So I was inspired by nottheface sharing his fantasmagorical piece on Nick Diaz and his connection to very old boxing history here, thinking that maybe the good folks at BLH would have a different take on my analysis, being more hardcore boxing fans than many at BE. This is a piece about MMA, so if you don't have an interest, no hard feelings!
Acknowledgement: Non-click gifs from http://ironforgesiron.com/.
Here's what's funny. A few people are going to click on this fanpost, thinking it's going to be gloating about how great Nick Diaz is. Oh, the funny. There will be gloating, but it will be about my own prognosticative abilities. To wit:
Lining up a counter on Nick isn’t easy because of the distance he keeps. Either way, I could certainly see BJ being technical and hurting Nick early. I just don’t see him winning. The pressure Nick puts on opposing fighters standing is essentially the same as Fitch does grappling. I also wouldn’t say that Nick is a smaller WW anymore, he comfortably fought Scott Smith and Frank Shamrock at 180 and looked no smaller than either of them. He’s packed on muscle over the years.
A fighter with cardio problems is Nick Diaz’s dream come true. After a first round that’s all BJ, I see pitter-pat, body punch, pitter-pat, body punch; all day long..
The overwhelming support on Bloody Elbow for B.J. Penn over the weeks leading up to UFC 137 nearly had me convinced that he could pull it off and be the 2nd man to TKO Nick Diaz. In the end? Nick and BJ are exactly who we thought they were before the fight started, and it played out very close to how I imagined back in June.
That’s good on paper, but Nick isn’t your average brawler. Issues of reach, height and stance come into play. BJ’s jab isn’t going to work when Nick’s lead side is right in line with his. He may have trouble finding a home for his straight right when he’ll be at a 4 inch reach disadvantage and a 4 inch height disadvantage, especially since Diaz stands tall. Finally, the sheer volume Diaz throws with, while still maintaining better-than-you’d-think technique, is a big problem. To throw one good counter, you need to slip 3 or 4 Diaz punches. In doing so, you can catch Nick seriously open and hit him satisfyingly hard, but I don’t see BJ having the gas tank to do that continually. And if you’ve seen Diaz fight before, you know that one knockdown is never enough to finish him.
So what did Penn and Diaz show us? First, Nick surprised me at the start by coming out orthodox. This seemed a bad idea to me, given that by standing in his natural southpaw, Diaz would make it harder to BJ to land his best punch (the jab) with each fighter's lead hand aligned with his opponents'. By standing orthodox, Nick let BJ land his jab quite often, thereby nullifying Nick's reach and height advantage, and setting up his powerful right straight.
We can see how BJ's jab takes away Nick's ability to extend on punches when the clock reads 4:13, BJ's jab travels down the inside of Diaz's arm and causes the right straight to miss. BJ's head movement is also displayed here, at 4:18 and again at 4:09. In both cases he slips to the right, outside of Nick's left jab, putting him in position to counter and close distance with little to fear from Nick's right hand; it has to travel too far to reach him quickly.
BJ's outside slip of Nick's jab leads him perfectly into a single leg on Nick's left lead side. BJ used this head movement to set up punches as well, beginning literally 5 seconds into the fight.
It's clear that Penn is very comfortable standing through the first round. He's using precise head movement (without dropping his hands, KJ Noons) as both defense and a way to create opportunities for counterstriking, keeping the pressure on Nick and off himself by moving forward, staying technical rather than swinging for a KO, and mixing in punches to the body. Click to view:
Note: It doesn't matter that BJ misses here. His ability to turn defense into offense keeps Nick from swarming and aiming to the body makes Nick spread his defense out and be more thoughtful about his attack.
In short, while the 1st round lasted, BJ Penn implemented the perfect gameplan to beat Nick Diaz standing. Still, we saw a flash or two of what was to come in the 2nd. BJ started to stand in front of Nick just a little more in the final minute as his cardio started to go, and the southpaw stance started to give him trouble (click to view):
Here, BJ moves his head the wrong direction against a right jab, instead reflexively using the same rightward slip that worked so well against Nick's left jab. To make matters worse, once a jab or two bother him, he starts circling right, which is exactly the wrong way to go against Nick. BJ is at the end of Nick's long left straight with no opportunity to reset or counter, and he pays for it when Nick is able to line up a big stepping overhand right at the end of the gif.
Still, Nick stayed mostly in the orthodox, and BJ didn't look too winded at the end of the first. The real problem would come in the next round.
To start the second, Nick made two smart decisions (or maybe his corner did). First, having tasted BJ's power and not having been knocked down, Nick started starting in front of BJ. As in, right in front of him, blatantly inside punching range, daring BJ to swing at him and waste energy. He even goads BJ by headbutting a jab early into round 2.
Second, and this one comes a bit later, Diaz switches almost exclusively to southpaw. By standing so close with lead hands aligned (plus a large reach advantage), Diaz stuff BJ's jab before it's even thrown, negating much of his offense while at the same time forcing BJ to expend energy trying to get the pressure off. In my mind, the turning point comes at around 3:50 left in the second (click to view):
This is where DIaz starts to put things together, namely his pressure style and smothering reach advantage, at just the point where BJ starts to fade. As BJ exits the clinch above, it's clear from his body language that he's trying to reset, as he believes Nick is out of range. Nick surprises him with a long right jab (after showing him the left through the first) and tags him twice more. At the end of the gif, Nick does the same thing with his left hand, stepping in fearlessly while BJ is trying to mentally reset and keeping the pressure on. The sequence leads to BJ's first failed takedown of the night, which blows more energy and sets the tone for the rest of the round. From this point on, Diaz would never let up.
This is where Diaz does his best work, opponent against the fence and forced to circle counter-clockwise. BJ is still looking for a place to reset mentally as well as to catch his breath. At the same time, BJ circling towards Nick's power side gives Nick a fantastic angle for his right jab, left straight, and his best punch, the right hook. The right-handed punches in particular benefit not only from Nick's height and reach in that he can punch over top of BJ's jab, but that by circling away and to his right, BJ takes himself straight into the zone of full extension for that right hand and at the same time leaves his own jab falling short.
We can see that BJ is in full-on defensive mode by now. The combination he throws at the beginning of the gif is okay and works into giving him space to set up the jab, but Nick immediately resets his range; he's able to do that specifically because he's worked BJ into the fence while having the entire octagon at his back to work with. This makes Penn's long hook/jab miss, and Diaz immediately comes back with the pressure. For BJ, it's back to square 1: Back against the fence, unable to move his head, and forced to circle away without an opportunity to counter-attack.
Diaz is in total control here. BJ's hurt, gassed and busted up, unable to line up a good counter punch or even get space to breathe. Only the round ending saved BJ here. He would come back in round 3 with the one new thing we saw from either fighter on that night: a BJ Penn with heart.
BJ actually starts round 3 strong in contradiction to how he finished round 2 and most of the in-cage adversity he's faced throughout his career. In the gif below (clicky again), BJ starts off strong with a hard right to the body and a good jab a few seconds later.
BJ gets his jab working twice within the first 5 seconds of the opening round after having no success with it through most of round 2. Why is that? Certainly he comes out fresher after the round break, but there's more to it. In both instances, it's Nick's mistake more than BJ's skill that lets the jab land. Clicky gif again:
Both times Penn's jab goes directly over Nick's lowered right arm as a counter to a right hook. This is how the jab has to land against a tall and brawling southpaw to work. As a counter and over the top, it has enough snap to push Nick's head back and disrupt his accuracy, particularly evident in the second gif above. The fact is that BJ Penn, like any technical boxer, relies heavily on his jab to set up the rest of his game, both offense and defense. Another fact is that, unless Diaz makes the mistake of constantly dropping his right, BJ won't be landing that jab consistently. He lands these 2 because being fresh allows him to capitalize on a great timing instinct and land with enough snap to throw Nick's offense off. In addition, in the 2nd gif Nick is throwing a wild body shot with no set-up, uncharacteristic for him, which gives BJ the window to counter. As the round wears on, Nick makes less of these mistakes and sets up his body punches better while BJ starts to slow down and can't time Nick as easily. Check out a still of the awkward angle and extension BJ has to get to in order to land the counter jab in the 1st gif above:
Without the advantage of a counter punch? That jab has no chance. Once Diaz extends his lead hand and covers BJ, he can easily avoid the jab following inside his right arm by leaning back just a little. Less than a minute in, he's made the adjustment already. Click:
For the rest of the round, BJ shows amazing heart and resiliency, firing back consistently but missing lots of punches and absorbing many more. He continues to mostly miss with his jab and occasionally switches to a left hook, which is a good option against a southpaw, but simply too hard to land over the lead shoulder of a taller fighter. The straight right, also great against a southpaw, also falls short most of the time without a jab setup or Diaz leaning in, because of the difference in reach. Despite landing some good shots and occasionally having success, Diaz's physical advantages of height, reach, and cardio, combined with his boxing prowess, lead to a lot of the same as the 2nd round.
So there we have it. BJ Penn with cardio and able to land his jab in the first round scored easily on Nick Diaz, but faded fast and was thrown off his game when the jab was taken away. Diaz's pressure and switch to southpaw, whether by design or accident, were timed brilliantly to coincide exactly when BJ was beginning to falter, when he was least able to make adjustments. Fighting on instinct when he was tired led to technical mistakes, and the possible end of BJ's career. Great performance from both men.
Now can Georges St. Pierre please read at least one of these posts so that someone can stop that jackass Diaz from doing what he always f#&king does?
Hope you guys enjoyed the breakdowns, and that your bandwidth isn't dead. Check back in a week or so on bloodyelbow, I'll be breaking down some of the striking game of a fighter that I feel almost the exact opposite about as compared with Mr. Diaz: Cung Le.