Matches to Make After Strikeforce ‘Diaz vs. Daley’

By Brian Knapp Apr 9, 2011
Nick Diaz (file photo) has won 10 fights in a row. |

Nick Diaz kept his submission skills in his back pocket.

The Strikeforce welterweight champion beat Paul Daley at his own game in the Strikeforce “Diaz vs. Daley” headliner on Saturday, as he put away the British striker with first-round blows in a memorable encounter at the Valley View Casino Center in San Diego. Daley met his demise with only three seconds remaining in round one, as he was stopped on strikes for the first time in 39 professional appearances.

A meeting with Daley’s widowmaker of a left hook left Diaz on all fours with a little more than a minute left in the first period, but the rugged Stockton, Calif., native made himself a moving target on the ground, weathered the punch and returned to his feet. There, he rushed and finished Daley with another one of his trademark volleys. Diaz has stopped nine of his 10 foes during his current winning streak, during which he has established himself as one of the world’s premier welterweights and one of the sport’s most entertaining gladiators.

A closer look at four matches we want to see after Strikeforce “Diaz vs. Daley” follows:

Nick Diaz vs. Tyron Woodley: Still raw and relatively unproven, Woodley poses perhaps the most difficult style matchup for Diaz. An NCAA All-American wrestler at the University of Missouri -- he teamed there with current Bellator Fighting Championships welterweight titleholder and 2008 Olympian Ben Askren -- he wields the kind of wrestling pedigree that has given Diaz pause in the past. Undefeated in eight professional starts, Woodley has positioned himself for a run at the belt at exactly the right time. Diaz has all but run out of potential suitors under the Strikeforce banner. Whether or not Woodley’s defenses could withstand Diaz’s spider bottom game remains a real concern, but one has to figure matchmakers will strike while this iron is hot. Woodley’s athleticism, speed and top-flight wrestling make for an intriguing matchup with the champion.

Gilbert Melendez vs. K.J. Noons: Melendez put together what will likely go down as the most complete performance of his career, as he dismantled respected Japanese veteran Tatsuya Kawajiri in the co-main event. His heavy right hand had the former Shooto champion on his heels from the start, and he never relented. Ultimately, Melendez made Kawajiri pay for a desperate takedown attempt, as he sprawled, punched and elbowed his way to a violent finish. It was as beautiful as it was brutal, and Melendez can now make a real case as the world’s top lightweight. Noons showed his fortitude in going five taxing rounds with Diaz at 170 pounds in October. At lightweight, he is a brute. Perhaps the purest striker in MMA, his quick, powerful and precise punches can change a fight in an instant. Couple those abilities with his ever-improving takedown defense, and he poses a significant threat to Melendez’s throne.

Gegard Mousasi vs. Dan Henderson: Minus takedowns, Mousasi controlled his fight with UFC veteran Keith Jardine from start to finish. However, an illegal first-round upkick from Mousasi cost him a point and resulted in a majority draw that was panned by many. Few are blessed with more natural ability than the former light heavyweight champion, who has competed at three different weight classes in the last two years. Mousasi owns a 17-1-1 mark in his past 19 outings. At 40, Henderson remains one of MMA’s elite competitors, and a return to the 205-pound division has breathed new life into the former two-division Pride Fighting Championships titleholder. Carving out an historic niche in the sport, Henderson added the Strikeforce light heavyweight crown to his resume in March, when he dethroned Rafael “Feijao” Cavalcante with his fabled right hand at the Nationwide Arena in Columbus, Ohio. No matter who comes next for the two-time Olympian, he will be difficult to knock off the mountaintop.

Shinya Aoki vs. Josh Thomson: Aoki’s second appearance on American soil went far better than his first. The Japanese submission ace capitalized on a major strategic blunder from Lyle Beerbohm and submitted “Fancy Pants” in a little more than a minute and a half. Despite a number of high-profile and embarrassing hiccups throughout his combat sports career, Aoki has long been established as one the world’s best at 155 pounds. The talented but oft-injured Thomson wields the kind of wrestling chops needed to keep a fight against Aoki standing and the kind of striking ability required to make him fold. Thomson, who turns 33 in September, has not fought since losing a unanimous decision to Kawajiri on New Year’s Eve in Japan. The American Kickboxing Academy representative, respected for years as one of the division’s scrappiest competitors, has never been submitted. That alone makes for an interesting storyline against Aoki.
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