Nick Diaz turned the tables on B.J. Penn at UFC 137. | AP Photo/Isaac Brekken
It was only six months ago when last we watched Nick Diaz turn a fight on its head, when the then-Strikeforce welterweight champion ripped into the midsection of challenger Paul Daley to defend his belt for the final time.
The surly, slow-starting son of Stockton, Calif., did it again on Saturday, reversing the momentum of B.J. Penn before laying a record-setting beatdown on the legendarily tough Hawaiian.
Diaz was never punched to the brink of consciousness in the main event of UFC 137 as he was by Daley, but the first round did find him in a precarious position. Only 90 seconds in, Penn took Diaz’s back during a scramble and drilled five hard right hands to his unprotected face while Diaz defended against Penn’s second hook. Diaz freed himself from the position and then from Penn’s side control, but back on the feet Penn peppered with punches to the body and face, landing 33 significant strikes to Diaz’s 20, according to data from FightMetric.com.
The start of the second brought more of the same, only now Diaz actively leaned into Penn’s combinations, even head-butting his glove at one point. Having damaged the scar tissue around Diaz’s eyes, the 32-year-old “Prodigy” drove for a single-leg takedown but was met by his opponent’s long sprawl and knees. Things went downhill for Penn from here, 90 seconds into round two, as Diaz noted at the postfight press conference.
“I had a lot of size on him,” said Diaz, officially listed at 6-foot to Penn’s 5-foot-9, with a six-inch reach advantage. “I think it took a lot out of him, that time I sprawled on him, and he wasn’t gonna do that anymore.”
Indeed, there were no further takedown tries from Penn, who seemed suddenly fatigued from the effort as Diaz dug into his ribs. Chasing his man around the perimeter of the cage, Diaz began to find a home for his jab on Penn’s left eye, which rapidly swelled from the shots. With 1:40 remaining, the tide turned for good as a Diaz left cracked Penn’s jaw and forced him to circle out. Diaz struck unrelentingly for the last portion of the round, bloodying the nose and mauling the body of Penn. Equally important was Diaz’s clinching and pressuring of the tiring Penn, who offered less and less offense in return as the round wore on.
“I think I could’ve got him out of there in the second round. That’s what I was going for,” Diaz said. “Maybe if I hadn’t tried to get him out of there in the second, I would have gotten him out of there in the third. But he started going on defense so he wouldn’t get finished in the third round.”
Penn did not begin the final frame on the defensive, though he quickly got there. The former two-division UFC champ came out striking and grabbed for a single-leg in the early going of round three, but Diaz’s masterful, nonstop combinations overwhelmed from every angle. While Penn did not go quietly, nearly doubling the 20 strikes he had connected with in round two, the onslaught of Diaz proved too much and the 28-year-old Cesar Gracie pupil walked away with a unanimous decision.
Later in the evening, Diaz repeatedly stated that he had trouble finding motivation to fight Penn, with whom he had previously trained, and that he was displeased with his preparation for the bout, a result of being unable to compensate pro boxers to train with. The statistics, as well as Penn’s face, told a different story. According to FightMetric.com, Diaz set a new UFC record for significant strikes landed in a fight with 178, while connecting with 257 of 436 strikes in total. Not bad for 15 minutes’ work which Diaz termed, in his typically sullen tone, “a poor performance.”