EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- When Nate Diaz bolted the 155-pound division 2½ years ago, he had lost three of four fights and was in need of a change. He tried to kick-start his career as a welterweight; and yet, after four fights there, he went 2-2.
For as promising as his UFC career started -- going 5-0 after winning Season 5 of "The Ultimate Fighter" -- people weren’t talking about Diaz after his one-sided beatdown at UFC 129 against Rory MacDonald at UFC 129.
Nick Diaz’s little brother had essentially plateaued.
Yet on Saturday night, in just his third fight in his reimagining as a lightweight, Diaz is now in pole position for a title shot in what might be the promotion’s most competitive division. His second-round submission of New Jersey native Jim Miller put an exclamation mark on his latest run. Diaz tapped out the hometown hero with a guillotine choke -- on national television, no less.
“I just trained hard for the fight, and I just went in there and fought hard and it went good,” said a terse Diaz at the postfight news conference.
Indeed he did. Saturday was the night that Nate Diaz truly arrived. And talk about a turn of events -- who would have thought six months ago that, when discussing a Diaz in a title fight, it would be Nate instead of Nick.
But that’s where we’re at. Since returning to lightweight, Nate Diaz finished Takanori Gomi, landed a record number of strikes against Donald Cerrone and now became the first fighter to finish Miller. What’s up with the resurgence?
To hear him say it, it’s all about pushing the right buttons in training.
“I’m getting matchups with top contenders at lightweight, and that’s a little motivating,” he told ESPN.com. “It’s hard to stay motivated and fight somebody that nobody knows, who you’re kind of more popular than. I don’t mean to sound like I’m all popular, but sometimes it’s hard when everybody expects you to win. I like fighting a top contender and being counted out.
“I feel it in training,” he said. “[Miller] is supposed to beat me? We’ll see.”
The Stockton native will likely be an underdog in his next fight, too. It was announced tonight that the new No. 1 contender in the 155-pound division will wait out the Edgar/Henderson bout to face the winner, even if the fight takes place very late in 2012.
“He’s going to wait for the title shot,” Dana White said. When asked about waiting, Diaz simply replied, “I’m down for whatever, but [waiting] sounded great to me.”
And, just like it was for Henderson, beating Miller was the way to a title shot. Miller said the game plan was to pressure Diaz and make move backward while staying out of his range.
Easier said than done. Miller couldn’t get anything going in the first round and got caught in a scramble that led to him tapping in the second. Afterward, Miller doffed his cap to Diaz’s superior game plan.
“He fought a beautiful fight, and he had my number,” Miller said of Diaz.
Diaz has had everybody’s number that he’s faced since returning to lightweight. Perhaps he said it best himself in the postfight news conference.
“Yeah, he’s tough,” he said. “It was him or me, and I’m glad it went the way it did. Guess I got lucky, just my time to shine, I guess.”