Nick Diaz vs. Robbie Lawler: A Head-to-Toe Breakdown
Welterweight legend Nick Diaz will return from a hiatus of almost six years on the UFC 266 main card this Saturday, and he'll be welcomed back by one of the few fighters on earth who can match his propensity for intensity: former welterweight champion Robbie Lawler.
UFC 266 will be topped by two title fights—a featherweight showdown between Alexander Volkanovski and Brian Ortega and a flyweight scrap between Valentina Shevchenko and Lauren Murphy—but Diaz vs. Lawler is dominating fan attention, and that's understandable.
The two welterweights are among the most exciting fighters in MMA history. They've also got some history, as Diaz knocked Lawler out in their respective salad days, way back in 2004. Perhaps best of all, they've also been given five glorious rounds to slug it out. That luxury is usually only afforded to title fights and main events, but, unencumbered by championship stakes, Diaz and Lawler will have extended time to paint their violent masterpiece.
Who wins this mouthwatering matchup? As ever, there's no way to know until fight night, but a closer look at their respective games reveals some interesting insights. Keep scrolling to see how they match up on paper.
Diaz and Lawler are both great strikers, and both favor punching over kicking, but that's where the similarities between them end.
Diaz has decent power—as he proved when he knocked Lawler out in 2004—but what makes him dangerous is his volume and his versatility. Lawler, on the other hand, is nothing if not lethally powerful, but he frequently opts for quality over quantity, oftentimes losing rounds as a result. That's been particularly true in the recent years of his career, throughout which he's looked more like a fighter going through the motions than the force of extreme carnage he once was.
The stats reflect these realities. Diaz lands a dizzying 5.43 strikes per minute compared to Lawler's 3.50. In other words, he lands a lot more. One the flip side, Lawler has earned 20 of his 28 wins via knockout or TKO for a rate of just over 71 percent, while Diaz has earned 13 of his 26 victories by knockout or TKO for a delightfully even rate of 50 percent. In other words, Lawler clearly has the edge in power.
Would it be more dangerous to be locked in a room with a swarm of angry bees or a rhinoceros that has grown lethargic with age? That's effectively the question we're asking here. It's a tough one to answer—neither option is remotely appealing—but you're probably more likely to get stung a bunch than you are to get charged.
Neither Diaz nor Lawler is a world-class wrestler. Unlike the striking facet of the sport, however, it's pretty clear which fighter has the edge in this department.
Diaz is not only a weak wrestler, he's weak to wrestling—to the point that a takedown-heavy game plan has become the surest way to beat him. Lawler, on the other hand, is a reasonably good wrestler who simply prefers to punch holes in his opponent's faces.
Again, the stats reflect these realities. While Diaz shoots more often than Lawler, averaging 1.32 takedowns per 15 minutes compared to his rival's 0.68, he's significantly less successful on his attempts. Diaz's takedown success rate is a paltry 33 percent, while Lawler's sits at a decent 64 percent. Diaz also surrenders more takedowns, stopping 60 percent of attempts compared to Lawler's 64 percent defense rate. That's not a gulf, but it's something.
This isn't to suggest Lawler is a Kamaru Usman or Colby Covington—as much as the way he flung Ben Askren around the Octagon in 2019 gave that impression—but he's the better man in this phase of the game.
If there's one area where one man has a clear-cut advantage, it's submissions. Diaz is a lethal submission artist, while Lawler has never been particularly good at locking up limbs or necks.
The proof is in the numbers. Diaz has finished eight of his 26 wins by submission, most notably hitting a super rare gogoplata on Takanori Gomi in 2007, and also tapping the likes of Josh Neer, Hayato Sakurai and Evangelista "Cyborg" Santos. Lawler, on the other hand, has finished just one of his 28 victories in this fashion, scoring a 2005 submission win over Jeremy Brown, who was just 1-3 at the time.
There's room for debate when it comes to the striking and wrestling departments. When it comes to submissions, there isn't. In this matchup, Diaz is king on the canvas.
Diaz's X-Factor: Ring Rust
As we covered at the top of this article, Diaz hasn't fought in almost six years—since a January 2015 no contest against the great Anderson Silva.
That's a long, long time for any pro fighter to go without a fight. Diaz's layoff is particularly concerning given that his commitment to fighting seemed to disappear completely at several points during his time away. The intention here isn't to suggest Diaz's cardio should be a concern—he has the gas tank to run a marathon on a moment's notice—but he might struggle to reclaim his timing and reflexes. When fighting a murderous puncher like Lawler, that's a definite cause for concern.
Lawler's X-Factor: Urgency
When he's at his best, Lawler is one of the most frenetically aggressive fighters you will ever have the pleasure of watching—so much so that "fifth-round Robbie Lawler" has a place in the MMA pantheon alongside other mythical figures like "motivated BJ Penn" and "sea level Cain Velasquez."
Unfortunately, Lawler's aggression seems to have gone the way of the mastodon and the dodo. It just doesn't seem to exist anymore. Barring a wild spurt of violence in the opening seconds of his 2019 fight with Ben Askren, he has looked mostly uninterested in causing bodily harm in his last few fights. That's going to be a problem against Diaz who, even after a lengthy hiatus, can be expected to lean on a round-stealing, high-volume attack this Saturday.
Lawler's vicious power will give him a fighting chance in any matchup he's ever part of, but the lack of enthusiasm he's shown in his last few fights is a massive concern in this one.
He could turn back the clock with a crowd-silencing, one-punch knockout, but the more likely outcome is a decisive win for Diaz. Look for the fan favorite to make a splash in his big comeback, outlanding Lawler from bell-to-bell en route to a unanimous decision win—maybe even a late TKO stoppage.
Prediction: Diaz by unanimous decision