SAN JOSE, Calif. -- Nick Diaz doesn't like getting hit in the face, he says. It's dangerous. It's painful. And when done by a guy like Evangelista 'Cyborg' Santos, it's just not much fun.
That's why it's a little surprising, after seeing how easily he dispatched of Santos once the fight hit the mat, that he's willing to do it so often.
If he'd wanted to, Diaz probably could have taken Santos down and submitted him much earlier on. He said before the fight that he didn't think Santos would throw many kicks precisely because of the threat of the takedown. Only when he found himself walking forward into a punishing series of leg kicks, he didn't even seem to consider a takedown attempt. Instead he kept right on coming, eagerly engaging in the kind of brawl that favored Santos' relatively narrow skill set.
Was it smart? Well, he did win the fight, and he won in part because he had worn Santos down to the point where the Brazilian must have felt like he needed to get it to the mat, either in an attempt to get a breather or out of desperation to find some other way to hurt the champ.
But at the same time, why play that game? Why take all the punishment if you don't have to? Why go out and get in a street fight when you could just as easily make it a jiu-jitsu match? Maybe it wouldn't have fired up the fans quite as much, but at least he would have been able to leave the arena without a limp in his walk and an icepack on his face.
But that just wouldn't have been Diaz's style. Some guys try to find wherever you're weakest and they're best and work immediately to get the fight there. Diaz is more apt to let you decide what you think you're best at and then make it his mission to beat you there. If that means he has to take more punishment than he needs to, so be it. That's just how he likes to fight. The question is, why?
Think of it like a living, breathing Rorschach test, only with blood instead of ink. What does it tell us about a guy's personality that he considers it not worth the trouble to try and avoid a physically costly street fight? What does it mean if he won't even lower himself to try and take the fight to the mat, where he has an obvious advantage, in order to avoid unnecessary punishment?
For one, it tells us that he thinks he can win that way, and that maybe he thinks he can win any way. Diaz, for all his skill as a boxer, has never been terribly elusive. As a typically slow starter, he's going to take some punishment early on, just like he did in this fight.
But no matter what he says afterwards, he obviously must not mind it too terribly much. He must not think there's a significant enough risk that he'll get with that one perfect punch that will end his night, and if you look at his record you'll see he has good reason to feel that way.
Another thing it tells us however, is that Diaz doesn't just want to win – he wants to break you. He wants to fight you your way, so that afterwards you will know without a doubt that he beat you. No tricks, no excuses about him holding you down or finding an unfortunate chink in your armor, just pure, obvious destruction. Even if he has to pay for it with some of his own blood.
Again, is it smart? Maybe not in the long run. He's only 27, yet he has a little less than a decade's worth of MMA experience and the facial scar tissue to prove it. It's hard not to wonder what toll that style will take in the next five or even ten years. But for now it makes Diaz consistently one of the most exciting fighters to watch, and probably one of the most problematic to prepare for.
After all, what do you do with a guy who isn't going to try all that hard to force you to fight somewhere that you don't want to? If you acknowledge that simply following through on the old cliché to 'enforce your will' isn't going to be enough, what then?
Diaz may not be a master tactician, and he might even be a little too eager to fight away from his own strengths. But as long as he keeps winning, who can really tell him he should do anything different?
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