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Strikeforce Welterweight Title Fight Breakdown: Nick Diaz vs. KJ Noons

Nick Diaz vs. KJ NoonsThe Strikeforce welterweight title fight pitting Nick Diaz against KJ Noons marks one of those rare instances when a fighter wins the first match convincingly, comes back for a rematch without losing any fights in between, and is still a decided underdog.

Noons, it seems, is fighting both Diaz and public perception, yet his first victory over Diaz in November 2007 shouldn't be completely discounted. Many people seem eager to forget the specifics of the fight, instead focusing on the fact that Noons won by cut stoppage after one round. Through time, that result has been skewed as fluky or unjust, but that doesn't erase the fact that Noons decidedly outgunned Diaz on their feet for the entire five minutes of action.

Over the stretch, Noons (9-1) outlanded Diaz in overall strikes 36-23, according to Compustrike statistics. On their feet specifically, Noons scored at a more than 50 percent clip, landing 31 of his 59 tries. Diaz, meanwhile, landed just 21 of 86 standing strikes (24 percent).

The prevailing thought among those who are picking Diaz (22-7, 1 no contest) to avenge the previous loss is that his performance suffered from competing in the wrong weight class. At the time of their first bout, Diaz and Noons fought at 160 pounds, the lightweight division five pounds heavier than unified rules classification designed by EliteXC.

The cut was never an easy one for Diaz, a lanky 6-foot-1 southpaw who two fights later missed weight by nearly 10 pounds. By the end of 2008, it was clear he was on his way up a weight class, and judging from the results, the move has agreed with him.

In his four fights since abandoning lightweight, Diaz is a perfect 4-0 with four finishes.

One of Diaz's greatest gifts is his seemingly endless gas tank. A part-time triathlete, Diaz is known for a breakneck pace that wears down opponents. Even in losing to Noons, Diaz threw 23 more strikes than him. The gap usually grows wider as the fight goes on.

According to Compustrike, Diaz practically doubles his opponents in volume. Over his last 10 fights, Diaz has thrown an average of 233 strikes to his opponents' 122.

Given all that, it's fair to say that a key factor in this fight is whether or not Diaz's volume will outgun or at least stifle Noons' accuracy.

One thing that seems clear is that in the years between the first fight, Diaz has further improved upon his untraditional but successful striking approach. The southpaw often paws with his right hand to gauge distance before firing off the left. As a result, many skeptics describe Diaz's style as "pitter-patter," yet it must be noted that he's stopped four of his last six opponents by strikes, including Frank Shamrock and Marius Zaromskis. In addition, he's spent time recently training with 2004 Olympic boxing gold medalist and currently undefeated WBA super middleweight champ Andre Ward.

Noons, meanwhile, spent some time away from MMA fighting as a pro boxer, so his hands have also improved.

If the fight goes to the ground, though, there is really no question that Diaz has the upper hand. A jiu-jitsu black belt under Cesar Gracie, Diaz has the long frame and aggressiveness that creates nightmares for opponents. An adept guard-passer with the ability to generate submission attempts from any position, Diaz will undoubtedly look to exploit the ground advantage this time around, something he did not do in their first meeting.

Noons, however, is not exactly easy to drag to the ground. His last nine opponents have only successfully completed 29 percent of their takedown tries, and five of the 11 successful attempts came in one fight.

It's a position that Noons would rather avoid, and that's exactly why Diaz is likely going to attempt to figure out a way to make it happen. Whether it's battering Noons with leg kicks to soften him up for a takedown, or more likely, generating scramble situations that could end up with two grounded fighters, over five rounds, the fight is likely to see the mat. And if it does, Diaz is likely to capitalize.

An issue that must be discussed is Noons' move up in weight. A natural lightweight, Noons has only fought above 160 pounds as a boxer, and not since 2006. While he's clearly going to be the smaller man in this fight, it's also easy to wonder how the extra weight will affect him. Will he be slower or more sluggish, or will the size manifest itself as more power? It's a question that can only be answered on fight night.

The issue of cuts, however, should be no issue this time around. Shortly after their first fight, Diaz had scar tissue surgery to alleviate cutting.

This fight may well be decided by Diaz's approach. Everyone knows Noons wants to keep it standing, and he may well have the edge if it stays that way, but the gap between them has probably shrunk between then and now. On the mat, it's Diaz's world.

Diaz is incredibly durable, and even if Noons roughs him up a bit early, Diaz should have time to change tracks and bring the fight into his comfort zone. That's a scenario that's quite likely to play out. Somewhere around the middle of the fight, his pace will pay off, and he'll find a way to bring the fight to the mat. Noons' toughness will prove that the first fight was no fluke, but ultimately succumb on the ground. Diaz via third-round submission.

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