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UFC 241: Cormier vs. Miocic 2 - Anthony Pettis vs. Nate Diaz toe-to-toe preview

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Phil and David breakdown everything you need to know about Anthony Pettis vs. Nate Diaz for UFC 241, and everything you don’t about CBD training.

Anthony Pettis vs. Nate Diaz this August 17, 2019 at the Honda Center in Anaheim, California.

One sentence summary

Phil: Wheaties and weed from the golden age of lightweight, at welterweight.

David: Up in Stoke.

Stats

Record: Anthony Pettis 22-8 Nate Diaz 19-11

Odds: Anthony Pettis -130 Nate Diaz +120

History / Introduction to both fighters

Phil: Say what you will about Anthony Pettis having a game somewhat outdated for the elite in the modern UFC. Or that his Wheaties-inspired hype train, from his lightweight title reign, was a bit premature. And no-one could argue much if it was pointed out that his record in recent years is spotty at best. But, with all that being said, one thing which is absolutely indisputable is how double-tough and game Showtime is. It’s not something I naturally associated with his style when I first started watching him (what with the high-flying kicks and general fresh-faced appearance and whatnot) but over time he’s revealed himself as a stubborn workhorse. One who refuses to be kept down, and plugs away under the flashy surface. I respect it.

David: Nothing has really changed about Pettis since Pettis’ elite-prospect-to-champ-to-tough-times-to-temporary-phoenix-to-underdog journey. Essentially his sudden knockout win over Thompson has revitalized the nostalgia for Pettis. Except nothing fundamental has changed. So what’s different? One of the things that has happened in recent years is Pettis’ complete and utter willingness to get demonic in the cage. That’s one component that was never present in pre-Wheaties Pettis. He was exciting, sure, but he knew better than to lose his mind trying to score a knockout win. Whether the cause is because of his components or not isn’t really the point. It’s just little different with Pettis. It’s like he legitimately loves a good firefight all of a sudden. What more could my words add to this image? Maybe he’s a huge John Lineker fan and misses him. And now he channels Lineker’s spirit into Showtime’s body. I’m not complaining, and never will.

Phil: Diaz has sort of gone in the opposite direction to Pettis. While Pettis has gathered his respect due to his relentless and nightmarish schedule, Diaz has instead walked a road that hasn’t involved the UFC much at all in recent years. He said he wasn’t taking any fights that weren’t for lots and lots of money, and didn’t. Now he’s back. And while his primary meal-ticket (McGregor) is busy fighting old men in bars, this one also represents a savvy fight choice. At 34 years old, and 5’11, I have significant doubts that Diaz can hit the lightweight limit any more—unless he absolutely has to. So this way he gets to fight a welterweight who isn’t a welterweight; one who isn’t going to wrestle or physically overwhelm him. And one who still has a name that people are excited to see.

David: How can you not love Nate Diaz? Keep in mind, I’ve made some square-ass points about the “purity of the sport” and what I believe to be a metaphysical petulance in the Diaz brothers. But, I’ll take the L here and call myself a lame-oid on that front. No, I don’t believe Nate is always in the right, just because I’ve been suckered in by the cult of personality. This isn’t about political correctness, or whatever rhetorical tool people use these days to sidestep philosophical debates. This is about being sincere while having an edge. Nate is not Conor, or Colby—fighters who deliberately tap into our reptilian brains with superficial provocations. Nate just wants to smoke weed and choke anyone he believes has offended him. In a world where everything is manufactured in the cage, to the sound of sanitized metal, I’m gonna enjoy whatever the hell we get out of Nate Diaz’s twilight.

What’s at stake?

Phil: As above, people seem to be particularly jazzed about this fight. Pettis is coming off that superman punch KO of Thompson, and Diaz is one of the few names left in the sport. Given past trajectories, I think it’s much more likely that Pettis can capitalize on a win. Diaz would probably take the cash and go into hibernation again.

David: I don’t see how this fight doesn’t get nuts. Maybe when Pettis was champ, and had a lot more to protect it wouldn’t have. What’s at stake? Their skin and their health.

Where do they want it?

Phil: Pettis hasn’t changed a whole lot since his heyday as lightweight champ. Which means that there are some plus factors and minus ones: he’s become a more comfortable puncher, more willing to sling the one-two and the jab, and he’s still accurate and powerful enough to drop Tony Ferguson and finish Wonderboy with his hands. On the other hand, there’s been a slight, but clear, decline in the physical gifts that made him such a marvel to watch in the first place. He always soaked up injuries, and he’s been increasingly likely to pick them up in fight: the hand against Holloway and Ferguson, the rib against Poirier. He’s still yet to be KO’d clean in a fight, however, and retains enough power to hurt his opponents late. All the other, well-documented flaws are still there, though: minimal head movement, lackadaisical footwork, an empty clinch and takedown game, all of which translate through to the same vulnerabilities against pressure.

The primary strength still shines, through, which is that he remains probably the most accurate, devastating kicker I’ve seen in this sport. Barboza is flashier, and a better boxer. Cerrone is meaner. But for someone who can come out of nowhere to punt someone’s liver out through their spine, or kick their head off in a single moment of offense, Pettis is still the premier sharpshooter.

David: Like I said, nothing has changed in Pettis’ game other than that his fights are trending towards war zones. I do suspect that some of it is coming from a place of decline. Pettis never had to rely on his raw toughness, but as he’s slowed, that toughness is getting highlighted. As a result, it’s brought a new wrinkle in his game. While Pettis was never a counter fighter, I do believe he’s become a quicker re-setter as a result. To the point that it’s become some form of defense; withstand a brief assault, and return fire. It’s important to emphasize his offense because that’s the only thing he’ll have over Nate in a firefight, and I doubt that’s enough.

Nonetheless, Pettis is the precision to Daiz’ percussion. He’s able to find seams within punch entries, and even at range. And he does so with a supreme and intimidating confidence. This is, after all, the man who ran up the wall like a ninja, and flattened his opponent like Jackie Chan using props to merk a henchmen.

Phil: There are a few Nate Diazes over the years, and I’m not sure which one is the best option for this particular matchup. Back when these two were both fighting in the lightweight division, Nate was much closer to his brother in approach, as a high-volume swarmer. This worked fairly well on some fighters like Donald Cerrone, but uh... less well on RDA and Bendo. His transformation into a clever outside boxer took some time, and only really manifested itself in his rematch with Gray Maynard, where he dismantled Maynard from the outside. A long one-two, a sneaky right hook, and good footwork are basically the keys.

Although he has learned some tricks to defuse his old enemy: the leg kick. Diaz will often lift his leg up to check, and then thrust it back down with an oblique kick. Or, will stamp it down into a step-in for a long body jab. This runs into some issues if opponents mix up the kicks with takedowns (standing on one leg not really being an optimal way of defending the double leg). It’s a more functional style against almost everyone than just being a lesser version of Nick. The question I have though: is it actually going to be more effective against Anthony Pettis?

David: Nate’s form of pugilism has been downright fascinating. Nate’s game hasn’t evolved. It has revolved. It’s actually kind of touching. The younger brother steps out of his older brother’s shadow to find his own way. Or whatever. The current version of Nate Diaz has a boxing-heavy base with submissions as his KO punch. What I like about Nate’s boxing is that it’s versatile, but lean. He’s throwing a lot of different strikes — stretching jab, straight left, counter right, etc — in order to pressure his opponent, but it’s constant. Just like his private stash of edibles, nothing is wasted. Most importantly, he’s a threat to the body as well as the head. His bodywork was integral to draining Conor McGregor. Even in the rematch, Conor looked like he was on his last legs in the third round. His energy in the 4th round was shocking; as if he was looking at Nate through an app’s old face filter, shouting obscenities about his choice of whiskey.

Insight from past fights

Phil: Diaz has not traditionally fared that well against kickers, with the exception of Donald Cerrone—where he buzzsawed him and never let him out of punching exchanges. Conversely, he struggled horribly against Josh Thomson and RDA. So where does Pettis come when compared to those three? I suspect closer to Cerrone: he shares his terrible head-movement, and his reluctance to hit takedowns (something which Cerrone only really came to later in his career).

David: Those are the fighters I’m thinking of as well. Maybe you can throw Charles Oliviera in there just for the sake of physiology. The real problem is that Pettis is losing to different archetypes in diverse ways, and they all have a common theme: pressure Pettis long enough, and you’ve got him on the run. Hell, even Gilbert Melendez had a gameplan going efficiently before He went for an ill-advised takedown. The point, as is often the case in “bad matchups”—one guy has more ways to win than the other guy.

X-Factors

Phil: Nate has been out for close to three years. His last major layoff was close to a year, and he looked great afterwards (against Michael Johnson), but three years is... well, it’s not the kind of layoff you see often.

David: The Diaz brothers are notorious for being healthy AF. Even in his interview with ESPN, he looks like he’s been wrestling Homelander. As always between these two, the x-factor will be crimson-blurry vision.

Prognostication

Phil: This fight is fascinating because both men present such clear and gameplan-able dangers for their opponent. Despite the ostensible difference between Diaz and Wonderboy, Pettis can build off his lateral movement + leg kicks performance in that fight. Diaz can bring back his pressure in order to force boxing exchanges out of Pettis. In general, I think Diaz has the better footwork, a significant reach advantage, and has just taken less damage of late. If he can push a high-paced fight, I’m not sure that Pretty Tony can keep up. Nate Diaz by unanimous decision.

David: I don’t consider this one all that complicated. Pettis is not some rejuvenated brawler the way Robbie Lawler was. He caught his latest victim with a hot one. I wouldn’t read much more into that. In addition, Nate not has the stylistic advantages, but also the psychological ones. For as confident as Pettis is, his confidence can be shaken. Nate Diaz by RNC, round 3.