UFC 241 prediction: Nate Diaz has something to prove vs. Anthony Pettis

Kevin IoleCombat columnist
Yahoo Sports
Nate Diaz returns to the Octagon after nearly three years to face fellow welterweight Anthony Pettis at UFC 241 on Saturday in Anaheim, California. (Yahoo Sports illustration)
Nate Diaz returns to the Octagon after nearly three years to face fellow welterweight Anthony Pettis at UFC 241 on Saturday in Anaheim, California. (Yahoo Sports illustration)

Nate Diaz is 19-11 in his MMA career, but just 3-4 in bouts that were fought above lightweight. Competing at welterweight, Diaz defeated Conor McGregor by submission at UFC 196, Marcus Davis by submission at UFC 118 and Rory Markham by knockout at UFC 111.

The Markham fight was notable because Markham missed weight and was essentially a middleweight, coming in at 177.

On Saturday, Diaz will return to the Octagon for the first time in three years after a narrow split decision loss in a rematch with McGregor at UFC 202 to face former lightweight champion Anthony Pettis in the co-main event of UFC 241 at the Honda Center in Anaheim, California.

[Related: Diaz-Pettis welterweight grudge match preview, breakdown]

Does Diaz’s history at welterweight matter in this fight? Well, I’m guessing probably not. He’s got a .427 winning percentage at welterweight compared to .708 at lightweight or below, but there are so many variables involved that make that point moot.

First, Diaz hasn’t fought in three years. So cage rust figures to be an issue to a certain degree, but Diaz is a guy who just knows how to fight. It’s what he does, and who he is.

But he’s now 34, and he turned pro when he was 19. Though he’s still incredibly lithe, he’s grown and filled out and it’s probably hard for him to make 155 at this point.

The other issue is his opponent. Pettis has long since outgrown lightweight, and the muscles on his body he showed at his pre-fight open workout suggest he’s been spending a lot of time building it.

He’s much thicker in the chest, arms and shoulders.

The question is: Will that matter? And again, I think the answer is not much.

Pettis has an underrated ground game, but the ground game is Diaz’s strong point other than just being Nate Diaz. He has an aura about him, a supreme confidence, that has gotten into the heads of many opponents.

So many heavyweights who fought Fedor Emelianenko during his prime when he was in PRIDE spoke of the same thing. He was so calm and so stoic and nothing seemed to impact him.

Just a sneer and a hand gesture from Diaz has had an adverse impact on men who otherwise are among the toughest humans alive.

Diaz is great at four things: He’s a wizard on the ground. He has a punishing jab. He can take hits better than almost anyone, and he has a presence that pervades the Octagon and the area around it. Opponents know he’ll never be intimidated, he’ll never give up, and he’ll never show weakness.

Pettis has the more varied game and is clearly the better striker. But he has to be worried about a straight kickboxing match with Diaz, because Diaz lands that jab repeatedly and while it’s not a power punch in and of itself, he lands it so much that it eventually slows his opponent down.

Diaz, who competes in triathlons, usually doesn’t slow, and he pushes the tempo to get the finish.

Pettis will win if he can nullify Diaz’s jab and weaken Diaz with his kicks. Diaz will win if he’s able to pump that jab in Pettis’ face and throw him off his game.

Pettis is a slight favorite, but the pick here is Diaz by decision. It’s a risk picking a fighter who’s been off for three years, but if there is anyone other than Georges St-Pierre who could pull that off, it’s Diaz.

The Diaz-Pettis fight is my co-choice for Fight of the Night with the middleweight bout between Yoel Romero and Paulo Costa that will precede it in the cage.

Pettis is eminently capable of winning it, but it’s hard to bet against Diaz when he has something to prove. And no doubt, Diaz has much to prove. If he wants those bigger names and bigger fights he’s always seeking, he needs a win in this one and it says here that he gets it.

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