Thursday, March 1, 2007

Does Nick Diaz deserve top honors?

By Sean McClure

For years Nick Diaz has been trying to break through the thick shell encasing the world's top spots in MMA. He has had his share of ups and downs in his career on the main stage of the UFC. Arguably, his greatest UFC "up" was when he defeated Robbie Lawler at UFC 47. He knocked out the knockout artist and anytime you can do that it's a good thing and one that will get you noticed right away. He instantly became a fan favorite and most new his name and began to follow his career more closely. It's not easy to miss Diaz that's for sure. Nick is always outspoken and often surrounded by controversy. All of that was put aside and this weekend he proved he was one of the best. The question now remains, does he deserve a top spot and the mainstream respect that has eluded him for so long?

If you asked me last year if Nick would ever be considered a top fighter in any weight class I would have said yes. I would have also clarified to you that I didn't think it would happen anytime soon. I was publicly corrected by Mr. Diaz when he submitted one of the greatest lightweight fighters of all time, Takanori Gomi this weekend at PRIDE's second U.S. show. What does this mean for Nick's status as a fighter and how will it shake up the lightweight division?

Just looking at Nick's past UFC track record, it won't tell you his whole story right away. Nick lost three of his last five fights in the UFC. He lost to Diego Sanchez by unanimous decision, Joe Riggs by unanimous decision, and Sean Sherk by the same. He came back strong and defeated Josh Neer and Gleison Tibau back to back. Nick was a much better fighter than his record showed him to be and the UFC was foolish to dismiss him in my opinion. He would part ways with the UFC and was quickly scooped up by PRIDE probably for the best. Ever since the Lawler knockout, Nick has been hell bent on repeating that performance in every fight and trying the same taunting that took Robbie out of his game and made Diaz an instant star. It did make something happen that I thought should have happened a long time ago. Nick dropped down a weight class.

At PRIDE's show on February 24, Nick would drop to 160 pounds, PRIDE's version of the lightweight division. This was a ver ysmart move if you ask me. Nick trains hard and has always been in top shape, but most have always felt he would fare better in the lighter weight class because of his size.
When at that weight Diaz is much quicker and sharper than when he is carrying the extra ten pounds at the American welterweight division's 170 pound weight limit. On Saturday, he was paired up against the most talented lightweight striker in the world today by most accounts, Takanori Gomi.

Diaz would put on an encore worthy performance. His strikes were accurate and strong leaving Gomi frustrated and desperate to land some of his own in response. At one point Diaz would be rocked badly and it seemed like the fight might be over as he fell to the mat in what seemed like some sort of weird slo-mo. He would fight on and put on one of the greatest overall showings of his career. Gomi seemed to have answers to everything Diaz was attempting, but this would not last long as Nick would return fire fast and often.

After trying everything in his arsenal to KO Diaz on his feet or pound him out on the ground, Gomi was spent. His hands were down and he was undeniably exhausted. Nick was just warming up and despite Takanori landing a few bombs, Diaz would win the exchanges in the striking department with his trademark taunting in full effect. The end finally came when Gomi fell into Nick's guard and Diaz locked in a spectacular submission, a rarely seen gogoplata. Gomi tapped to the leg choke and the rest is history. It would later be reported that Diaz had a fractured right orbital bone suffered during the fight, but was still able to pull off the upset. With that amazing victory, where does this place Nick Diaz in the pecking order?

I say top 5. Definitely, without a question top 5 in the world. He beat the best fighter in that weight class and deserves to be included on that list.

In my opinion, the top 5 lightweight fighters in the world right now are:

5)Shinyo Aoki
4)Nick Diaz
3)Gilbert Melendez
2)Takanori Gomi
1)Hayato Sakurai

Sakurai is going to be standard across the board now that Gomi lost, I would assume. Hayato Sakurai is one of the greatest fighters of all time and is deservedly number one right now. Aoki has impressed me as has Melendez lately placing them in my top 5 easily. The competition in the lightweight division is so fierce right now and the division is so large that making it in to the top 10 is saying something. With a solid victory over the former number one fighter in the world, in my opinion Diaz has definitely managed to crack the
elite top 5 and land securely at #4.

All of this being said, the question remains.... when am I going to see Melendez versus Diaz?!?!


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