Nick Diaz once again caught the MMA world by surprise, with his manager Cesar Gracie announcing last week that the current Strikeforce Welterweight Champion is actively looking into securing a fall boxing fight. Gracie made clear that they were looking at securing a match against a name fighter but one whose best days are behind with former super-middleweight champions Jeff Lacy, Fernando Vargas or Ricardo Mayorga.
The rationale for the change in sport put forward by Gracie is that Diaz is burned out by MMA and needs a change of pace, plus Diaz’s frequently expressed frustration at the amount he is paid to fight on Showtime when compared to the networks’ boxers. The story got an additional boost when Lou Dibella responded to MMA fans messages to his twitter on the subject by promising to look into possibly having Ring Middleweight Champion Sergio Martinez fight Nick Diaz. How seriously the comment should be taken is debatable.
While Diaz has shown superior striking in his recent fights, it requires a large leap of faith to conclude that he would succeed in the boxing ring against specialists who have been training in the fistic arts since they were children. The two sports may be linked but they are significantly different, and being a great striker in MMA is very different to being a great boxer. Doubly so in the modern era where all top-class MMA takes place in a cage. It’s difficult to see how even a fighter as idiosyncratic as Diaz can seriously believe he would be competitive against top quality boxers.
The move to boxing may therefore be best explained by looking not at Diaz’s pugilistic opportunities but the very real challenges that he will have to confront in the cage. Diaz has noticeably avoided stepping into either the ring or cage against a wrestler since he left the UFC in 2006, something that is hardly surprising considering how many of his career defeats have come due to being outwrestled. This gap in his recent resume coupled with his frequent failure to complete takedowns against opponents without strong defensive wrestling skills certainly leads one to suspect that despite his recent success Diaz would continue to struggle against a wrestler.
Unfortunately for the Strikeforce Welterweight Champion it’s likely that his next challenger will have exactly the right skill set to target this fatal flaw in his game. For awhile it has been clear that Strikeforce has been grooming former state championship wrestler Tyron Woodley for a title shot at 170Ibs. The young fighter has compiled an 8-0 record with a fighting style that makes frequent use of the wrestling skills he developed at both high school and college. Strikeforce CEO Scott Coker has made clear that Daley, Woodley is the next challenge for Diaz.
It’s a nightmare matchup for Diaz with Woodley having the skills to beat and lacking the reputation or fame to make it a big money fight. One cannot help but conclude that Diaz and Caser Gracie are looking for a Plan B, a way to avoid taking such a high-risk, low-reward fight. That Plan B could be going into boxing but it’s more likely to be a lucrative move back to the UFC to fight in pay per view superfights. Diaz has already floated the idea of him being the one to face Anderson Silva, having dismissed the possibility of an unification match with UFC Champion Georges St. Pierre on the grounds that teammate Jake Shields will defeat the Canadian. The fact that GSP has the best wrestling in all of MMA is surely just a coincidence.
“If he would just play the game a little bit he would be a big star” is UFC President Dana White’s stock response when he’s asked about why Nick Diaz’s career has occasionally seemed to stall despite his undoubted talent. But by threatening White with the possibility of one of his champions being defeated in the boxing ring he and his camp are proving cannier operators than White has given them credit for. Whether this gambit will get them what they want remains to be seen.
Tags: Boxing, Jeff Lacy, Mixed Martial Arts, Nick Diaz, Paul Daley, Ricardo Mayorga, Sergio Martinez, Strikeforce, UFC Welterweight division