Forget the corporatized dorky branded belt and title, Nate Diaz vs. Jorge Masvidal is a fantastic fight for the right reasons. Two counter-culture veterans with steely wills and chins and diverse arrays of weapons face-off with nothing but shared respect and a desire to win between them.
For fans and fighters (who are cutting weight right now) alike, Saturday (10 p.m. ET, PPV) can’t come soon enough. So let’s stroll through varying portions of this matchup as a way of previewing UFC 244’s main event between the Latino fighting superstars.
Both Diaz and Masvidal have excellent punching, and are comfortable leading the dance as well as countering. The 6-foot Diaz can fight tall and long but, as he showed in his most recent win over Anthony Pettis, he is also brutally effective striking on the inside, especially once he’s pinned his opponent against the cage wall.
Masvidal has experience fighting taller and longer opponents, like Darren Till, and seems to adjust well to them and finds the right range, eventually. The American Top Team member also counterpunches extremely well, in volume, when opponents get close to him.
Masvidal also could fight a bit longer himself by leading with kicks, as he often does. Diaz doesn’t check or catch kicks particularly well, and if Masvidal makes him react defensively to the kicks, “Gamebred” won’t necessarily be easily countered by straight punches.
Masvidal can kick with either leg and has a nice habit of firing off right punches after he’s thrown one of them, which mixes up the fight’s rhythm and makes countering his kicks with punches seem a bit more dangerous for opponents.
Diaz seems to feel comfortable lunging in with punches, which sometimes kind of mitigates his reach advantage a bit. The thing about Diaz, however, is that he’s one of the best submission grapplers in MMA, as well as one of the sport’s best strikers.
So, he gets away with his reaching and lunging a lot because he can absorb strikes and keep on fighting remarkably well, and because most opponents don’t want him near them where he can grab them.
To be sure, Masvidal won’t want Diaz on him in some dominant grappling position, either on the feet or on the ground, but he likely won’t fear it too much.
He fought confidently against Demian Maia, an even greater submission risk than Diaz, and he did so with a plan. He didn’t bite on Maia’s punch feints and didn’t punch all that often until the third round.
Masvidal won’t always simply back up the way many of Diaz’s opponents do when he lunges in because they’re overly wary of his clinch. If Masvidal stays in the pocket, unafraid of possible forthcoming clinches, Masvidal will connect with punch combinations on Diaz.
Because of his reaching, Diaz may very well be unbalanced when they connect, which could be a big problem for him.
Both fighters switch stances well, and often. They don’t just switch stances, they shift into them.
Masvidal goes back and forth subtly between stances and can use it to close distances, fast, while doing real damage with punches.
He did so to Till repeatedly, including his finishing sequence where he landed a straight left, switched stances and then landed more punches, ending in a different stance than he began in, and much closer to the longer Till than where he began.
Diaz also uses shifts to switch stances. Sometimes Diaz does it without much action following it, but he also shifted well into takedowns against Pettis.
Diaz is also comfortable using his left hand as either a cross from his Southpaw stance, or as a lead hook after he’s shifted.
Diaz can once again be formidable in the clinch against the cage with strikes as he was against Pettis. Masvidal’s footwork won’t make him easy to back up against the cage, however, and once he’s there he’ll still be difficult to take down, and he’s also a takedown threat of his own.
So long as Masvidal doesn’t fall right into a front headlock while taking Diaz down, he should do well on top of the Stockton soldier on the ground. If Masvidal does end up on his own back, however, he’ll be far from done.
He does a good job of finding time and space opportunities to get to deep-half guard type positions where he can roll back and forth and work get-ups and single-leg takedown attempts. Masvidal isn’t easy to pin and stays calm even while in trouble on the ground.
The same can be said of Diaz. He doesn’t always play such an urgent game with an emphasis of getting back to his feet as Masvidal and Maia do, though he is a big finishing threat off of his back.
There is no need to question either man’s conditioning in this scheduled five-round affair, but Masvidal somehow seems to be fighting a bit quicker on the feet at this stage of his career. If he is the “fresher” man, it very well could have a big impact on who comes out on top in this fight where both men are likely to absorb no small amount of punishment should it last longer than one round.