Elder brother should strike gold first
The mean posse in Cesar Gracie's gym might not want the holiday season to end.
Not only was Nick Diaz reslotted into a title fight against Carlos Condit (pro tempore), but his brother Nate demolished favorite Donald Cerrone at UFC 141, and Gilbert Melendez outboxed a boxer in Jorge Masvidal. At this point, if you shake hands with these guys, you'd best be wearing oven mitts.
But of the two Diazes, Nick remains likelier to realize UFC gold in 2012.
For one thing, Nick will fight on Super Bowl weekend against Condit for the interim strap. This is a fairly direct route to, you know, the title. It would count toward his collection of outdated (Strikeforce) and asterisked (George St. Pierre-less) belts because it's still gold-plated and would sit heavy on his hips. And it's a fight that the Stockton native can (and should) win.
The great fun of Diaz-Condit is that each guy has the other's strength and is willing to stand and trade. Condit has heavier hands; Diaz the more active ones. One salts; the other peppers. This will be the most cooperative brawl since Diaz-Paul Daley or Condit-Dan Hardy.
But let's just leave the obvious out of it: that Nick has a title shot lined up and Nate doesn't.
Nate isn't likely to get a title shot in 2012, even though he did just land something like 9,759 punches on Donald Cerrone. As impressive as he is, Nate just doesn't stack up against wrestlers very well. Cerrone was unwilling to test this theory, but Clay Guida and Gray Maynard aren't. Neither is Joe Stevenson or Rory MacDonald. All of them have beaten Nate, some narrowly and some decisively, some as welterweights and some as lightweights, all using some form of suffocation as a means. Nate will have to get through one of these wrestlers en route to a title, and chances are he'll slip.
Whereas with Nick, you wonder -- the curiosity of what he can do runs pretty deep.
Should he beat Condit, he'll likely have to defend the interim title once more before St. Pierre returns from his ACL injury. That could mean fighting Jake Ellenberger or Johny Hendricks (wrestlers with heavy hands). The reason Nick is compelling in any fight is that he's a mean hustler from his back, too. He can submit you from there, and his elbows are just as dangerous flying upward. It's why there are wild cards to consider when contemplating Diaz against St. Pierre. It's why a title collision between them would hold that much more allure only when it finally rolls around.
At this point, you can't go wrong with booking either Diaz. The more Nate gets in there -- remember, he's only 26 years old -- the more he looks ready to trump whatever style the guy in front of him presents him. But Nick is already there. And that's why he'll be the one with gold around his waist in 2012.
This tandem can terrorize title ranks
Here's something to keep an eye on: the possibility that two Diaz brothers, not one, wear UFC gold in 2012. Is it a guarantee? No. Nick is one fight away, but it's a tough one against Carlos Condit in February. Nate looked terrific to close out 2011, but he's riding only a two-fight win streak in the most stacked division in the UFC.
But could the two hold belts simultaneously this year? Yes, guys, they could.
This argument will focus on Nate. As mentioned, Nick is one step from completing the first half of the equation, and even those picking Condit in the fight have to admit that Nick's got a good shot to beat him.
So, about Nate. The feeling I get is most don't like his chances of winning the title in the next 12 months. Although I'm not exactly making him the favorite of the lightweight division, I think he has a real shot.
For starters, Nate Diaz is a very good lightweight. We forget that because of his venture into the welterweight division, where he wasn't nearly as impressive. He has lost to high-level 155ers like Clay Guida and Gray Maynard, but both were razor-thin decisions that occurred two and three years ago. Nate has developed since then.
Nate is also conceivably not that far from the title. He just (convincingly) beat Donald Cerrone -- who was arguably the No. 3 lightweight in the UFC at the time. There is a terrific chance his next fight will be against the winner of a February fight between Anthony Pettis and Joe Lauzon to determine the top contender.
Fact is, Nate matches up well with both of those fighters. His boxing neutralized Cerrone's striking; it could do the same to Pettis. Lauzon is a streaky fighter whose strengths are in the scramble and offensive jiu-jitsu -- two skills Nate is well equipped to defeat. Pettis is also slick on the ground but hasn't shown the wrestling ability to get Nate down consistently. In each scenario, I'd take Nate.
Against the two potential champions, the matchups get tougher. Frankie Edgar would be the easier route on paper. Edgar's speed on the feet is always a concern, but Nate is so accurate and would have such a reach advantage that he would find a home for his punches. Edgar is a top wrestler, but the size disadvantage against Nate would be significant. He'd have a hard time holding him down.
Ben Henderson would be the toughest task. Bendo wouldn't stand in front of Nate and let him get in a rhythm. He's a physical, pressure fighter and, more so than any other opponent we've named, would take Nate down on the regular. Nate has one of the best guards in the division, though, and Henderson, although he appears unsubmittable, did get into trouble in Cerrone's guard in their first fight.
At the end of the day, nobody knows who's going to hold the 155-belt in 2012. That division is so competitive, anything can happen. Nate is not a long shot, though. If his brother Nick beats Condit, that only will add motivation for Nate to join him at the top. Seriously, don't sleep on this possibility, MMA fans. It could happen.
'GROSS POINT BLANK'
Play Podcast Josh Gross discusses the upcoming fight between Carlos Condit and Matt Brown on December 14th and chats with Shannon Knapp about Women's MMA, and much more.
Play Podcast Josh Gross discusses UFC 167, George St. Pierre defending his welterweight championship with a split decision against Johny Hendricks and much more.
Play Podcast Joshua Gross gives an in-depth preview of UFC 167 with Brett Okamoto, breaks down the card top to bottom, and delves into St-Pierre vs. Hendricks.
Play Podcast Joshua Gross talks to Royce Gracie about his father Helio, the family and UFC 1.
Play Podcast Joshua Gross talks about Cain Velasquez and Daniel Cormier's matchups at UFC 166 with their trainer Javier Mendez. Plus, Brett Okamoto previews the rest of the card.
Play Podcast Joshua Gross sits down with UFC 166's Darrell Montague to talk about his UFC debut in Houston later this month, plus Terry Trebilcock recounts his promotion's story, and more.
Play Podcast Josh Gross talks with Mark Munoz about being matched with Lyoto Machida after Michael Bisping was injured, and Jake Shields about his fight against Demian Maia on Oct. 9.
Play Podcast Josh Gross recaps UFC 165 with Franklin McNeil. Plus, Glover Teixeira talks Jones vs Gustafsson and how he would stack up against Jones given the opportunity.