Strikeforce Welterweight champion Nick Diaz (22-7-0-1, 3-0 SF) will step into the cage for his first title defense against K.J. Noons (9-1, 2-0 SF) in a rematch of their November 2007 encounter that crowned Noons the EliteXC 160lb champion. The bout ended controversially with a doctor's stoppage when Diaz sustained massive cuts around his eyes. Noons celebrated his win while Diaz protested the stoppage. In retrospect however, many fans believed Diaz's poor gameplan of standing with a solid boxer in Noons was the reason he lost.
Fast forward almost three years, things have changed considerably. EliteXC folded, and KJ Noons took a lengthy hiatus from the sport to focus on a boxing career. Diaz went on to punch out or submit any and all comers, eventually winning the vacant Strikeforce welterweight crown after crushing Lithuanian striker Marius Zaromskis at Strikeforce: Miami in January. Noons returned to mixed martial arts shortly after Diaz's win, notching himself wins over Andre "Dida" Amade, Conor Heun, and Jorge Gurgel over the last year.
The history between the two fighters certainly brings some intrigue to this match-up, as well as how each fighter has performed over the course of the last year. Diaz, while still relatively young at the age of 27, has matured a bit in his development as a stand-up fighter, mixing an array of jabs, straight punches, and body shots into a non-stop flurry of combinations that no opponent has been able to match. He's also managed to use that improving stand-up game to bring fights to the ground, although he still lacks an explosive takedown game. But Diaz would probably tell you that he doesn't intend to take opponents down too often. He'd much rather punch opponents at a rate of 150 blows per round.
Noons, in his return to the sport, has reminded us exactly why there was some hype surrounding him after he defeated Diaz back in 2008. His background in boxing has served as an explosive means to demolishing his opponents, and his most recent, the very tough Jorge Gurgel, felt the full ramifications of that boxing pedigree. As the year has progressed, Noons seems to be finding his old form again, mixing slick combinations with mean overhand counters.
So, the inevitable question is... how will these two fighters stack up against one another today? While we've seen a lot more of Nick Diaz over the last couple of years, Noons' steadily improving performances over the course of 2010 certainly lend credence to the thought that he could upset Diaz once again. His speedy jab, great counters, and solid power may not actually knock Diaz unconscious, but it could ensure Noons is the winner by the end of a five-round war.
Noons presents a dangerous challenge, but Diaz is the epitome of a fighter who could compete with some of the best in the sport at 170 pounds. He has a relentless gas tank, unbreakable chin, great boxing, unstoppable pace, and slick grappling prowess on the ground. His only true flaw in his armor is the speedier boxer who can land consistently, or perhaps a NCAA All-American wrestler with huge strength.
Noons may fit the mold of the former, but I worry that his conditioning will fail him over the course of five rounds. He also has a huge disadvantage on the ground, and Diaz will eventually find a way to get this fight there. While I would normally believe the stubborn Nick Diaz would show his true colors and "stand n' bang" with Noons, I think we may see a bit more maturity here, and that spells danger for KJ.
In the lead-up to this fight, Diaz has continually mentioned that he simply wants to get paid, and that may be a sign that times are changing for Diaz. Will we see Diaz avoid a stand-up confrontation and work for the takedown early? Perhaps, but I wouldn't hold my breath. It's tough to gauge exactly what Diaz will do, but I think he takes this fight over the course of five rounds via some sort of stoppage. I think it'll be later rather than early though, past the third round.