Many MMA writers – this one included – are often guilty of saying unflattering things about Nick Diaz. Need an example? See my column on this website from last Thursday.
We kid Diaz and we criticize him because it’s easy and because, well, most of the time he deserves it. Each new bit of antisocial hilarity that escapes his lips during media events is just more fodder for our cannons. Diaz is one of MMA’s true characters and anytime you assume that role in public, it’s going to earn you your fair share of detractors.
In the interest of giving credit where credit is due however, let me say this: As it so often is, it was an absolute joy to watch Nick Diaz work this weekend. Diaz responded to the challenge posed by game challenger Evangelista “Cyborg” Santos with the unique blend of hardnosed swagger and overwhelming technical superiority that makes him the most compelling and valuable commodity on the Strikeforce roster.
Santos came out and wanted to strike in their main event fight on Saturday night and the champ obliged him. Diaz, in fact, accepted a torrent of hard leg kicks from the challenger in the early going and took every punch the stripped down middleweight could throw, too. None of it could wipe the sneer off his face. Santos started strong, controlling the early stages of the opening round, but by the time the horn sounded to end the first it appeared we’d already seen everything he had to offer.
It was more of the same in the second, but with the momentum tangibly slipping away from Santos as Diaz steadily increased the pressure with his high-volume offense. Santos hit Diaz with bombs, but couldn’t budge him. Diaz hit Santos with his patented pitter-pat straight punches and had him on the defensive. With 30 seconds left in the round, the Brazilian was forced to muddle through a trip takedown into Diaz’s guard. That was not the greatest idea.
For all of Diaz’s superiority in the standup game, his skills on the ground made it look like everything that came before had been just a lark. It took him all of 20 seconds to hook up an arm bar, calmly roll Santos to his back and stretch him until he tapped. And that was that.
The performance was almost flawless. Almost. Diaz’s willingness to absorb Santos’ stiff inside leg kicks at the outset likely raised some eyebrows among his prospective future opponents. Likewise the enthusiasm he showed for getting sucked into a wild brawl both against Santos and in his previous title defense against KJ Noons. You can bet that as I type this, somebody out there is formulating a game plan, likely based around those pieces of information.
In the end though, none of Santos’ skills could overcome Diaz’s sneaky dominance in all facets. The champ still reigns supreme, with possible future dates with Paul Daley, Tyron Woodley and maybe even rival Jason “Mayhem” Miller still lurking later in the year.
The fact that as soon as the fight was over Diaz strolled over to the side of the cage, threw his mouthpiece angrily into the crowd and flipped the bird to some random dudes who’d been heckling him from ringside? Now that was vintage Nick Diaz.
Chad Dundas writes about MMA for CraveOnline, CagePotato.com and Versus.com. He lives in Missoula, MT.