Judo Chop: The Unconventional MMA Boxing of Nick and Nate Diaz

Like his brother Nick, Nate Diaz took a volume punching approach against Marcus Davis. Photo by Josh Hedges/Zuffa LLC/Zuffa LLC via Getty Images

Strikeforce welterweight champ Nick Diaz is set to rematch sometimes pro boxer K.J. Noons on Saturday. This being a fascinating stylistic clash I thought it would be fun to do a Judo Chop on the unorthodox MMA boxing style of Nick and his brother Nate. 

Ben Fowlkes watched Nick training for Noons:

Each round goes more or less the same: Diaz storms forward into increasingly confident punch combos from his opposition, who all seem pleasantly surprised that they're able to hit him at all. The first minute belongs to the sparring partners. This isn't so bad, you can almost hear them thinking. I'm hanging with Nick freaking Diaz.

Then it's Diaz's turn. He cranks up the pace and starts thumping them to the body or snapping their heads back with counter hooks. They fade, and he surges. Suddenly the cage starts to seem too small. There's nowhere to hide. Diaz is barely even breathing hard.

...

He's spent a lot of time working with boxers who can mimic Noons' style. He even did some work with undefeated WBA super middleweight champ Andre Ward in the lead-up to this fight. The message is clear: Diaz isn't just looking to get this fight to the mat, in part because he's not nearly as impressed with Noons' boxing skills as Noons seems to be.

We'll find out Saturday if it's a good idea for Diaz to try standing up against Noons or not. Noons has professional boxing experience and it shows in the MMA cage. He throws crisp, straight punches and sharp combinations. Theoretically that should be kryptonite to Diaz' odd style of volume punching which relies on throwing a lot of looping low-power arm punches to overwhelm opponents and create openings for hard hooks to the body and head. 

We'll look at Nick's pretty remarkable CompuStrike stats and some gifs of his punching style in action against Noons, Frank Shamrock, Scott Smith and Marius Zaromskis in the full entry as well as a complete breakdown of Nate Diaz's UFC 118 bout with Marcus Davis.

The Nate vs Davis fight might be a foreshadowing of Diaz vs Noons 2 since Davis is also a former pro boxer with a technically sound boxing game. Let's look at some action. 

SBN coverage of Strikeforce: Diaz vs. Noons 2
 
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Gifs by Chris Nelson except where indicated.

Before we look at Nate Diaz vs Marcus Davis, here's FightMetric's announcement that the fight set a new UFC record for attempted strikes in a three round fight:

Congratulations to Nate Diaz and Marcus Davis. Their combined 531 significant strike attempts (328 for Diaz, 203 for Davis) sets the new UFC record for most in a three round fight. They lag behind the overall record of 590 set by Tim Sylvia and Andrei Arlovski, although that was a five round fight.

I asked Bloody Elbow staffers Mike Fagan and Brent Brookhouse and Head Kick Legend's Fraser Cofeen to look at the Nate Diaz vs Marcus Davis gifs and give me some general comments.

Diaz-r1-1_mediumMike Fagan: I think the most interesting thing going through those GIFs is that Davis seemed to get the better of the first 4-5 exchanges. And whether it's a function of the cut or Diaz figuring out the distance (or both), Diaz wins the last 5-6.

Kid Nate: On the right we see Davis dropping Nate Diaz early in the first round after charging forward behind a left hook and catching him a second left. 

Diaz-r1-2_mediumFagan: That said, even in the exchanges Davis wins, you can see Diaz using his reach to his advantage. It's more prominent in the GIFs from rounds 2 and 3, but you see Nate throw/land a couple punches, Davis tries to counter, and Nate just has to move his head back that much to avoid being hit.

Kid Nate: The gif on the left shows exactly what Mike is talking about as Nate very nearly avoids Davis' first left hook of the exchange by leaning back. Later in the fight he would perfect his range.

Diaz-r1-3_mediumFagan: (The Diaz flat-footed arm-punching style) is definitely something I noticed. He can't generate a ton of power because he's not able to really put his hips into his punches with his feet flat on the floor. That said, the Diaz bros. predicate their style on volume, so I'm not sure it's a huge negative for Nate.

Diaz-r1-4_mediumBrent Brookhouse: Mike is right that Diaz's flat footedness means that he can't really generate a lot of power and that they rely on volume to do a lot of damage that "adds up." As much as people get up in arms about the statement, I think Frank Shamrock is probably right when he talks about how Nick Diaz's punches don't hurt but they "scramble your brain" and I would assume that the same applies to Nate. Rather than a single concussive blow you're hit with little stinging punches that rattle your brain back and forth and those add up and the more you take the more it affects your equilibrium and eventually, even though you've not taken anything that registers on the hardest punches you've taken...you just lose your ability to fight correctly.

Kid Nate: Above we see Davis enjoying some success with his tactic of lunging in behind hooks, this time he leads with a right and manages to get inside Diaz' counters and lands a hard left hook. 

Diaz-r2-1_mediumBrookhouse: Both Diaz brothers use this volume punching as a form of defense. Their stance as well as their punches leave a lot of holes for them to get hit but they manage to throw enough in most fights that it prevents opponents from firing at them. But when a fighter steps in and is willing to throw hard counters they can hurt them. That's what Davis was doing in the first, he countered the wide, technically poor Diaz shots with straighter hard punches. He just wasn't able to keep it up for three whole rounds and slowly got busted up and took the loss.

Diaz-r2-2_mediumKid Nate: Above right we see Davis catching Diaz with a double jab-left hook combination. On the left we see Diaz finding his range mid-way through the second round, making Davis miss and boxing him up with jabs and looping hooks. Davis is trying to protect himself with bobbing and weaving head movement, but Nate zeroes in to land a succession of punches. Note how he pulls back and makes Davis miss with two left hooks.

 

Diaz-r2-3_mediumFraser Cofeen: Diaz's reach is a natural advantage he brings to most fights, and here you can see how he uses his stance to add to that advantage. Diaz adjusts his stance to bring his shoulders perpendicular to Davis, putting his own right shoulder far ahead of the rest of his body. This allows him to throw the right jab with an even greater reach. You can see the result here as Diaz lands punches, while Davis's return punches fall short of the target.

Diaz-r3-1_medium Cofeen: The real beautiful work here on the right is how Diaz sets this combo up. Before he throws that first punch, watch Diaz's right hand. Davis has his left hand up to block, but he's not holding it tight to his face, instead keeping it out a bit. Both Diaz brothers regularly throw their right hand out, partly to gauge the distance, and partly to confuse their opponent. Nate does that here, but instead of simply pawing out with his right this time, he uses it to push Davis's blocking hand down. This gives him a tiny opening where Marcus's face is unprotected, and Diaz quickly throws a short right jab that lands. What makes this jab work is that Diaz chooses not to throw it from the shoulder with full force, but instead uses just his arm to quickly hit a short jab. While not technically the best way to jab, this allows Diaz to get the shot off faster, landing the punch before Davis can bring his blocking hand back up. From there, Davis is on the move, ducking to avoid more punishment, and allowing Diaz to land two more shots before Davis can recover his defenses. This is a great example of how both Diaz brothers strike - not with the intent of making every punch a power shot, but of overwhelming their opponent with volume of punches. It's a sacrifice of power for speed and volume.

Diaz-r3-2_medium
Kid Nate: By this point in the fight, Diaz has found his range and is successfully tagging Davis when Davis steps in to exchange. Davis even stutter steps and covers before trying to come in with punches, but Diaz isn't fooled and hits him with a quick jab-uppercut-hook combo -- all arm punches that land cleanly -- and then follows up with a second volley starting with an uppercut that catches Davis coming in, follows with a left hook then fading away to evade Davis' left hook which wiffs. 

Diaz-r3-3_medium

On the left we've got a prime example of the Diaz slap boxing style in full effect. Diaz starts with a double jab then a flurry of slaps -- these shots are fired from the elbow, not even the shoulder -- then a second series of slapping hooks. At this point Davis is too dazed and confused from the accumulated damage to answer effectively. 


 

Now let's look at Nick in action. 

Noonskddiaz_mediumFirst we see the downfall of the slap boxing style against K.J. Noons in 2007. Diaz paws with his left hand and Noons comes right over the top with a counter right hand that is far from the prettiest technique I've ever seen (note how low his left hand is while he's throwing the right), but it sure is pretty to see the way Diaz' ass bounces and slides across the canvas. 

Noons will be looking to land like this on Diaz all night on Saturday. Diaz claims that the combination of the grueling weight cut to make 160lbs, his recovery from a nasty staph infection and a too-frequent fight schedule had him at less than his best for the first Noons fight. 

Here's CompuStrike talking about Diaz' striking in two fights Diaz took after losing to Noons against Mushin Corrbrey and Thomas "Wild Man" Denny:

Nick Diaz stopped Mushin Corbbrey in three rounds on June 14 of 2008. The fight was mostly standing, with Diaz employing a high work rate and out landing Corbbrey 69 to 28 in round one and 68 to 28 in the second. Despite good head movement from Corbbrey, Diaz landed mainly arm strikes, mixing just enough kicks (9 of 15 landed in the 1st, 1 of 5 in the 2nd) to keep Corbbrey guessing. Corbbrey had employed excellent takedown defense through the first couple of rounds, but after Diaz softened him up and got him to the mat in the third it was curtains. Diaz landed 32 of 53 ground strikes to close the show at 3:59 of round 3. Diaz landed 179 of 330 total strike attempts (54%) against 60 of 112 (54%) for Corbbrey. Diaz also had two takedowns, a submission attempt, and secured a dominant position five times during the match.

In his most recent match, Diaz slugged out journeyman Thomas Denny at 30 seconds of Round 2. Once again, Diaz simply cranked up and let fly, landing 77 of 132 total strikes (58%) in round one compared to 35 of 82 (43%) for Denny. Diaz again mixed in a few leg strikes, landing 2 of 5, and had a submission attempt. Denny ended the first round hurt by Diaz's barrage, and didn't last long into round 2. In this abbreviated frame, Diaz landed 13 of 21 arm strikes, knocking Denny to the canvas and finishing him with three ground strikes, each preceded by a showy wind-up. Diaz finished the fight having landed 93 of 156 total strike attempts (60%), Denny with 38 of 90 (42%).

Nickshamrock1_mediumOn the right we've got the penultimate moments of Nick's 2009 early retirement party for Frank Shamrock. Note the way he sticks his left hand in Shamrock's face to bait Frank into putting up his guard. Once the ribs are unprotected Diaz actually winds up and unloads a vicious right hook to Shamrock's ribs. 

Here's MMA Fighting talking about the CompuStrike record that Diaz set in that round:

Nick Diaz spent three minutes and 57 seconds swarming Frank Shamrock in the second round of their fight Saturday night before referee Big John McCarthy finally stopped it. If you watched the fight, you know that already. But you might not know that Diaz had what may have been the most active round in the history of MMA.

CompuStrike, which tabulates statistics from MMA fights, says that Diaz attempted 181 strikes in the second round, making it the most total strikes thrown in any round that CompuStrike has recorded. The previous record was held by Michael Bisping, who threw 141 strikes in the first round of his UFC 70 fight with Elvis Sinosic. Diaz breaking that record is even more impressive when you remember that Bisping didn't finish Sinosic in the first round, meaning he had a full five minutes to throw 141 strikes. Diaz shattered the record in less than four.

Of course, Diaz has never been the most accurate or powerful of punchers, and he only landed 79 of those 181 strikes. So Bisping still owns the record for strikes landed in a round.

One thing I should note as a fight fan is that where I abhor Michael Bisping's point fighting style on the feet (his ground fighting is an entirely different matter), Diaz' volume punching really entertains as he's always working to finish the fight. He's not punching, scoring and running away, he's looking to swarm and overwhelm opponents at all times fighting for the finish. 

Nicksmith_mediumOn the left we see Diaz boxing up Scott Smith in their June 2009 fight. Note how Smith ducks and covers to avoid the barrage of hooks but that just leaves him more exposed as Diaz deftly mixes hooks to the head with shots to the body. None of the punches are kill shots on their own, but the cumulative damage is obvious and palpable. 

Here's CompuStrike talking about Diaz' performance vs Smith:

Nick Diaz will never be accused of not letting his hands go. Diaz broke his previous CompuStrike record for total strikes thrown in a round (181) when he unloaded 221 in the second round vs. Scott Smith enroute to a third round submission win.

More importantly, Diaz landed a CompuStrike record 125 total strikes in that second round (57%), shattering Michael Bisping's record of 105 landed in the first round of his ko win over Elvis Sinosic. 117 of Diaz's total strikes landed were arm strikes (56%), another CompuStrike record. He also attempted a CompuStrike record 210 arm strikes in the round. Diaz outlanded Smith 125-15 in total strikes in round two.
...
Diaz landed 25 total strikes per minute in the second round vs. Smith, throwing 44 total strikes per minute. Gannon landed 33 punches per minute vs. White, while Phillips threw an amazing 79 punches per minute vs. Oliveira.

More CompuStrike, here talking about Nick Diaz' striking against Denny, Shamrock and Smith:

In his wins over Smith, Shamrock and Denny, Diaz has landed 429 of 850 total strikes (51%). Of those 429 total strikes landed, 358 were arm strikes, throwing 719 (50%). So, 84% of his landed strikes were arm strikes and 85% of his total strikes thrown were arm strikes. The elapsed time of the three Diaz wins was 21 minutes, 10 seconds. That means Diaz landed 17 arm strikes per minute, throwing 34 per minute. Overall, Diaz landed 20 total strikes per minute, throwing 45 per minute. That's the equilavent of a boxer landing 60 punches in a round, while throwing 135. The CompuBox average for punches landed/thrown in a round is 20/60, so Diaz is landing three times the CompuBox average. 

Nickzaromskis_mediumOn the right we've got Diaz swarming all over Marius Zaromskis in their Strikeforce vs DREAM bout in January. Note how Diaz snaps the Whitemare's head back with the second punch of the sequence, a brutal right uppercut. Once he's stunned his prey, Diaz is relentless and just boxes him up with hooks to the head and body and uppercuts. 

All in all, I find the Diaz brothers' approach to striking for MMA to be fascinating. It's clearly effective, even against skilled strikers like Marcus Davis. 

K.J. Noons promises to be in another league however so Saturday will be a very big test for the Diaz style. 


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