K.J. Noons (right) vs. Nick Diaz: Dave Mandel | Sherdog.com
Nick Diaz may dismiss his first fight with K.J. Noons as the result of a trigger-happy doctor -- a physician stopped the fight when Diaz was spurting blood from his brow -- but the scene had a far more dramatic impact on his fight career than he might let on. Or even realize.
It was after Noons carved up his face that Diaz consulted with Frank Stile, MD, a Las Vegas-based plastic surgeon prepared to take Diaz on as a kind of guinea pig for an experimental surgery that might reduce a fighter’s chances of being cut open from too much excess scar tissue. (That’s the usual result of getting bad stitch work on site instead of heading for the hospital.) Stile dug out the hamburger tissue, sewed in collagen, and figured the new skin would protect Diaz from another anticlimactic ending.
Coincidence or not, Diaz is 7-0 since the Noons fight and the surgery and his boxing has improved by leaps since the bout. After a win over Yves Edwards, Noons took nearly two years off MMA to pursue a pro boxing career and looked sharp against Jorge Gurgel. Far from being an overcooked rematch against two fading athletes, Diaz and Noons are likely going to see the best of one another Saturday.
What: Strikeforce: Diaz vs. Noons II, a 13-bout card from the HP Pavilion in San Jose, Calif.
When: Saturday, Oct. 9 at 10 p.m. ET on Showtime.
Why You Should Care: Because Noons and Diaz have some of the most effective and advanced boxing in MMA today, and you’ll see far more of that from them than you would from a James Toney; because Gesias “JZ” Cavalcante has been one of the best lightweights working in Japan and Josh Thomson should provide a gauge for his status stateside; and because 12-0 Sarah Kaufman will finally be getting a chance to defend her 135-pound women’s title -- and maybe even the entire worth of that division -- on a main card.
Fight of the Night: Undoubtedly Diaz/Noons, the closest thing we’ll ever get to John L. Sullivan’s days: a combination of skill and nearly bare-knuckle fists.
Hype Quote of the Show: “[Noons] is fighting only stand-up fighters, even like myself. He doesn't want to fight anyone who just wants to take him down. If he fights a real serious wrestler, he won't survive the way I can. If I get taken down you can't finish me, but if he gets taken down you can just lay on him. I mean, I'd imagine. I don't really know because I haven't seen him do sh-t." -- Diaz, voicing the biggest concern over Noons’ potential in MMA, to MMAFighting.com.
Diaz or Noons -- who’s the better MMA boxer?
Often repeated but warranted: terrific pure boxing skills can’t be dumped into a cage environment without radical alterations. Footwork needs to be concerned with takedown attempts; attacks and feints need to worry about elbows, knees, and kicks. The fact that Noons might have better “pure” boxing than Diaz is only relevant if they fought in the WBO.
We had an answer for this in late 2007, when the two met and Noons turned Diaz into a bloody mess inside of a round. Three years later, both men have only improved, but it’s been Diaz who has racked up time in the cage, sometimes against bigger men like Scott Smith and Frank Shamrock. Noons bounced between pro boxing and MMA, knocking out less celebrated opponents. Diaz’s advantage is that he doesn’t have to box worrying about threats of a takedown from Noons; Noons faces an appreciably better fighter than he did three years ago. Still, it’s going to be a striking match. And it’s not the level of boxing that decides the fight, but how that boxing is applied.
Is Noons a poor sport?
As Compustrike points out in their statistical breakdown of Saturday’s card, Noons has accrued a rap sheet of infractions that cast doubt on his sportsmanship: he clocked Jorge Gurgel with a knee when Gurgel was on three points, kept punching Malik Williams after the referee waved the fight, and launched late hits against two fighters after the bell. (He also rushed Diaz’s corner following their first fight, leading to a mini-mob scene, footage Strikeforce is tastefully keeping to a minimum.) Whatever Noons is able to accomplish in his career, he should be careful not to temper it with questionable ring ethics.
Can Kaufman carry the women’s welterweight division?
With Gina Carano AWOL from fighting to pursue an acting career, the torch-bearer in the still-fledging women’s movement in MMA is Cristiane “Cyborg” Santos -- with tattoos and a vascular set of arms, the anti-Carano in terms of femininity.
With no one able to match Santos’ tenacity at 145 pounds, the real intrigue in the women’s side might be at 135: 12-0 champion Kaufman defends her title against Marloes Coenen in her first proper Strikeforce appearance Saturday. Since most fight fans respond to aggression regardless of the weight class or gender, Kaufman’s powerbomb-style slam KO against Roxanne Modafferi in July might be an indication she’s prepared to perform at the level needed to maintain interest in a post-Carano division.
Is Thomson going to hold up in MMA?
Following an impressive 4-1 stint in 2006, Thomson has seen his fight frequency slow to a crawl: two fights in 2007 and 2008, and only one each in ’09 and ’10.
A broken ankle hobbled him early; two broken ribs in June didn’t do him any favors. When he’s on, Thomson -- a huge lightweight -- has some of the better wrestling in the division. When he’s off, injuries shave minutes off his cardio output and he can become a sitting duck.
It happens that most fights “guaranteed” by media or promoters to be exciting usually ignore the self-awareness of the fighters themselves: since they know the other guy is running on octane, they slow things down and treat the mat like a minefield, stepping cautiously.
It’s that past experience that has put me off of getting too enthusiastic about pre-booked “wars,” but in the case of Diaz and Noons, it might be worth another try. Diaz doesn’t play like he values his face; Noons has deserved confidence in his hands; neither man seems to have any particular interest in going to the ground to catch a break.
Diaz’s biggest complaint in their first bout -- largely a rout for Noons -- is that the ringside physician didn’t give more leniency to his bleeding forehead. While that may sound like sour grapes, it makes some degree of sense: Diaz’s volume style relies heavily on his marathoner’s heart, and it’s allowed him to turn up the heat when opponents begin to slow down. (He got bashed against Takanori Gomi, only to choke him in round two.) He’s also not being forced to suck in 10 pounds to make an aberration of a 160-pound class this time. Of the two, it’s Diaz who should look substantially different on fight night.
What It Means: For Diaz, a chance to erase the most annoying blemish on his record next to a No Contest for alleged weed inhalation; for Noons, the opportunity to stake his reputation as Diaz’s Kryptonite -- but what is the 155 pound Noons going to do with a welterweight title?
Wild Card: This is Noons’ first trip to 170. Will the gym discipline involved in cutting weight lapse, and will Diaz’s extra size be a problem?
Who Wins: Next to Velasquez/Lesnar, this is October’s most divisive main event fight. Noons might score early, but Diaz has been clipped before (Gomi, Marius Zaromskis) only to come back with a bad attitude. I like Diaz in any fight not involving someone trying to hold him down. Diaz by decision.