TUF 18 Finale: Gray Maynard vs. Nate Diaz Preview

Gray Maynard (11-2-1 (1), 9-2-1 (1) UFC) vs. Nate Diaz (16-9, 11-7 UFC)

Gray Maynard and Nate Diaz will meet once again inside the Octagon on Saturday night as they get the unexpected bump up to the main event of The Ultimate Fighter 18 Finale. This will be the third time they meet, though only the second official time as one of their fights came during season five of “The Ultimate Fighter”. Both men are looking to bounce back from losses in their last bouts. Maynard was knocked out by T.J. Grant at UFC 160 in May and he has just one win over his last four fights. Diaz is looking to end a two-fight losing skid following a knockout loss to Josh Thomson at UFC On FOX 7 in April. He is 3-2 over his last five bouts.

Fight Breakdown- As has been mentioned, this will be the third time that Maynard and Diaz have fought in the UFC. They fought in the semifinals during season five of TUF, a bout that Diaz won by submission. Diaz went on to win the season and the six-figure contract, but Maynard also secured a spot on the UFC roster, and he was having the more successful UFC career at the time they met for the second time. It was in the main event of UFC Fight Night 20 in January 2010, and that fight was won by Maynard by split decision. Diaz was upset with the decision and Maynard thought he won the fight, and it was close enough to warrant another future meeting, which we will get on Saturday night. It may not be a fight that fans are clamoring for, but it will come in a big transition period for both men. Maynard started his career unbeaten in his first eleven fights, earning a shot at the UFC Lightweight Championship held by Frankie Edgar. Maynard was involved in a draw with Edgar in their second fight, and was knocked out by Edgar in their third fight. He had a lackluster win over Clay Guida following the Edgar fights, but the knockout loss to Grant stopped him from getting another chance to fight for the title.

Diaz defeated Manny Gamburyan in the finals of season five of The Ultimate Fighter, and he has a nice amount of success following that win as he won his next four fights in the UFC, leading him to the title picture. His win streak was ended by Clay Guida at UFC 94 in January 2009, and he had mixed success in his following fights. He lost to Joe Stevenson, and then submitted Melvin Guillard before dropping the decision to Maynard. With a 1-3 mark and no title shot in sight, Diaz decided to move to 170 pounds. He won his first two fights at welterweight, but two straight losses to big 170-pound fighters Dong Hyun Kim and Rory MacDonald prompted Diaz to move back down to the lightweight division. He came back strong with three straight wins over Takanori Gomi, Donald Cerrone and Jim Miller which led to him finally getting a title shot. He fought Benson Henderson for the UFC Lightweight Championship at UFC On FOX 5 in December, but it was a dominant win for Henderson as Diaz came up short. His loss to Josh Thomson in April marked his third two-fight losing streak, but Diaz has never lost three straight fights and is looking to avoid that and go 2-1 against Maynard.

Maynard is going to have to land more strikes than Diaz if he is hoping to win this fight. Diaz is a volume puncher, and though he doesn’t have the power that Maynard does, Diaz can be very aggressive and relentless with his punches and he wears down his opponents. Maynard’s striking defense will have to be top-notch and he will need to be the aggressive fighter. When they fought the second time, it was Diaz who out-landed Maynard, and he did by a significant margin. Maynard was lucky to get the decision in that fight, and he will need to be on the attack more if he wants to score another win. Diaz has been rocked in recent fights, and he has had trouble getting his striking attack settled in on his opponents. Maynard is a very hard puncher and if he can get inside the range of Diaz, he can change the outcome of the fight with one punch. Maynard isn’t as accurate on his feet as Diaz, so he will need to make his punches count whenever they land.

Maynard may decide to mix it up and use his wrestling. Maynard didn’t attempt a single takedown in their last fight as he elected to keep the fight standing. That almost cost him, but perhaps he was afraid of being submitted again. Diaz has an excellent submission game and can catch opponents from anywhere, so if Maynard is able to get the fight down he needs to establish strong ground control. Maynard is physically strong and has decent ground-and-pound, but doesn’t go for much in the way of a finish on the ground. His time training with the AKA camp in San Jose may have changed his ground style, but that has yet to be shown. If he takes it down, he needs to find transitions as staying in Diaz’ guard for any amount of time is dangerous. While Diaz did take Josh Thomson down in his last fight, it is hard to see him taking Maynard down as only Frankie Edgar has been able to do that. Diaz will instead look to pressure Maynard against the fence and use his volume striking attack to keep Maynard on defense. Diaz does have a big reach advantage and will need to use it. The fight will come down to who has the better gameplan. Diaz’ gameplan is probably already known going in, so it is up to Maynard to switch it up. A boxing match almost cost him their last fight, but he needs to not be afraid of the submission and mix in his wrestling. This is a close fight on paper if Maynard doesn’t use his wrestling, but that one thing will make up the difference as Maynard takes the rubber match.

Why It Matters- Both men are looking to get back into the title picture and a loss greatly hurts both of their chances. With there being a new champion in the division, it greatly opens up the winner being close again to a title fight. Maynard has never lost back-to-back fights. Diaz has never lost three straight. One of those is going to happen barring a draw or no contest, and with Diaz, you never know what could happen with him. Maynard has talked about going to 145 pounds as he has unfinished business with Frankie Edgar. Diaz talked about going back to 170 pounds but feels he can beat Pettis and Thomson. Diego Sanchez has expressed interest in fighting the winner of this fight. Both men have a lot to keep them busy in the future, but the loser will be a long way from title contention, so this is a big fight for both men.

Prediction- Maynard

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