and even if the Brit does start to fade, the perception that Diaz gets stronger down the stretch is an outright myth: Of the four so-called "championship rounds" he's been involved in, only one has been scored in his favor.

    Edwards should be able to control this one with considerable ease, and ultimately, finish it.

    Prediction: Edwards by TKO, Rd. 4

    All stats via UFCStats.com.

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