On a card headlined by UFC Lightweight Champion Benson Henderson and the last reigning Strikeforce Lightweight Champion Gilbert Melendez, we’ll see the two men they both most recently defeated face off against each other. Nate Diaz welcomes Josh Thomson back to the UFC after almost a decade of fighting in other organizations. That gives you an idea of how long Thomson’s been in the game; while basically a stranger to the UFC today, he is by no means a stranger to fighting in big fights. Diaz meanwhile lost in a competitive, but still one-sided decision to Henderson, ending his three fight win streak and denying Cesar Gracie’s team yet another UFC championship.
Fight Breakdown – This fight has the potential for fight of the night, and that’s saying something considering how electric and tough both Benson Henderson and Gilbert Melendez are. Josh Thomson is durable and showed he can hang with the big boys in his last fight with Melendez. That’s a fight in which many thought Thomson should have gotten the nod for the decision.
In that fight, Thomson showed he can box with the best of them and has a good enough stand up game to give Diaz some fits. But making this strictly a boxing match against Nate Diaz is a bad, bad idea. Donald Cerrone already showed the results of that experiment. Thomson may have very good striking, but Diaz will likely get the better of him in that area, especially considering the sheer volume of punches Nate can dish out without tiring.
There’s only one surefire way to beat Nate Diaz. Nate (and Nick for that matter) has one glaring weakness: the lack of elite wrestling ability. If point A is the stand up game and point C is jiu-jitsu, he’s got those bases covered. But in order to get from point A to point C, sometimes you need to utilize some Point B, which is wrestling and clinching. In order to prevent getting taken down, Diaz has to shore up his wrestling weaknesses, especially to get back up when he does get taken down, which against strong wrestlers happens quite frequently. Look at Diaz’ losses: Henderson, Rory MacDonald, Dong Hyun Kim, Gray Maynard, Clay Guida, all of these guys utilized their superior strength and wrestling to defeat Diaz. If Thomson wants that all important W more than making this a barnburner, he should look to make this an ugly, “against the cage” affair and slow things down by clinching and pulling off the occasional take down. Mixing it up with a variety of leg kicks won’t hurt either; Nate, again like his brother Nick, tends to ignore checking leg kicks and doesn’t throw a whole lot of kicks himself.
Nate Diaz can win this fight in the stand-up or with his high-level jiu-jitsu. If Diaz even sniffs a potential submission, chances are it’s happening. Diaz just needs to avoid getting taken down if Thomson looks to pursue that, and utilize his top-notch boxing to keep Thomson out of rhythm. Diaz will have a height and reach advantage and his punching and counter-punching should serve him well against an aggressive Thomson. If he has Thomson on the ropes in the stand-up, it will make locking in a submission that much easier.
Why It Matters – The lightweight division was once without question the most log-jammed division in the UFC. Since former champion Frankie Edgar fought in three consecutive championship rematch fights, everyone else had to keep fighting and wait their turn. Now Benson Henderson is the champion and has already soundly defeated a number one contender before his meeting with Melendez. Anthony Pettis is set to face Jose Aldo in a different division and who knows what the outcome of that fight will lead to. The bottom line is the LW division is flowing once again, and that means contenders have opportunities to fight for the title, as well as title contender slots.
Diaz is still ranked #4 by the UFC, right behind teammate Melendez, Pettis and Gray Maynard. A win over Diaz would vault Thomson way up into the top of the LW division. At 34 years old, Thomson’s window for his moment of glory is ultra slim and a loss here would leave his prospects balancing on a knife edge. A win against Diaz would leave him with a victory against a guy who just fought for the title and possibly a win away from the next title shot (if not the next period thanks to the pesky injury bug).
On the opposite side, this is a chance for Diaz to bounce back. He lost in a fairly one-sided fashion to Henderson and would need to demonstrate marked improvement in his wrestling on his way back up the ladder. Beating Thomson by KO or submission would be ideal of course, but Diaz needs to show he’s a different fighter than the one who lost to all of those wrestlers.
Look for Diaz to hit the ground running and not look back. Thomson showed a willingness to exchange with Melendez in his last fight, and while that’s certainly a crowd-pleasing style, it’s not going to work in his favor against the high-level boxing of Nate Diaz. Diaz will come out firing and he won’t let up until the bell rings. That kind of pace wears on all but the most elite fighters, so watch for Nate Diaz to put Thomson in a bad spot and earn a submission.
Prediction – Diaz by submission