December 8 has been a date circled on my calendar for a long time now.
Top-to-bottom we have an exciting card for the Ultimate Fighting Championship’s fifth offering on the FOX network but none more enticing than a potential 25 minutes of Benson Henderson and Nate Diaz locked inside a cage with the chaos that could ensue on national television in front of millions of potential new eyeballs.
An added layer on intrigue stems from both 155-pound stars having something to prove despite distinguishing themselves as the cream of the crop in the talent-stacked lightweight logjam.
Diaz, the challenger for the lightweight title, is looking to get out of the shadow of his older brother and former Strikeforce Welterweight Champion, Nick Diaz.
By the time Nate made his professional debut, Nick was already in the UFC’s 170-pound ranks with over ten fights to his credit. As time went on and Nick continued to pile up accolades and have success, Nate was more known for being the brother to Nick than his own achievements.
In the past year, Nate has done a lot to change that. Returning to his natural weight of 155-pounds last September, the younger Diaz brother has looked unstoppable in rag-dolling former Pride lightweight king Takanori Gomi, putting a whole-body beat-down on Donald Cerrone and slapping a nasty guillotine-choke on Jim Miller.
Diaz isn’t the only one with a lot to prove though. Henderson might be the UFC lightweight kingpin but he has his detractors questioning whether he deserves to carry around the championship gold.
The final event for WEC, Zuffa’s original sister organization, was supposed to be the biggest fight in the career of Henderson as he defended his lightweight crown for the second time before joining the UFC and unifying both championships.
As plans will be, plans will go awry. After a hard-fought fight which was razor-thin, Anthony Pettis leapt off the side of the WEC’s blue cage to slam Henderson in the face with his naked size-twelve to take the final frame and carry all of his momentum into the big-show.
The MMA Lab product joined the UFC four months later and since then has done nothing but win including back-to-back defeats of Frankie Edgar that caused a major ruckus among fans and media alike. But having never finished an opponent inside the Octagon he needs that defining victory to cement his status as an all-time great lightweight titlist.
Most are going to look at me like I have two heads when I say this but on the feet there isn’t a large advantage for Diaz like most suspect.
Diaz has amazing boxing chops. It’s a thing of beauty to watch him putting his combinations together once he finds his range, especially as he did against Cerrone. It wasn’t Cowboy’s first rodeo but the Stockton, California native battered him for the entire fight with an entire-body attack.
The tool that I suspect will be a huge asset for Henderson will be his leg kicks. He has big and powerful legs attached to the bottom-half of his torso and Nate has struggled with an active leg kicking defense in the past.
Not to mention, after spending the better part of 50 minutes going toe-to-toe with Frankie Edgar, he has proven his worth as a high-level striker with an unusual Taekwondo-based offense mixing it up with an array of punches, kicks and knees.
The biggest game-changer in this fight though is the wrestling pedigree of Henderson. The former NAIA All-American wrestler for Dana College in Blair, Nebraska uses his large 190-pound frame to bully around his opponents in the wrestling department and I see no reason why he couldn’t take Diaz down at will.
Since joining the UFC he has used his take down game against Frankie Edgar, Jim Miller, Clay Guida and Mark Bocek, all of which are more seasoned wrestlers than the 209 resident.
Both Diaz brothers have struggled with powerhouse wrestlers in the past but something I’ve noticed with them in recent times is their unwillingness to stay there. In years past, Nate would stay on his back and throw up 6000 unsuccessful triangles and an occasional double-bird. Instead he is making a conscious effort to get back to his feet because working on his back doesn’t impress the three judges sitting cage-side that determine his fate if the fight reaches the final buzzer.
In my opinion, as a lover of jiu-jitsu and exciting submission grapplers, the most interesting part of this bout would be if we traded holds on the playground known as the Octagon canvass.
While Henderson only has a brown-belt in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu and Diaz has a black-belt under Cesar Gracie, don’t mistake him for a slouch on the mat. Henderson can handle himself in the grappling department and most importantly, might be impossible to choke at this point of the game.
Before someone gets on their high horse and sends me a video of him being caught in a rear-naked-choke by Anthony Njokuani of all people, I know it happened. But after evading 14 submissions already in his UFC career from some well-versed grapplers, Henderson and his un-submittable limbs make him a tough task on the mats.
If anyone is up for that challenger though, it might be Diaz with over a decade of jiu-jitsu in his back pocket and 11 submission victories to his credit.
Both fighters have a realistic chance of walking out of the Key Arena in Seattle, Washington with the ten-pounds of championship gold around their waist but only one can prove their worth as the absolute best at 155-pounds.
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