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UFC 244: Is Jorge Masvidal ready to face a fighter as well-conditioned as Nate Diaz?


UFC 244: Is Jorge Masvidal ready to face a fighter as well-conditioned as Nate Diaz?

Masvidal's technical skills give him the edge but the physical demands may cost him.

JORGE Masvidal and Nate Diaz are an unlikely main event pairing. Until a few months ago, Nate Diaz had been out of the game and waiting out for the rubber match with Conor McGregor going on three years.

Until about a year ago, Jorge Masvidal was a mid-card fixture who was best known for dropping close decisions due to inactivity more than anything.

And yet two highlight reel knockouts and a triumphant un-retirement later, Masvidal vs Diaz now headlines UFC 244, is overshadowing the two genuine title fights that headlined UFC 243 and UFC 245, and has set the fighting world ablaze.

Nate Diaz is in a similar situation to Donald Cerrone in that he is clearly among the world’s elite, but his flaws are well known and consistently exploited. Cerrone’s pitfall was always pressure, while for Diaz pressure is the A game. The problem is that a number of Diaz’s habits make his use of pressure fairly inefficient and a little wild. Through the fights with Benson Henderson, Josh Thompson, Rafael Dos Anjos, and Conor McGregor you can see that while he wants to remain in his opponent’s face and put his gas tank and boxing to use, he is generally poor at cutting the cage.

A good part of this is his very side-on stance. Nate, like his elder brother Nick, stands almost entirely bladed to put his lead shoulder further forward and when opponents circle past his lead foot he will often have his back to them before he pivots to face them. With his stance being so bladed, Diaz has also consistently fallen victim to low kicks. Standing with the feet almost on a line, and the lead foot toed inwards, a fighter takes the brunt of a low kick into the back of the leg. While this is not necessarily more damaging than taking a kick to the side of the thigh or calf, it has a much bigger impact on the stance.

When Diaz takes the low kick he is almost always knocked off balance or even off his feet. Combined with his difficulty in cutting the ring this has allowed fighters like Henderson, Thompson and McGregor to operate a kick-and-run strategy, continuing to turn Nate and kick him in the leg to create time to get away. Where Diaz matches up intriguingly with Masvidal is in conditioning. Masvidal is probably the smarter fighter and has consistently adapted in the face of different opponents, but his lightweight run was littered with fights where he dropped close decisions due to a lack of activity—particularly in the later rounds.

When Masvidal moved up to welterweight, he and his coaches stated that they had been working on conditioning to push the pace in the later rounds and thought that a smaller weight cut would help this. With two knockouts in his last two fights, and only a handful of welterweight performances altogether, we haven’t seen much of Masvidal in the later rounds of a hard fight since his team made this decision. This, however, is a five round fight and if there is one thing you can say about Nate Diaz it is that he will not go away easily.

A nice elbow off the fence against Cezar Ferreira aside, Masvidal also doesn’t offer up much damage from the clinch—instead stalling out takedown attempts and threatening guillotines and switches. Diaz has done excellent work striking out of the clinch, particularly posting his head on the opponent and hammering the body with knees and traditional boxing infighting.

While low kicks and lateral movement have been long standing issues for Diaz, they work as part of a complete gameplan. Anthony Pettis simply attempted to low kick and side step, and he ended up kicking into a rare Diaz check and hurt his foot to the point that he then didn’t kick again. That fight was something of a step forward for Diaz, who hid his usual habits by fighting largely orthodox and then taking a full step or using a high knee or front kick to enter into a southpaw stance to engage his opponent. 

When Masvidal moved up to welterweight, he and his coaches stated that they had been working on conditioning to push the pace in the later rounds and thought that a smaller weight cut would help this. With two knockouts in his last two fights, and only a handful of welterweight performances altogether, we haven’t seen much of Masvidal in the later rounds of a hard fight since his team made this decision. This, however, is a five round fight and if there is one thing you can say about Nate Diaz it is that he will not go away easily.

A nice elbow off the fence against Cezar Ferreira aside, Masvidal also doesn’t offer up much damage from the clinch—instead stalling out takedown attempts and threatening guillotines and switches. Diaz has done excellent work striking out of the clinch, particularly posting his head on the opponent and hammering the body with knees and traditional boxing infighting. While low kicks and lateral movement have been long standing issues for Diaz, they work as part of a complete gameplan. Anthony Pettis simply attempted to low kick and side step, and he ended up kicking into a rare Diaz check and hurt his foot to the point that he then didn’t kick again.

That fight was something of a step forward for Diaz, who hid his usual habits by fighting largely orthodox and then taking a full step or using a high knee or front kick to enter into a southpaw stance to engage his opponent. It was a clumsy performance—where Diaz overreached and ate counters from his non-native stance—but Diaz still managed to mostly mitigate the threat of the low kick.

Masvidal’s great strength is in adapting to the opponent without forgetting who he is. When he and his team identify a weakness, they don’t fixate on it and go to the well too often. They instead go about tweaking Masvidal’s overall skill set to exploit it. 

So rather than focusing on kicking and running, Masvidal might be better prepared to use his jab, threaten takedowns, and hit the body (as McGregor had amazing success doing in the later stages of his second fight with Diaz), to keep Diaz’s mind off the task of simply checking low kicks and trying to step in off them. A rounded gameplan on the feet seems as though it could be especially important because unlike Henderson, Dos Anjos and McGregor, Masvidal fights orthodox most of the time and so his best kicks to exploit Nate’s stance will come off his lead leg rather than his power leg.

Ultimately, Masvidal is the more polished technician and generally the more adaptable fighter, but is capable of getting into a fire fight when he has to. However, Masvidal’s weakpoint has always been a drop off in activity and a desire to be left alone between his own bursts of offence. The key question is: how will that match up against the suffocating pressure of a fighter as remarkably well-conditioned as Nate Diaz over twenty-five minutes?


 


 

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