Nate's Turn: The Divergent Paths of The Brothers Diaz

Fightland Blog

By Jack Slack

Artwork by Gian Galang

Two paths diverged in a wood. Two brothers stood at the fork.

Nick Diaz went east and signed with PRIDE FC. At the Japanese promotion's 2007 Las Vegas event, PRIDE 33, he met the consensus best lightweight in the world, Takanori Gomi. In a back and forth war, Diaz's cardio and boxing in volume came up trumps and he was able to put the finish on Gomi with a rare gogoplata choke as Gomi shot a desperation takedown late in the second round. When Diaz tested positive for marijuana after the fight, the finest performance of his career so far was turned into a No Contest.

After an unexpected and controversial loss to K.J. Noons the MMA world's favorite Stocktonite found himself in business with a wily promoter named Scott Coker. Coker realized that Diaz was the most entertaining fighter in the world when opponents would stand and bang with him, so what followed was three years of Diaz fighting B-listers as the Strikeforce welterweight champion without a strong wrestler in sight. For years, Diaz was effectively competing in boxing matches in four ounce gloves, submitting guys when they got hurt and shot sloppy takedowns on him.

Nick was so beloved by the fight community, and such a needle mover, that with just a single victory over the lightweight B.J. Penn in the UFC he was able to challenge Georges St-Pierre for the welterweight crown in 2013. In fact, despite Diaz going 0-2-0 and 1 No Contest in his last three fights, there are still fans who want to see him fight for the welterweight title now. That is the power of being an entertaining fighter and character.

Nathan Diaz has had a very different path. He was never the darling of the Internet MMA community and he never had anyone throwing him softballs to make him look good. While Nick was roughing up the old men of MMA in Frank Shamrock and Hayato Sakurai, with the odd brawler like Evangelista Santos or Scott Smith thrown in, Nate Diaz was struggling against the young stars of the lightweight division.

Clay Guida and Joe Stevenson took decisions off Nathan Diaz at lightweight and in his brief spell at welterweight Nate struggled with Dong Hyun Kim and was ragdolled by Rory MacDonald. While Nick was able to avoid the issues of the wrestler for five or six years until he was thrown in at the deep end with Georges St-Pierre, Nate was forced to confront real, top notch grapplers and had nothing like the highlight reel Nick had produced in Strikeforce. Yet with Nate's recent beating of hot prospect, Michael Johnson and finishing of the UFC's top star, Conor McGregor he has suddenly begun to receive recognition similar to that of his elder brother.

When comparing the two brothers there are similarities in their games but many individual quirks. Both brothers fight with their lead foot toed inwards and are subsequently vulnerable to outside low kicks. These often off balance them and leave them with a lag time on a return or follow up. The 'leg jabs' of Carlos Condit weren't hurting anyone but they did give him time to run around to the other side of the cage while Nick Diaz regained his footing. Similarly, Nate was thrown off his feet by low kicks from Benson Henderson, Donald Cerrone and Rafael dos Anjos.

Both men struggle to cut the cage on evasive opponents because of their bladed stance but while Nick continues to attempt this, Nate has moved to more of a counter aggressive form of boxing in his last two fights, waiting for his opponents to come to him.

Nate's best weapon is his one-two, while Nick's best weapons are his body-head flurries and his counter right hook.

Because of their narrow stances both Diaz's use the lead hook very effectively when the opponents steps in on them, but struggle to use the hook to prevent the opponent from circling past their lead foot.

Nate will often throw out a jab and lean back in hopes of catching the lead hook as the opponent steps in. A favorite of Alexis Arguello.

Nick Diaz enjoys being along the fence for the opportunity that it affords him to open up with both hands to the body. There was the use of his head to prop up Cyborg Santos and shellac his body with blows, but there was also his giving Paul Daley the double collar tie and using the old shrugging escape—sometimes combined with a cross face—to pop Daley's hands off of one side and flow straight into bodywork.

This strategy is becoming a lot more popular among body punchers and we have discussed Rick Story's use of it in his bout against Tarec Saffiedine. It is certainly interesting to compare this offensive baiting of the double collar tie to open up along the fence with the use of the double collar tie to break the hips away from the fence as Demetrious Johnson and Fabricio Werdum so often do.

Nate is a much more active kicker, using his lead leg to the opponent's lead leg and he has an effective lead leg front kick to the body which was visible on a few occasions in his last two fights and often catches opponents by surprise. But where Nate Diaz seems to surpass his brother is in his willingness to change plans on the fly. That same stubbornness that makes both Diaz brothers a tough fight for anyone also makes Nick somewhat one note in many of his fights. Fans will recall watching Nick pursue Carlos Condit with punches ineffectively for five rounds before mixing things up with a takedown attempt which took him straight to Condit's back. A change of plan which Diaz was only willing to go to at the last minute.

Compare that to Nate's bouts with men like Conor McGregor and Donald Cerrone—whether he is moving forwards or counter fighting Nate is happy to duck into a clinch whenever the opportunity presents itself, work to the fence and either threaten the back or sap the opponent with some light, one handed body work. Against McGregor, Nate was happy to pick up a slow returning body kick and turn it into a single leg takedown just to make the takedown a real threat to McGregor while the Irishman was having success on offence. In both the Cerrone and McGregor fights it was Nate's adaptability which went underrated.

After years of Nick Diaz being the fan favorite, it is Nathan Diaz's turn in the sun. But while the two have walked very different paths to get to the point where they can be considered 'needle movers' it is hard to think that they could have done it without each other. They each serve as training partner, coach and friend to the other and that always comes through in their post fight interviews. They might not be the absolute best fighters in the world in any division, but they can give those best fighters a hell of a fight and provide a ton of fun for fans as they do so. Nick Diaz's ludicrous suspension for a science defying failed drug test has just expired and Nate Diaz fights a rematch with Conor McGregor this weekend in the UFC's biggest fight of the year. What happens after this weekend for both brothers is a mystery but you can be assured that it will be entertaining to watch unfold.


Check out these related stories:

Rick Story: King of the Spoilers

The Tragic Enigma of Salvador Sanchez

Diaz versus Cerrone: The Habits and Growth of Two Fighters, Five Years On