Nate Diaz vs. Tony Ferguson: A Head-to-Toe Breakdown

Tom Taylor@@TomTayMMAContributor IOctober 25, 2021

Nate Diaz vs. Tony Ferguson: A Head-to-Toe Breakdown

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    Sometimes, a picture really is worth a thousand words.

    On Friday, Nate Diaz signed on to Twitter and posted a photo, sans caption or context, of the UFC's former interim lightweight champion, Tony Ferguson. Within minutes, the MMA community was in a frenzy of excitement, drooling ravenously at the mere thought of the two fan favorites meeting in the Octagon. Details like the fight's contracted weight—both men have fought at lightweight and welterweight previously—seemed like an afterthought.

    To be clear: This fight is not official. UFC President Dana White even went so far as to claim his team isn't working on the matchup. Yet Diaz is clearly interested, Ferguson has never been one to back down from a challenge and the fans? Well, the fans have made it pretty clear this is a fight they are ready to open their wallets to see.

    When the wallets start opening, promoters start paying attention. White is no exception to that rule.

    So if this fight does happen, who wins and how? As is so often the case, that's tremendously difficult to say ahead of time. Yet a closer look at the two men's games reveals some interesting insights.

    Keep reading to see how they match up on paper.


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    Nate Diaz is one of the most effective boxers in the UFC. He's accurate, landing 45 percent of the strikes he throws, he's active, landing 4.51 significant strikes per minute, and as he showed in the fifth round of his decision loss to Leon Edwards in June, he packs some deceptive power.

    He's not the most evasive or defensive striker in the world, but when he's in control of a fight, his boxing can be a beautiful thing to behold. Unfortunately, Diaz loses points for versatility. As slick as his boxing can be, he oftentimes leans too heavily on it at the expense of kicks, elbows and knees. That is not a problem Tony Ferguson has.

    Tony Ferguson is the type of guy to throw a jab, a spinning elbow, a flying knee and a rolling thunder kick in the span of 10 seconds. He often puts himself in harm's way in the process, but the man is as unpredictable as a Paulo Costa fightweek. You just don't know what's going to happen when he steps into the cage.

    The point here is that in terms of the striking side of this potential matchup, Diaz is more of a boxing specialist, while Ferguson is more of an unhinged jack of all trades. It's difficult to say which man's striking would be more effective in the Octagon, but in a sport that is all about mixing martial arts, the guy who applies multiple striking styles would seem to have the upper hand over the guy who favors one.

    It's razor-close, but we've got to give the edge to somebody.

    Edge: Ferguson


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    Identifying the superior striker in this prospective matchup was difficult. Pinpointing the better wrestler won't be.

    Contrary to his recent decision losses to Charles Oliveira and Beneil Dariush, throughout which he was handily controlled on the mat, Ferguson is a wrestler through and through. He's been putting in work in the wrestling room since he was in high school, and it's always been a central part of his mixed martial arts arsenal, as evidenced by his impressive 42 percent takedown accuracy rate.

    That's flatly not true of Diaz. While he shoots for considerably more takedowns than Ferguson, attempting 1.1 per 15 minutes compared to Ferguson's 0.42, he's significantly less successful on his attempts, completing just 30 percent.

    Wrestling has also always been Diaz's kryptonite. Taking him down isn't a guaranteed method of beating him, but it's a good place to start. Case in point: he stops just 42 percent of takedowns attempted against him compared to Ferguson's 67 percent.

    Neither of these guys is on the level of Daniel Cormier or Cain Velasquez, but Ferguson is clearly the significantly more effective wrestler of the two.

    Edge: Ferguson


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    Here we go again. As with the striking side of the game, picking the better submission specialist between Diaz and Ferguson is a difficult task. Diaz is a Brazilian jiu-jitsu blackbelt under Cesar Gracie, Tony Ferguson is a 10th Planet jiu-jitsu blackbelt under Eddie Bravo and both men have a long history of locking up limbs and necks. They're both exceptional.

    Thankfully, the stats point to one man being more effective.

    Ferguson has finished eight of his 25 professional victories by way of submission, and attempts 1.1 submissions per 15 minutes in the cage. Those are impressive figures, but they fall short when compared to Diaz. The Stockton, California, native has earned a ridiculous 11 of his 20 career victories with his submissions, and he attempts a commendable 1.3 submissions per 15 minutes in action.

    Again, the intention here isn't to suggest that Ferguson is weak in terms of submissions. Diaz simply has few equals in this department.

    Edge: Diaz


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    Diaz's X-Factor: Avoid the Brawl   

    Very few people can endure the kind of hyper-violence Ferguson unleashes when things start heating up. Yes, Diaz knows his way around a brawl, but a brawl with Tony Ferguson is akin to 15 minutes in a blender.

    To win this fight, Diaz needs to stay mobile, box at range and, ideally, get Ferguson frustrated and desperate. If he fails to do that and gets sucked into a close-quarters brawl with his rival, he risks being pureed.


    Ferguson's X-Factor: Don't Be Controlled

    In his two most recent losses, Ferguson was soundly controlled by Charles Oliveira and Beneil Dariush. Given that Diaz has never been much of an offensive wrestler, it's hard to imagine him replicating that strategy against Ferguson, but it's possible, and if Ferguson wants to win this fight, he can't let that happen.

    Whether it's on the feet or on the mat, he's at his best when he can move freely and explode into high-flying striking attacks and slick submission attempts. Both of those things are hard to do when you're stuck to the mat like gum on a picnic table.


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    Ferguson's recent inconsistency makes it hard to confidently pick him in any potential matchup, but even if he's lost a step, he still seems to have the skills required to beat Diaz.

    He should be able to batter and bloody his rival on the feet, he should be able to hit takedowns if he chooses and he should be savvy enough on the mat to avoid getting tied up in a submission.

    It would bloody, but he would win.

    Prediction: Ferguson by decision.