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The Blueprint - Diaz vs. Cerrone

Michael DiSanto breaks down the UFC 141 co-main event bout between Nate Diaz and Donald Cerrone...
Nate Diaz and Donald Cerrone are two of the most exciting young fighters in the lightweight division.

Diaz is the younger brother (and virtual carbon copy) of former Strikeforce Welterweight Champion and UFC veteran Nick Diaz and he is looking to build upon the tremendous momentum created with his Submission of the Night win over former PRIDE superstar Takanomi Gomi. This will be Diaz’s second 155-lb bout after spending a little over a year competing at 170. And a win over Cerrone will put Diaz right back into the division’s top 10.

Cerrone probably has even more at stake. The New Mexico-based fighter is in the midst of a six-fight winning streak, making him one of the hottest commodities in the division. A win over Diaz will almost certainly earn Cerrone a matchup against one of the 155 lb Preferiti, possibly in a title elimination challenge.

Battling to establish intra-division pecking order is great.  But that isn’t why I’m waiting with baited breath for this matchup. Diaz and Cerrone both love nothing more than to throw down, phone-booth style. This isn’t about competition for them. It is about handing out a beat down. Not because there is some long animosity between the two. There isn’t, as far as I’m aware. It is because these guys are fighters deep down in their DNA. That is why 10 of their combined 18 UFC fights have resulted in “of the night” awards, whether fight, submission or knockout.

I have a feeling that December 30 will be 11 out of 19.

When the referee signals for the action to begin, Diaz will come looking to do what he always does – box from the southpaw stance. He paws at his opponent with his right hand, just like his brother Nick, in order to distract defending eyes. Diaz will pop crisp, straight left hands behind his pawing right. He will quickly snap off a right hook. And generally throw a variety of other shots from unconventional angles.

Of course, that is not to suggest that Diaz’s game is devoid of a jab. It is not. He fires the jab in between groping paws. He also drops his hands to his waist and sticks out his chin in order to shoot a jab from his hip. It is a vintage Nick Diaz move, one that his younger brother has adopted as his own.

If the entire fight unfolded on the feet, Diaz would be content. That is borne more out of necessity than preference. Despite the fact that Diaz has sick submission skills, he has below average takedowns. Thus, he struggles to get the fight to the floor at will. He must instead fight on the feet until there is a knockdown or his opponent takes him down.

Diaz’s standup attack is really of hunt-and-peck nature. He is not a knockout artist. Not by a long shot. He has but a single knockout win over the past five years. It came against a much bigger, stronger fighter, Rory Markham. But that was Diaz showing the world that stinging, pinpoint shots can end fights just like explosive bombs. Maybe not in an instant, but certainly over the course of a few minutes.

The younger Diaz won’t change up that approach for Cerrone. I don’t care if most believe that the “Cowboy” is superior on the feet. Diaz will throw hands with anyone, including Cerrone. The question, of course, is whether or not that is a good idea.

Cerrone was a professional kickboxer before entering mixed martial arts. He has a couple dozen kickboxing bouts on his professional record without a single loss. Yet, he has only a single knockout win on his MMA resume.

Odd, I know. But I think that says something about Cerrone’s kickboxing pedigree. It was not at a world class level. He wasn’t blasting people in K-1. He was dominating his local circuit. I’m fairly certain Diaz would have experienced similar success.

Of course, that is not to suggest that Cerrone is a chump on the feet. Quite the opposite is true. He is a very good technical striker. He fights in the traditional Thai style with very square shoulders so that he can strike with all eight points of attack – fists, elbows, knees and shins.

Squaring up like that certainly makes him more vulnerable to standup assaults from his opponents, but it also leaves him in perfect position to defend takedowns. It is the same style that UFC legend Chuck Liddell used to earn millions of dollars, in addition to a spot in the Hall of Fame and a stint as 205-lb champion.

Cerrone isn’t a slugger like Liddell. He doesn’t detonate on foes. He instead chips away at them, just like Diaz. Not like Diaz stylistically. Like Diaz in terms of crisp, accurate, well executed strikes.

He will look to utilize those skills against Diaz, just like he has in basically every other fight. Cerrone will come forward, with his hands held high, and will use his jab to set up two- and three-piece combinations. Unlike Diaz, though, he will also throw very effective kicks to the legs and body. And when faced with a clinch situation, he will fire knees and elbows as he likely dominates the position.

Both guys prefer to stand and bang. All that is fine and good. But it isn’t the way that most of their fights ultimately end. Both men have won more than 70% of their career bouts by submission. Think about that for a moment. Neither man is an accomplished wrestler. Yet, each wins by submission far more often than not.

Most of that is due to the fact that foes end up taking them down. Why? Simple. Opponents are sick of getting peppered in the face.

I don’t see either Diaz or Cerrone spending much time trying to secure a takedown on December 30. If that happens, I like Diaz all day, every day to win by submission. His skills, refined under the ultra critical eye of Cesar Gracie, are among the very best in the division. Cerrone, who is coached by the highly respected Greg Jackson, is a solid submission guy. But there is a stark contrast between a solid Jackson submission guy and a Gracie expert.

If Cerrone ends up on the ground, thanks to Diaz pulling guard, he will focus almost exclusively on implementing a ground-and-pound assault, rather than engaging in a transition jiu-jitsu contest. If the strikes sufficiently soften up Diaz, then Cerrone will look for a fight-ending choke. He won’t want to mess with Diaz’s grappling prowess in any other situation.

If Cerrone finds himself fighting from his back, he will do whatever, at any cost, to get back to his feet. He wants no part of Diaz’s top game. None whatsoever. He won’t admit it. But I’m certain of it.

Diaz, by contrast, will look to mix strikes and submission attempts, whether he is in the top or bottom position. He knows that he is the better submission artist. In fact, he probably hopes that his strikes force Cerrone to shoot for a takedown.  My guess is Diaz won’t really try to defend the takedown attempt, if it comes. And if he finds himself on the short end of the standup exchanges, Diaz may very well pull guard. He won’t want to because he is a gladiator’s gladiator, but that would be a wise decision.

So, who is going to win? Honestly, I don’t really know. I think the bout is a tossup on the feet. If they fight 10 times in a standup-only affair, the bout probably ends in 10 different ways. I think Diaz is much better on the ground, as written above. Yet, I’m not sure the fight will spend any significant time there, absent someone getting rocked on the feet first.

I may not have a good feeling on who is going to win, but that really doesn’t bother me, either. For me, this fight isn’t about a winner or loser. Sure, he who is victorious will further cement his standing in the division. Nonetheless, I don’t see either man’s career getting derailed by a loss. Why? Because this is going to be a fun-filled, all-action, first-class scrap. It will be the sort of fight that will thrill the fans from beginning to end, no matter how long it lasts. It is a fight that should win an “of the night” award. And it is a fight that should leave fans clamoring for more from both men.

That is why this one is must-see TV.

QUICK FACTS

Nate Diaz
•    26 years old
•    6’0
•    155 lbs
•    76-inch reach
•    14-7 overall
•    3-2 in last 5
•    5-5 in last 10
•    50% of UFC fights resulted in post-fight award (Submission of the Night 3x, Fight of the Night 4x)
•    Ultimate Fighter Season 5 winner
•    Current layoff is 97 days
•    Longest layoff of career is 310 days

Donald Cerrone
•    28 years old
•    6’0
•    155 lbs
•    73-inch reach
•    17-3, 1 NC overall
•    Six-fight winning streak
•    8-2 in last 10
•    75% of UFC fights resulted in post-fight award (Fight of the Night, Submission of the Night, Knockout of the Night)
•    Current layoff is 62 days
•    Longest layoff of career is 270 days

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