I originally planned to do this thing all in one long post...but as my writings are wont to do, it metastasized beyond my control, so I'll be splitting it into 3 parts. Warning! These will be gif-heavy.
I make no secret of my hatred for Nick Diaz. However, he is a supremely talented fighter, and he owns a unique blend of striking and grappling technique, athleticism, endurance and heart that makes him eminently dangerous no matter the opponent.
Now, this isn't an article on how to beat Diaz. That's fairly obvious-be a takedown artist with good submission defense and a decent top game. Look through the last few losses of each Diaz and it's super obvious that takedown defense is the achilles heel of their particular styles, and that Nick has fervently avoided exactly that type of fighter since his loss to Sean Sherk. No, this article will instead be on successfully striking with Nick which almost every fighter opposite him has tried and failed to do in recent memory. Given recent news on Nick signing to fight Jeff Lacy, this article will also apply to Diaz's boxing career (and the bout with Lacy may tell us whether I'm accurate in my breakdowns!)
Striking with a Diaz tends to follow a remarkably similar pattern, each is something of a slow starter in that it takes a little while before the punches start accumulating damage and the taunts get to their opponents' respective psyches. Therefore, good strikers tend to have early success. The problem is that pretty much every opponent that chooses to strike with a Diaz (or, Nick at least) eventually fades and finds out those little jabs add up in a big way when you're gassed. This series will focus on how the Diaz style tends to cause opponents' fundamentals to deteriorate and less on specific strategies to beat him. Gifs and breakdown after the jump.So what happens to each striker that keeps them from being successful later into the fight? Three main areas of focus tend to break down as the fight wears on: Defense, Footwork and Endurance. The last one tends to be particularly important, because as footwork and defense break down, Diaz tends to get more successful with his punches, rocks his opponent and starts ripping body shots, both of which contribute in an additive way to the opponent's gas tank running empty. Let's look at the first area in detail.
To start with, it's more or less been thoroughly debunked that the Diaz style of punching is powerless or pitty-pat, at least in Nick's case. Though it looks like he's only throwing arm punches, in recent fights there's overwhelming evidence for the power behind Nick's punches. So in order to understand how to defend it, we need to understand: What makes the Diaz style of punching powerful when it looks like all arm punches?
- First, stance. We'll touch on this more in the next post about footwork, but the reason those pitty-pat arm punches are anything but, has to do with how Nick stands. Diaz stands in a way much more familiar to a boxing ring than a 6 or 8-sided cage, he keeps his base wide, knees nearly locked and feet close to perpendicular to each other. At the same time, his shoulders and upper body tend to be more square to the opponent. The takeaway? Standing this way gives Nick power with minimal effort from either hand. Squaring his shoulders gives a hook from either hand small distance to travel, and a wide base means that he can put a little shoulder and hip rotation into every punch while staying on balance, and keeping his feet underneath him for every shot. The disadvantages of this stance are obvious too: difficulty in sprawling quickly, and a vulnerability to leg kicks. Observe a gif that shows neatly the vulnerability and advantages of this stance all in one:
- Height. This isn't exactly the same thing as reach when it comes to Nick; Daley, for example, actually had a 2 inch reach advantage. However, as has been pointed out in the comments to the GSP vs Diaz striking article, wingspan alone doesn't measure the advantage Diaz has here. The really important thing to pay attention to here are the angles Diaz is able to create (footwork is important here too, but again, that's the next section). Nick Diaz, in every mixed martial arts fight in his life, has been able to punch down towards shorter opponents; Scott Smith has been closest to matching him in height at 1 inch under Diaz's 6'1" frame. His upright, squared stance combined with the downward angle his fist travels in lets Nick sit down on his punches, often while punching over his opponent's jab. It's no secret that punching "downhill" makes it easier to generate force with less motion, and Diaz's squared shoulders give him unique angles on the temple and chin. In the gif, note the angle his left cross travels in, and how the KO hook is thrown right over a straight left (which on an orthodox fighter, would be a left jab. Giffy:
- Accuracy. Not a ton to be said about this one, Nick picks his spots well and hits them most of the time. If an opponent isn't actively punching back, they should expect to be picked apart. To save everyone the bandwidth on this one, I'll just post a still image. Paul Daley mostly employed a static guard, covering up tightly against the Diaz onslaught. How'd that work out?
So what do these things mean for a fighter trying to compete with Nick Diaz on the feet? They mean that, like the other areas I'll cover, you better be fundamentally sound in your striking defense if you're going to survive with Nick on the feet. One area of defense in particular is important against Nick: head movement.
If the Paul Daley fight proved that covering up and staying stationary against Diaz is suicide, it's because he failed to heed the lessons of Diaz's last fight of 2007. KJ Noons showed the world the value of head movement in his first fight against Diaz, dropping the now-champion with a beautiful right hook. You can see clearly in the gif linked how Nick freezes the second KJ starts to weave to the left side. This is a weakness of a high-volume style, when you're punching continuously you're more vulnerable to counters, and giving new angles and looks with head movement can exploit this weakness. You can see in the Daley image and Cyborg gif above that as Nick gets into his punching rhythm, his hands start to drop, where slipping punches can provide really dangerous counter opportunities.
Of course, head movement alone isn't enough. A fighter needs to keep his hands up to protect his head as well. This is where KJ shot himself in the foot in the rematch; despite his boxing pedigree, KJ drops his hands all the freakin' time when moving his head.
We can see that, beyond having several years to improve his striking, Nick also makes a smart adjustment to an orthodox stance. It's clear that KJ trained primarily to face a southpaw, despite showing some head movement, he drops his hands and as a result we can see him getting tagged with multiple right hands in the above gif.
If a fighter can keep his hands up and move his head intelligently, he'll not only open up counter opportunities, but he'll also be able to get inside Diaz's range and negate that dangerous downward angle of the Diaz punches, at least forcing Diaz to short-arm rather than hitting at full extension. Melvin Guillard did this to begin his fight against Nate. Though Melvin's no master of defense and he drops his hands, bobbing and weaving a little lets him get a great window to throw the right hook to Nate's chin. Against a different fighter, this would open Melvin to knees while ducking in, but the Diaz boxing stance doesn't lend itself to fast or powerful knees and head kicks. Nevertheless, it's something of a danger, which is why it's important for a fighter's head movement to be technical and not overexaggerated. Ducking too low or forgetting to include side-to-side punch slips allows a gifted boxer like Nick to eventually time the fighter across from him.
Alright, so we've established that good boxing defense is a must against Nick in order to box effectively. But is that it? Certainly not. In our next feature, we'll focus on footwork-highlighting parts of the Daley fight for basic footwork principles, and a fairly heavy focus on Nate Diaz's fight with Marcus Davis to link footwork and head movement together, and to show the degredation of technique that occurs over the course of a fight against a Diaz.
PS! Although I'm keeping the "Technique Central" moniker as a tribute, no video from the CPAMMA gym this time. Classes are still going strong at the gym though. If you want the best MMA training in the state of Pennsylvania, or to learn from a Dog Brothers certified stick fighting instructor (1 of only 10 in the entire United States), or you're just curious about the school, check out the facebook page: http://www.facebook.com/cpamma.