Playing With Fire: Celebrating The Fighters That Go For It

In today’s MMA, fighters are often so closely matched in skill that the winner is simply decided by strategy. The athletes speak of identifying and exploiting their opponent’s weaknesses, emphasizing intelligence and a smooth, safe win. But some fighters are different. Some fighters fight to make statements. Instead of avoiding the bear trap, some fighters jump right in and smash it to pieces.

The purpose of this series is to celebrate those fighters. They engage their opponents in their strongest areas, risking a rough win or even a loss to stand out in a crowded sport. Or maybe because that’s just the way they are.

Nick Diaz vs. Paul Daley – April 9th, 2011 – Strikeforce: Diaz vs. Daley


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If there has ever been a word to describe Nick Diaz, it would be stubborn: stubborn in the sense that he doesn’t particularly care about rules (even when they are clearly laid out for him) and stubborn in the sense that he just doesn’t go down. If Diaz got hit by a car, he would probably just get up, flip it the bird, and start ripping punches to its body.

Whatever your opinion of Diaz is, it’s hard to deny that he is one hell of a fighter. His ledger is filled with jaw-dropping moments, from his legendary brawl with Takanori Gomi at Pride 33, to his one-punch KO of Robbie Lawler at UFC 47, to his retiring of Frank Shamrock in Strikeforce. One of his best performances, though, came in April 2011 against an English brawler appropriately nicknamed "Semtex."

Paul Daley had earned his reputation as a knockout artist before the bout, as his monstrous left hook (among other things) had led him to memorable stoppages over Martin Kampmann, Dustin Hazelett, and Scott Smith. The pre-fight logic was that Diaz should take Daley to the ground, where his jiu jitsu background gave him a tremendous advantage over the Brit. But people forget that Nick Diaz simply doesn’t care about logic.

MMA’s proverbial honey badger actually stood and traded with one of the biggest power punchers in the sport, because honey badger don’t care. Diaz was actually asked before the bout if he thought it would go to the mat, and he simply replied with smirk, "He might knock me down, and we might end up on the ground."

Weird! That’s exactly what happened!

About two minutes in, Diaz tasted Daley’s money punch, the left hook, falling to his knees, but the Strikeforce champion’s resolve was second to none. He recuperated, and struck back with vicious hooks to the body and head, prompting Daley to shoot for a takedown. Think about that for a second: the British striker was shooting for takedowns on the Cesar Gracie black belt just two minutes into the fight. That’s about as Plan B as it gets, folks. It didn’t stay there for long though, and the two men resumed brawling.

Diaz was dropped again however, and it was worse this time. He fell flat on his face, but just like before, he got up, walked forward and punished Daley for doing something as silly as trying to win. And punish him he did, smacking Daley with straight rights and his trademark body shots, prompting the fading "Semtex" to crumble under the pressure.

Nick Diaz out-brawled the brawler, beat Paul Daley in a standup fight, and surely scared the crap out of his corner in doing so. Diaz played with fire and actually won.

Alan Belcher vs. Rousimar Palhares – May 5th, 2012 – UFC on Fox: Diaz vs Miller


Photo via

Leading up to Belcher’s clash with Palhares at UFC on FOX, Palhares, the Brazilian submission specialist, was 14-3 in his MMA career with 10 submissions. The pre-fight question was not if Palhares, a professional leg-snapper, would submit Belcher if the fight went to the mat, but simply how long it would take. That wasn’t a slight toward Belcher, who was an accomplished jiu jitsu artist in his own right, but "Toquinho’s" explosive leg attacks were legendary at that point, having submitted four black belts in the UFC alone.

As the fight started, Palhares struck forward with an explosive double leg, prompting color commentator Joe Rogan to indicate, "This is a terrible position for Belcher right away." When Alan triangled his legs in defense, Rogan continued, saying, "They’re playing footsies here. This is not what [Belcher] wants to do man. He wants to get out of this position."

But Belcher had a plan. "The Talent" had studied the heelhook and kneebar attacks of Palhares closely, and defended each submission attempt with composure, putting weight on his threatened leg and using his opponent's aggression to improve his own position. He even attempted a twister spine lock of his own. Still, Rogan was not convinced, shouting, "Don’t let [Palhares] do this! Back your hips up and get out of there Alan!"

"The Talent" didn’t listen, keeping the pressure on and tiring out the Brazilian. He swept to top position inside Palhares’ guard, and struck his fatigued opponent with vicious ground and pound, eventually getting the TKO in the first round.

With this impressive statement, Alan Belcher had proved his expertise on the mat, and given his reputation as a striker, he’d proven his case as a top contender for Anderson Silva’s crown. He voiced this in his post-fight interview, saying, "That belt is mine. I’m coming for it, and I think you know it now."

Perhaps Belcher’s prefight comment was perhaps more telling, though.

"I am going to walk away the winner; that’s all there is to it. Jaws are going to drop."

It’s safe to say they did.

\The FanPosts are solely the subjective opinions of Bloody Elbow readers and do not necessarily reflect the views of Bloody Elbow editors or staff.

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