*THAR BE MANY A GIF AHEAD.* It's quite a long piece too.
I thought about waiting to post this until the TUF 13 coverages dies down on Monday or Tuesday, but fuck that, I'm happy with this fanpost so I'm gonna post it now. <shamelesswhoring> Please rec if you like it so it doesn't get lost in the post-event coverage. </shamelesswhoring> Here we go with our last key to out-striking the elder Diaz!
This one is the lynchpin. I debated over putting this one first because it's so important, but instead I'm going to save the most important for last. Just keep in mind that as endurance deteriorates, it compounds the issues mentioned before in defense and footwork. So yes, it's important for all fighters to have conditioning. But there are particular ways Diaz opponents are enticed to blow through their gas tanks.
First, what makes endurance most important? It's not simply because Nick has one of the best gas tanks in MMA. Though it's certainly an advantage in every fight, not all of Nick's opponents have a history of being out of shape or gassing out, but they all tend to in fights against Nick. So how does Nick, in every fight, maximize his greatest asset by pitting his endurance and conditioning directly against his opponent's?
Taunts: Part of what makes the Diazes so unlikable (to me) is their complete lack of respect for any and all people not part of the Diaz family or Cesar Gracie fight team. However, if you're gonna be a total dick to anyone and everyone, with or without provocation, this is the way to do it. Fact is, the lack of respect shown by Nick in cage plays directly into his strengths when it comes to cardio. You might recognize that Nick starts each and every fight exactly the same way. This look familiar?
Nick's chin looks wide open, nice and inviting, doesn't it? Doesn't his face look just so perfectly punchable? What Nick's doing is not just attempting to engage his opponents from the opening bell, but attempting to do so in a specific way: from just far away enough that they have to reach with punches, and in such a dipshit way that his opponents can't help but try and KO him immediately out of irritation. The last part of this gif, with Frank Shamrock, demonstrates perfectly how this works:
- Make your opponent think he can hit you.
- Make him want to hit you HARD.
- Use your superior reach and/or height to lean back out of range, get a downward angle on his chin and start working a volume of punches as soon as he moves.
It's a brilliant plan that makes use of the Diaz attitude. Remember in part 2 where I made that weird analogy about karate? Yeah, it's coming back.
<Weird Analogy Time> Essentially, the range Nate kept in the Davis fight made his style into a kind of bizzaro-world anti-Shotokan, baiting his opponent into stepping forward unprotected with an unrelenting barrage of tiny punches from slightly too far away. Our most famous Shotokan stylist, Lyoto Machida, instead forces opponents to step forward unprotected by refusing to initiate strikes in a range where he can be hit back. The similarity is that decisive, technically proficient footwork combined with solid defensive fundamentals is required to land solid strikes on fighters of either style; range must be safely disrupted before a fighter can line up his counterpunch. </Weird Analogy Time>
The Diaz taunt, combined with the wide open hands and height advantage actually support this Shotokan comparison. The peculiarities of the Shotokan style, the wide hands, high chin, and low shoulders, though flaws in punching range, become traps instead at kicking range and beyond. They say with humility what Diaz says with arrogance: "Hit me. I'm wiiiiiide open." Thus, the opponent overcommits from too far away, only to be met halfway there with a single power shot from a Shotokan stylist, or a flurry of punches from Nick Diaz. It works because while the opponent's strike is aimed all the way at Diaz or Machida's chin, the counterpunch is aimed at the halfway spot the entire time.
Okay, so we've established that taunts and the way Diaz stands invites opponents to swing for the fences right away. But if that invites KO-counter opportunities for Lyoto Machida, why does it target Nick Diaz opponents' cardio? The difference, as I mentioned, between the Diaz style and Shotokan, is that while Lyoto is trying to knock Rashad's head clear off the in the gif above, Diaz is trying to confuse his opponents by tagging the chin and starting a swarm of punches they can't defend against. If you've watched him fight before, you know that once Nick throws his first punch, he rarely rests or stays stationary for more than a few seconds between combinations.
The Swarm: Ah, the other hallmark of the Diaz style. Firstly, the swarm of punches that Nick throws is indeed intended to finish opponents...eventually. The initial punches of the combination are aimed at the chin, which stun and unbalance an opponent, but which also take away some of their cardio. This is only part of the point, however. The other part is what an opponent is forced to do in defense. Let's look at the Zaromskis fight.
We can see here that Zaromskis is badly hurt, and also tired. The two tend to go hand in hand, as I mentioned previously. All but 3 or 4 of Nick's 16 punches are aimed at the head (we'll come to this presently). Watch Zaromskis' behavior; he's absolutely desperate to avoid Nick's onslaught of punches. He covers up, shifts this way and that even tries a counterpunch or two, which he pays for. The point of Nick's approach here though, is that Zaromskis must constantly move and expend more and more energy to try and escape, at exactly the point where he most wants to move out of range and try to catch his breath. It's the standing equivalent of an exhausted fighter whose opponent has just achieved mount. He knows he must move and try to escape immediately, but doing so requires energy he does not have and opens him up to more punishment. On the other hand, staying stationary allows his opponent to go to town on his face in the worst position possible. This is exactly the position Zaromskis is in right here, and there just isn't a good way out of it for him. This is how, once he has an opponent initially stunned or confused, Nick attacks both the equilibrium and cardio of an opponent at the same time.
Body Punches: Relatively speaking, this is probably the newest addition to Nick's style on the list. Since his release from the UFC and the beginnings of his success in Strikeforce, Nick has become one of the more dangerous body punchers in MMA, in large part because of how he sets them up. How does he set them up? By using steps 1 and 2 in this article previous (taunting/countering and then swarming) and using your desperation to cover up and get out of range as an opportunity to land undefended to the breadbasket, liver, or spleen. Frank, would you mind demonstrating?
Whoopsy spleeny! Nick's body shots don't just finish the fight though, they increase his cardio advantage as well. As anyone who's played a recent MMA video game or taken a body punch themselves will tell you, shots to the liver, solar plexus or spleen not only hurt, they disrupt your breathing in a major way, which takes away your cardio right quick. While Nick Diaz is swarming you, he's become a master at fluidly mixing in body shots when rocked opponents try to cover up to the head. Because they're undefended and a shelled-up opponent has no chance to fire back, these punches also tend to be the ones that Nick winds up on and sits down on the most. Scott Smith will demonstrate this one.
Again, the body shots hurt like hell, they take away your gas tank, and they're so fluid that you're forced to move and expend more energy immediately if you want to avoid more of them. All of a sudden you're running on fumes and triathalon runner Nick Diaz is still fresh.
Chin and Recovery Time: This is the final part of Nick's cardio-vantage, and possibly the one least based in skill. No one can tell you exactly what makes a good chin: a lot of it is neck and jaw muscles, part of it is cardio because those muscles are less able to tighten and absorb impact as you tire, part of it may be genetically determined bone structure, and part of it may be mental toughness or that ephemeral quality called "heart." Obviously, some of these factors are under human control and others are not. The exact mix and number of factors are unclear, suffice it to say that Nick has enough of them in enough quantity that his chin is decent and his recovery speed is inhuman.
This comes into play when Nick's anti-Shotokan has its flaws exploited and he's actually hit by those haymakers his opponents inevitably throw, and this happens more often than his win record would suggest. Nick has been dropped by most of the good strikers he's fought recently. We already saw the knockdowns from KJ Noons and Paul Daley in previous editions, here's Zaromskis dropping Nick if you're interested. Lucky for Nick, his excellent conditioning allows him to recover extremely quickly from knockdowns, while his chin seems to be just good enough to prevent him from getting KO'd outright on a single strike. This isn't just protective when his defense fails, it actually encourages Nick's opponents to continue blowing energy by swinging to finish on every punch. As any combat athlete will tell you, missing punches gasses you more than landing them, and nowhere does this happen more often than in a frantic attempt to finish an athlete who recovers quickly.
So when it all adds up, Nick's superior cardio contributes to keeping his recovery time low, while all of the others things he's doing contribute to chipping away at his opponents' power and ability to take punches. To see this illustrated in a moment, here's the final exchange with Paul Daley (click to view).
From this angle and at this speed, you can see the KO hook land perfectly. As I watched this live, I shouted, "Oohhh!" at the TV...but not because of Nick's punch. Paul Daley clearly lands a thunderous right hook at the exact same time Nick lands his. It's not in as good of a spot (on the cheek), but it looked devastating in real time. In addition, you can see that Paul's positioning is actually pretty good here-his left foot is outside Diaz's right, giving him a really good angle for his punch. It's Nick's chin that lets him survive this. Daley is tired and hurt by this point, which takes something away from his punch and ability to withstand punishment. Oppositely, Diaz is still going strong cardio-wise, meaning his neck muscles can stay tight to absorb this impact, and his punch still carries nearly the force it had at the beginning of the round. Diaz's ability to force Daley to work hard every second of the fight, and efforts to disrupt his breathing with body shots meant that in taking away his cardio, Nick was able to out-strike a fighter who, on paper, was the better and more powerful puncher.
So there's the analysis. What have we learned? In essence, Nick Diaz is a master at using the peculiarities of his attitude and physical presence to force his opponents to fight his fight, pitting his best qualities against his opponents' weaknesses. He is the ultimate test of striking technique at welterweight, the pressure he brings will eventually cause your technique to deteriorate and become more and more wild, from a desperate attempt to stop the onslaught of strikes and just hit the bastard, or a rapidly emptying gas tank and slackening muscles, or both at the same time. So what do you need to beat Nick Diaz? You could always take him down and control him from there; no matter how close the Sanchez and Sherk fights were, it's undeniable that wrestling was Diaz's achilles heel in those bouts. Georges St. Pierre may be just the man to initiate that gameplan, he would seem to have the ability to avoid submissions with his smothering top control and punishing ground 'n pound. GSP's unwillingness to challenge Jake Shields on the ground makes me doubt his confidence in this area though.
But say you don't have world class wrestling and black belt level submission defense. What if you're forced into a striking exchange with Nick? You'll need:
- Disciplined strike defense: This doesn't mean shelling up or bobbing around while dropping your hands. You'll need decent head movement, and you'll have to employ it without giving in to the temptation to drop one or both hands. Keep your feet under you and move your head just enough to slip Nick's punches. This will prevent him from getting the initial touch on your chin that he needs to set up his power shots, and open him up to counter punching opportunities.
- Good footwork: Cutting angles is a must. Never move straight back or rush straight in, and circle to the blind spot on the lead side whenever possible. You'll need to quickly move in or out of range as the situation demands, and you'll need to keep your stance while you do it; being able to fire off a stiff shot at any time will be your counter to letting Nick pressure you by following you to the edge of the cage. Keeping your feet underneath you will also let you use your head movement to capitalize on those counter opportunities, rather than just creating them.
- Variety in striking offense: Headhunting against Diaz is a quick way to gas yourself. Not since his 5th professional fight has Diaz been TKO'd, so odds are you're not gonna be able to do it with one punch. Diaz's height makes his chin hard to reach and reaching for it makes you easy to counter, so work in strikes to the body and legs whenever possible. It sucks when Nick punches you in the liver, so do him the favor right back! The liver is an easy target for a straight right hand on a southpaw, provided you're positioning your lead foot to the outside. However...
- Keep a cool head: It requires mental discipline not to swing to knock Nick Diaz out with every punch. Follow every good corner's advice here: just touch him. Tap him with every punch or kick, never look for the KO. You can ruin a great gameplan and gas yourself out quickly by doing this. Evangelista Santos did a great job exploiting Nick's vulnerability to leg kicks, but tried so hard to kick his leg in half that he gassed by the end of the first (granted, Cyborg has gas tank issues anyway). Hit stiff, not wild; this will contribute to being able to keep your feet underneath you with each punch, which will add up hugely by the last round when your punches still have steam on them because your feet are still underneath you.
- Cardio, cardio, cardio: This goes without saying. If it's going to be a 3-rounder, be prepared to go 5. If it's a 5-rounder, 7. Cardio for grappling is a bitch, and is something you'll have to take care of on your own...good luck with that. For striking though, cardio will have two dimensions. First, practice moving constantly. CONSTANTLY. I'm talking Guida vs. Gomi or Edgar vs. Penn level movement here. In and out, circling back and forth, never setting for more than a second or two. It's a choice between making Nick follow your movement, or letting him corner you with his. Second, be prepared to punch. A lot. Here's where keeping a disciplined attitude will help, don't put everything into every punch. But do be ready to throw (and defend against) upwards of 440 strikes over the course of a 5-round fight.
As you can see, it's a daunting task, yet not impossible. Diaz opponents have had these skills before, some were just missing one or two elements, others had them all and failed to properly utilize them. As I mentioned, Cyborg likely could have chopped Nick down had he been better conditioned and not tried to kill his legs with each and every kick. Paul Daley would also seem to have each element necessary, but scouted Diaz incorrectly, believing that a peek-a-boo defense while circling to his right would be sufficient. He too fell into the trap of swinging for the finish. The welterweight division will need a Frankie Edgar styled fighter to beat Nick Diaz standing; a technical and highly conditioned athlete who can keep a cool head and be satisfied with outclassing Diaz rather than caving his skull in. As Brian Stann proved against Chris Leben, the only option when facing a high-level brawler is to be more patient and technical than he is. Paradoxically, trying for the finish is more likely to result with you being the one who gets finished in the end. Thanks for reading everyone! Let me know if there's a subject you'd like to see tackled on Technique Central in the future.
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