The Diaz Army will be out in force
Ever since his stint on the Ultimate Fighter more than 15 years ago, the younger Diaz brother has endeared himself to MMA fans everywhere with his enigmatic personality, willingness to compete with the best fighters in the sport, and fighting style that was seemingly intentionally crafted with excitement in mind.
As a result, both Nate and Nick have one of the most loyal fan followings ever seen in the sport. This was made abundantly clear at the UFC 263 Press Conference on Thursday where fans turned out in their thousands for an opportunity to see the native of Stockton California behind the microphone.
While Leon Edwards may present one of Diaz’s toughest tests to date inside the UFC Octagon, there is little doubt that the majority of the crowd in attendance will be there in support of the 209.
An improved clinch game
Ever since the performance that fundamentally changed the course of Nate’s fighting career at UFC 196, the once ever-active fighter has become much more of a special attraction, and the frequency of his Octagon appearances has suffered as a result.
In the five years before his famous triumph, Diaz fought 10 times, including 4 in the year 2011 alone. However, since then the former UFC lightweight title challenger has made only three further Octagon appearances, losing in the rematch with McGregor, defeating Anthony Pettis, and coming up short for the BMF title against Jorge Masvidal in November of 2019.
One thing that Diaz’s recent performances have shown is his much improved offensive game in the clinch. In his victory over former UFC Lightweight Champion Pettis, Diaz masterfully implemented a wrestling heavy game-plan that allowed him to dictate where the fight took place and negate much of his opponent’s famed striking offence.
In order to have his hand raised on Saturday night, Diaz will need to win the significant battles in the clinch, but that will be no short order against an opponent as skilled as Leon Edwards…
There is a reason why Leon Edwards is the betting favourite
Through a combination of inactivity as a result of a string of injuries and an unfortunate end to his last fight, #3 ranked welterweight contender Leon Edwards has gone underappreciated in some UFC circles.
But make no mistake, the Englishman presents a challenge inside the cage that more than justifies his status as an overwhelming favourite in the eyes of the bookmakers.
Riding a nine-fight undefeated streak, Edwards’ mix of technical striking and superb offensive clinch work has put the division on notice, and while a fight with Diaz was probably not what most people expected following the disappointing end to his fight with fellow UFC 263 competitor Belal Muhammad earlier this year, in offers the Jamaican-born Brit an opportunity to break through as a mainstream star should he manage to score an impressive victory.
A win on Saturday for Edwards likely puts him in prime contention for either a title shot, or possibly the grudge match with Jorge Masvidal following the infamous ‘three-piece and a soda’ incident, so don’t be surprised if Rocky comes out looking to make a statement against Stockon’s finest.
Joe Rogan will likely lose his mind
It’s hardly a secret that UFC commentator, podcast host, and all-around entertainment renaissance man, Joe Rogan is a huge admirer of both Diaz brothers’ fighting styles. You only have to see Rogan’s reaction to Nate’s iconic interview following his shock victory over Conor McGregor back in 2016 for evidence of this.
Rogan’s energy for high-profile matchups is still yet to be matched by anyone in the MMA world, and there is no better way to instil that big fight feeling than having the host of the JRE calling the shots behind the desk.
And who knows, if Nate can pull off another shock victory at UFC 263 we may finally get a Diaz brothers JRE that fans have been calling for, practically since the inception of the podcast.
Questions will be answered about Diaz’s future in the UFC
Perhaps the most interesting aspect of this matchup is its ability to give a clear indication of where Nate Diaz fits in with the current crop of welterweight contenders in 2021.
While a BMF rematch with Jorge Masvidal or a trilogy fight with Conor McGregor may have been more lucrative options for Diaz, a win over Leon Edwards would be undeniable evidence that Nate still has the tools to compete with the elite crop of fighters at 170lbs.
However, historically most of Nate’s greatest successes in the sport have been at lightweight. Diaz has posted a 4-4 record at 170lbs in the UFC, and his impressive physical attributes will be much less apparent against fighters such as Edwards and WW champ Kamaru Usman.
With that being said, there is a reason MMA is known for its unpredictability. Diaz on his day is undoubtedly an elite fighter with great finishing instincts, so while there is a huge task ahead of him, perhaps the Cesar Gracie Jiu-Jitsu product can shock the world once more and make one final run for UFC gold.
Long-suffering Hull City fan, combat sports history aficionado and world renowned champion of the church of Chael Sonnen.