It could be argued the highly anticipated contest at UFC 266 between Robbie Lawler and Nick Diaz is the least consequential fight on the entire card. Yes, the entire card. Of course, that is dependent upon one’s definition of the word consequential. Lawler and Diaz are clearly in the twilight of their careers, deep enough into their twilight that it wouldn’t be a surprise if this was the last career fight for either man. If that is a possibility, the consequences of this fight could be seen as little to nothing down the road. That said, it could also be said it’s the most consequential card as there’s a strong argument to be made their fight is driving more PPV sales than any other fight on the card, including either of the title fights.
Not to discredit Lawler – he certainly has an appeal of his own – but that’s the power of the Diaz mystique. The other two non-title main card fights aren’t too shabby either. I can’t guarantee they’ll be the most entertaining fights – particularly the heavyweight contest – but there’s no guarantee Lawler and Diaz can put on an entertaining scrap either.
Robbie Lawler vs. Nick Diaz, Middleweight
Where to begin.... It feels pointless to make predictions for this contest as everything about this fight is a mystery.
With rematches, one can typically glean something from their first fight. The problem is, so much has changed since 2004. Both developed into champions in top promotions, Lawler in the UFC, Diaz in Strikeforce. However, it has been years since either has won a fight, 2017 for Lawler and 2011 for Diaz. Hell, Diaz hasn’t even fought since 2015, so there’s no indication he’s even a shell of who he used to be.
It would be fair to describe Lawler as a shell of his former self. The former king of blood and guts wars has shown up physically about once a year for the last several years, but the spirit that he once possessed has been missing. It’s impossible to be angry with him as his stretch from 2013-2016 was amongst the greatest stretches of any one single fighter in the history of the sport and he left every ounce of blood, sweat, and tears in the cage in that period to the delight of millions. Lawler’s recent performances indicate he doesn’t have anything left. So Diaz has to be the pick... right? After all, the Diaz brothers have always kept themselves in fantastic shape.
Well, there’s every reason to doubt Diaz. On Tuesday, he wanted to change the fight to a middleweight contest. After some footage came out, it isn’t hard to see why. The normally lithe Diaz is carrying around more than a few extra pounds than he was in his prime. That isn’t to say he’s in terrible shape, but it’s hard to believe he’ll be the same Nick Diaz we know and love. After all, he is 38, a far cry from the lasr rime he fought at 170 at the age of 29.
Then again, the Diaz brothers are at their best when the deck is stacked against them. Plus, Diaz wanted this fight to be five rounds. He may not be able to cut the weight, but he seems to be confident he can go 25 minutes. Do you really want to doubt a Diaz? Even if Lawler still has the one shot power that defined his prime, it hasn’t shown itself in years and Diaz has never been easy to put away. Even worse, Lawler recent performances have been filled with moments where he’s shelling up, eating all sorts of strikes from his opponents. If Diaz can put on even half the pace he has in the past, Lawler is in trouble. While I’m extremely intrigued by this fight, I hate picking it. With extreme trepidation, I’ll go with Diaz. Diaz via TKO of RD4
Curtis Blaydes vs. Jairzinho Rozenstruik, Heavyweight
Even though I’ll agree this is the appropriate contest for both men, that doesn’t mean I’m particularly excited to see this fight. Blaydes produces a lot of lay and prey after he gets tired and Rozenstuik spends far too much time waiting for the perfect counter. Unfortunately, the tip top of the heavyweight division is clogged and looks like it will be for a while. Meanwhile, these two better hope someone dethrones Francis Ngannou as it’s hard to see either one getting a rematch with the reigning champion....
There’s no secret to what each of these men do best. Blaydes is a bulldozer of a wrestler whereas Rozenstruik is a savvy striker with KO power. Thus, the entirety of this contest will be whether Blaydes can avoid Rozenstruik’s powerful counters as he looks to blast the native of Suriname with his double leg takedowns time and again. That’s pretty much it. Rozenstruik isn’t going to outwork Blaydes, so he’s going to need to figure out Blaydes’ timing in a hurry. It isn’t impossible to do as Blaydes is hardly a defensive savant and Rozenstruik is pretty damned good at figuring out his opponents’ tendencies. Throw in the fact that Blaydes is coming off a loss to Derrick Lewis that ended in the exact way Rozenstruik will be looking to end the fight and it’s very easy to see to see the striker pulling off the upset.
What Blaydes has in his favor – besides his dominant wrestling — Rozenstruik’s porous ground game. Sure, the big man has shown an ability to work his way back to his feet when taken down. Hell, Rozenstruik is even pretty good about ensuring he doesn’t get put on his back. But stuffing a takedown from Alistair Overeem and one from Blaydes is a completely different ball game. Blaydes’ power and athleticism is among the best in the division and he doesn’t hold back in his blast doubles. Blaydes has also grown more dangerous in his GnP abilities as his career has advanced, a very worrisome prospect given Rozenstruik abilities off his back are basically nonexistent.
If Blaydes has found a way to better disguise his entries, I’d pick him in a heartbeat. He still tends to telegraph his shots, but he’s been able to get away with it in a land of lumbering giants. Lewis showed the clearest road to victory against the former collegiate wrestler and Rozenstruik will look to duplicate it. That said, I’ve been impressed with Blaydes’ ability to make improvements and I think he’s in a good camp with Elevation Fight Team to figure out the changes he needs to make. He’ll find a late stoppage on the back of his powerful GnP. Blaydes via TKO of RD3
Jessica Andrade vs. Cynthia Calvillo, Women’s Flyweight
Andrade is in a very awkward position. A former champion in the strawweight division, she has losses to the top names of that division. Combine that with her lack of box office appeal in comparison to those other ladies and her move to flyweight made perfect sense. She came in and blasted through former top contender Katlyn Chookagian and earned a title shot against Valentina Shevchenko. Well... Shevchenko made short work of her. Unless someone can upend Shevchenko, it looks like Andrade is going to be the division’s ultimate gatekeeper.
Even though Andrade used to cut down to 115, she’s still exceptionally strong for 125. It was a wonder she was able to make the strawweight limit in the first place. Not that Andrade necessarily had issues pushing a hard pace, but there were always concerns about her ability to do so. At flyweight, it doesn’t appear to be an issue. That doesn’t mean flyweight is the best weight class for her beyond a shadow of a doubt. Andrade was short at strawweight; she’s exceptionally short at her new home. Of course, her aggression allowed her to close the distance with no issue against the lanky Chookagian, one of the division’s better outfighters. Andrade should be able to do the same against everyone else, right?
Joanna Jedrzejczyk taught us all that a stiff jab can largely neutralize Andrade. Calvillo has a solid jab... but so does Chookagian. Granted, I do think Chookagian’s height worked against her, but I still wouldn’t trust Calvillo’s jab to stop Andrade’s forward pressure. In fact, Calvillo has struggled when she has been pressured. Even worse for Calvillo, Andrade has never been easy to take down outside of her fight with Shevchenko and Calvillo’s grappling is her strongest suit. If she can get the fight to the mat, Calvillo has an underrated arsenal of submissions. Getting the fight to the mat though... there’s plenty of reason to doubt she can get it and keep it there.
Perhaps I’d give Calvillo a better chance of winning if I trusted her to push for takedowns constantly, but the former Team Alpha Male member has always trusted in her striking more than she should. Calvillo is exceptionally durable, so the chances of her going the distance with Andrade seem pretty good. But outworking the aggressive Andrade? Not likely. Maybe she’ll be able to find Andrade’s back in a scramble and sink in an RNC, but the most likely outcome is Andrade outworking her fellow former strawweight. Andrade via decision