Nate Diaz knows how to thrill the masses. | Photo: Dave Mandel/Sherdog.com
No one believes Nate Diaz was in danger of losing his spot on the Ultimate Fighting Championship roster after back-to-back defeats to Benson Henderson and Josh Thomson, but he nevertheless reinforced his position as one of the promotion’s premier lightweights by obliterating Gray Maynard in “The Ultimate Fighter 18” Finale main event on Saturday at the Mandalay Bay Events Center.
Most expected their rematch to turn into a back-and-forth affair that could go either way. They had engaged in a competitive exhibition duel as cast members on Season 5 of “The Ultimate Fighter,” as Diaz eliminated “The Bully” with a guillotine choke en route to winning the competition. When they met again at UFC Fight Night 20 in January 2010, Maynard walked away with a split decision. While many anticipated another close call between the two rivals, Diaz made sure he took the fight out of the judges’ hands.
Diaz tore into “The Bully” with a ferocious barrage of punches until referee Yves Lavigne finally stepped in and called a halt to the bout 2:38 into round one. In a matter of a few minutes, Diaz went from a man in desperate need of a victory to a man who was perhaps a big win or two away from another lightweight title shot. While recent results may not suggest he is ready to tackle reigning champion Anthony Pettis, Diaz has long been one of the UFC’s most entertaining fighters -- his 11 post-fight bonuses are proof enough -- and that goes a long way towards determining one’s worth as a challenger.
The beating Diaz put on Maynard serves as a warning and reminder to the rest of the contenders at 155 pounds. He looked like the same street-hardened guy who dismantled Takanori Gomi, Donald Cerrone and Jim Miller in succession, earning a crack at then-champion Henderson. Diaz was as confident as ever and relentlessly pursued the finish once his perfectly timed left hand detonated on Maynard’s face. If Diaz continues to climb into the cage with that kind of fire, he will be extremely difficult for anyone to handle.
With that said, Maynard has seen his better days. He was at his best when he fought Frankie Edgar for lightweight gold in January 2011. However, Maynard has never been quite the same since exiting the Octagon after battling “The Answer” to a contentious draw and failing in his bid to become champion. He fought well in his rematch with Edgar nine months later, only to be knocked out by an accumulation of blows in the fourth round. Maynard then eked out a split decision over Clay Guida in an utterly forgettable matchup at UFC on FX 4 before being trounced by T.J. Grant in a little more than two minutes at UFC 160.
Now, Maynard must deal with being brutally finished by Diaz. Where the 34-year-old American Kickboxing Academy representative goes from here remains to be seen, though he is clearly not the same fighter who advanced to the upper reaches of the lightweight division with a 10-0 record.
As for Diaz, he was at his trash-talking best after his latest triumph, threatening all other lightweights -- Pettis included -- that he and longtime teammate Gilbert Melendez would be “beating all your asses” in the days ahead. Considering how badly he thrashed a quality opponent like Maynard, perhaps his brazen words were justified.
One thing is certain: the sport of MMA is far more entertaining when at least one of the Diaz Brothers is taking his opponents to the woodshed.
Follow Mike Sloan at www.twitter.com/mikesloan19.