The early breakdown: Anderson Silva vs. Nick Diaz

Elias Cepeda
Anderson Silva [L] and Nick Diaz are set to fight in the UFC. Dana White says a title shot could be at stake. (MMA Weekly)

Anderson Silva and Nick Diaz are set to fight.

Anderson Silva [L] and Nick Diaz are set to fight in the UFC. Dana White says a title shot could be at stake. (MMA Weekly)

Now that the super fight between Nick Diaz and Anderson Silva is more than hopeful speculation and the two are officially signed to face one another in early 2015, it’s time to break down the fight.

In Nick Diaz we’ve got a former welterweight title challenger whose outsized toughness and personality make him a marquee fighter and in Silva, of course, we have perhaps the greatest mixed martial arts fighter of all time and long-time former middleweight title-holder. Below, we break down several key areas in the match up to come up with our best guess as to who will win on fight night.

Of course, they actually fight the fights for a reason – because anything can happen. So, take a look at our early analysis and then let us know how you see it going down.

The bigger man

Plain and simple, Anderson Silva is the much larger man. Though he’s spent the majority of his career weighing in at the 185 pound middleweight limit, Silva is said to walk around in between fights at somewhere near 230 pounds. Diaz may be a tall welterweight but his lean frame does not hold anywhere near that amount of mass.

Contrasting, yet similar styles

In one sense, the two fighters are polar opposites. Diaz’s base is in Brazilian Jiu Jitsu.

He’s a grappler. Silva, the Muay Thai fighter, is a master of using his eight limbs (legs, arms, shoulders and elbows) to dismantle opponents with striking.

In another sense, however, the two are quite similar in approach. Though Diaz loves to finish fights on the ground, he relishes that they start on the feet where he can use his accurate punches in high volume. In fact, the Cesar Gracie black belt often complains that many of his opponents attempt to wrestle him to the ground instead of standing and striking with him (OK, he always complains about that).

Will Nick Diaz (L) be able to taunt Anderson Silva and get inside his head? (Photo by Josh Hedges/Zuffa LLC/Zuffa LLC via Getty Images)
Will Nick Diaz (L) be able to taunt Anderson Silva and get inside his head? (Photo by Josh Hedges/Zuffa LLC/Zuffa LLC via Getty Images)

In Silva, Diaz will almost certainly have a willing striking partner. However, Silva has never been one to stand still and simply trade punches with his opponents.

Diaz may not have to worry about Silva trying to wrestle him (though it would certainly be a good idea for the larger Brazilian to use his excellent clinch skills and superior size to lean on, tire and ultimately hurt Diaz on the inside), but he will probably have to track down “The Spider” if he wants to exchange strikes with him. Similarly for Silva, he won’t have to worry about Diaz taking him down (though the Californian would gladly accept top position on the ground against Silva, he’s not likely to have the combination of wrestling and size to be able to do so) as Weidman, Chael Sonnen and Travis Lutter did.

Both men will likely have the type of fight they want to have.

A matter of technique

In Brazilian Jiu Jitsu, there’s black belts and then there’s black belts. Nick Diaz is a true master of submissions and possesses about as high a level of Jiu Jitsu as there is in MMA. Anderson Silva has deftly used submissions at the highest levels as well, and owns a black belt in BJJ, but he’s simply nowhere as good and comfortable on the ground as Diaz is.

So, if Diaz can somehow find himself on top of Silva, or if he were roughly the same size as the former champ, we might expect him to be likely to pull off a submission win. However, nothing we’ve seen from Diaz would lead us to believe that he has a good chance at taking Silva down.

Diaz’s wrestling take downs are not elite and he doesn’t have the size to simply muscle Silva down. Now if Diaz ends up on his back against Silva, the size disadvantage will really become pronounced.

Silva has some of the better ground striking in MMA and, though he may not be as good at BJJ as Diaz, the guy on top doesn’t have to be as good as the guy on bottom. Chances are, Diaz will have to fight Silva on the feet the entire time.

With that said, in striking there are strikers and then there are strikers.

No one strikes in volume like Nick Diaz (except for, perhaps, his brother Nate) and his combination of that pressure and accuracy of punches give him stopping power on his feet. However, Diaz’s striking attack is not diverse (basically, he only punches) and his striking defense is not on the same level as his offense.

Silva’s length, superior timing and masterfully diverse striking game are disorienting to opponents and it also includes one-strike KO power. The chances of Silva catching Diaz while making him miss would seem to be far greater than his own chance of getting caught, hurt and finished by the smaller, slower and less refined striker.

Intangibles: On fear, doubt and recovery time

How well Anderson Silva will be healed, physically, is an important unknown. He’ll need his leg healed and body fine-tuned not just to fight again but also to simply hold up during a long training camp.

At his age and with so much time out of the ring and training mat, how much is left of Silva’s legendary reaction time will be perhaps most crucial. Silva is largely a counter-striker who relies on superior timing and reflexes to beat opponents. Surely, Diaz will test his defense with his trademark punches in bunches.

Will Anderson Silva be mentally ready to fight after his horrible leg injury last year? (AP Photo/David Becker)
Will Anderson Silva be mentally ready to fight after his horrible leg injury last year? (AP Photo/David Becker)

The strategy and tactics Silva employs will likely also be important to his success against Diaz. Will Silva fight as he always has – taking huge risks and dropping his defenses in order to bait opponents into rushing in and making hasty mistakes? If he gets frustrated again (as he did against Weidman in both their fights), will he buckle down and stick to his solid fundamentals or will he try to rile up Diaz into making mistakes by trash-talking the trash-talker?

If Silva doesn’t lose sight of the fact that he’s the bigger, longer, more technically-sound and well-rounded fighter (at least on the feet), then he can probably take out Diaz. If not, who knows?

Another aspect of Silva’s mental preparedness may be crucial as well. The fighter recently admitted that he wasn’t yet throwing leg kicks in training because of the trauma he received the last time he threw one, against Weidman.

Fighters know that, after injuries, the last scars to fade are usually the psychological ones. Sure, Silva has to have better tactics and set up kicks with punches, instead of just winging them predictably as he did in his last bout against Weidman, but he’ll also need to have jettisoned his fear of throwing them altogether.

When Silva steps into the cage, will he be as confident as he ever was, or will he hesitate and doubt himself?

Doubt is natural, and sometimes it can be overcome. Sometimes, however, it provides you with just enough hesitation for your opponent to turn your lights out.

As for Diaz, his own time out of the ring (at the time of the Silva fight, it will be nearly two years since he’d last competed) is also a big question mark. Of course, Diaz could find himself rusty and more tentative and less sharp because of his time off.

On the other hand, Diaz has made it clear he’s enjoyed not getting “punched around” in training the past year and a half. It’s also possible that the benefits of his mind and body getting a well-needed rest could outweigh his rustiness.

Robbie Lawler, for example, literally took years off from sparring after all the damage he sustained as a member of Pat Militech’s rough neck squad. He continued fighting and got better and better, likely adding years to his career.

Perhaps the seemingly always weary Diaz will be refreshed physically and mentally against Silva. He’ll certainly need every advantage he can get against the middleweight.

Our pick

If Anderson Silva and Nick Diaz were roughly the same size, this could very well be a pick ‘em fight. As was said earlier, however, they are nowhere near the same size.

Anderson Silva may be aging, but his striking skills are more refined and varied than Diaz'. (MMA Weekly)
Anderson Silva may be aging, but his striking skills are more refined and varied than Diaz'. (MMA Weekly)

Silva is much bigger and, more than likely, much stronger than Diaz. As for all the possible psychological factors at play, we’re willing to bet that Silva will drive through any lingering fear and doubt in order to fight hard with all of his weapons.

His fear may even be enough to humble him and force him to fight conservatively, safely and most effectively against the dangerous and unpredictable Diaz. Diaz has a volume-puncher and submission wizard’s chance at all times but it won’t be easy to track and peg down Silva.

As such, we’re going with Silva by decision if the fight is a tentative and cautious affair or the Brazilian by late-ound TKO stoppage from strikes if the two are willing to engage. Who are you picking to win, and why?

Let us know in the comments section!

Follow Elias on Twitter @EliasCepeda & @YahooCagewriter

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