Tomorrow night, Nate Diaz (pictured above) will square off with Gray Maynard at The Ultimate Fighter Season 18 Finale at the Mandalay Bay Events Center in Las Vegas, NV.
It’s a pair of familiar faces to UFC fans, and they know each other well, too. Both Diaz and Maynard fought the majority of their careers in UFC competition (13 bouts for Maynard and 18 for Diaz) and both rose to prominence with The Ultimate Fighter Season 5 back in 2007. They met in the semifinals of TUF 5, and again at a UFC Fight Night back in 2010.
Their first meeting was a bout between two hot up-and-comers; their second, a battle of contenders. Diaz secured a guillotine choke to defeat Maynard in their first encounter, but lost a close decision in their second.
Since then, both have had shots at the lightweight title, with both coming up short. Maynard came painfully close, nearly stopping then-lightweight kingpin Frankie Edgar on strikes in 2011, but was ultimately forced to settle for a draw, and then lost via TKO in their rematch. Both are looking to stop a bit of a skid; each winning only one of their last three bouts. Diaz lost a decision to Edgar’s successor Ben Henderson last year, and suffered his first ever loss via TKO to Josh Thompson in May.
Still, both are ranked among the top ten of the UFC’s lightweight contenders and a title engagement against lightweight champion Anthony Pettis would seem within reach after another victory or two.
Can either make it there? How do they stack up against the rest of the division?
Here’s my breakdown:
At 34, the window would seem to be closing for Maynard, who began his MMA career undefeated in his first 12 official bouts before the 1-2 run in the last two years. (Although TUF was more relevant than it is now, each bout for TUF 5 was still considered an “exhibition” and didn’t count towards an official record. See here for my TUF thoughts.)
Like so many American MMA standouts, wrestling is Maynard’s bread and butter. The three time NCAA All-American, fighting out of San Jose, California, has improved his standup skills and has scored many of his biggest wins there — including against Diaz himself, and Jim Miller. It’s not impossible to imagine Maynard working in some ground-and-pound tactics to be successful, too — but not for too long.
His greater athleticism would seem to allow him to better keep pace with other contenders, or even the champion Pettis. He’d be an underdog, but it’s easier to imagine a big Maynard punch getting through, than a flash Diaz submission, to earn a crown.
At 28, Diaz would seem to be the fresher and closer to his athletic prime of the two, but that may not be the case here. The Stockton, California native has been through more wars than Maynard, including more losses. It might surprise many fans, so accustomed to highlight-reel submissions from Diaz like the one pictured here against Kurt Pellegrino, to learn that Diaz is only a bit better than a .500 fighter (officially 11-7) in the Octagon.
Diaz is a jiu-jitsu man at heart, although he boxes fairly well behind a long southpaw jab. Submissions are fewer and far between in MMA these days, and are usually set up by damaging strikes, like the liver shot which preceded Pettis’ armbar victory over Ben Henderson back in August. Diaz seldom really hurts his opponents standing.
Prediction: Maynard gets the decision win, this time more clearly than last, with mix of solid standup and a little ground-and-pound. He continues to challenge, but it would take a measure of luck to earn him UFC gold.
As always, enjoy the fights, and thanks for reading.