MMAFrenzy’s coverage of UFC 137 continues as we continue our preview of Saturday’s main card with our main event of the evening, former Strikeforce welterweight champion Nick Diaz versus former UFC welterweight and lightweight champion BJ Penn.
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BJ Penn vs. Nick Diaz
Keys for Penn (CL) - In many ways, these two fighters are just altered versions of each other. Both have a boxing and BJJ base and both have had a plethora of issues dealing with authority. Penn trained with Cesar Gracie years ago and still rolls in some times before fights. With that said, do not expect these two to not get after it Saturday.
A lot has been made about Diaz’s boxing and how it sets him apart from most fighters. The truth is that, in many ways, Diaz’s technical boxing has regressed as his aggression has increased. Diaz routinely does not protect his chin in an effort to overwhelm his opponents with volume rather than power and that can get you in trouble if you are not careful. I look back at the Paul Daley fight and it truly is shocking to me how poorly Daley utilized this. Rather than using crisp counters to Diaz, Daley loaded up and telegraphed his shots. Which played right into Diaz’s style with his quick hands. While Daley got his shots in and dropped Diaz a few times, his fear of being submitted kept him from following up too much. If I were Penn, I would have replayed that 5 minutes so many times that I would have it memorized.
Penn has strong boxing of his own and that will be a huge factor here. While Diaz is volume and reckless aggression, Penn utilizes a more surgical and powerful boxing attack that takes advantages of his opponents mistakes. A key for Penn is to protect yourself when Diaz swarms and then counter accordingly. The one thing Penn cannot do is just cover up, try to load up a power shot, and swing for the fences. That’s the mistake Daley made and Penn would be wise not repeat it. Too often people believe that you have to throw power shots to stifle an onslaught but the reality is that when a fighter is attacking you by swarming they are usually not protecting their chin. So a quick jab can disrupt their rhythm, which that is time you can fire that power shot. If Penn does this, his chances of winning increase exponentially.
On the ground, Penn is the more decorated BJJ fighter but with Diaz’s BJJ proficiency, that often leads to stalemates and fewer finishes (See Demian Maia vs. Jorge Santiago). That’s not to say that the ground game will not be a factor though. Penn’s former nemesis Frankie Edgar demonstrated in his fight with Gray Maynard that taking shots after a combination can be enough to get your opponent looking the wrong direction before you eventually feint the shot and attack with strikes instead. I think Penn could utilize this here against Diaz. Penn has shocked Jon Fitch when Penn went after takedowns on the former Boilermaker. While I do not think Penn will turn into GSP out there, a good double or single could be the difference in a fight this close on paper.
Finally, the last thing to address is that Penn has been fighting a much higher level of competition than Diaz for years now. Which can be a double-edged sword if Penn relies on that as an advantage. Diaz is always dangerous but everyone will learn how much of his recent success has been favorable matchmaking as opposed to increased skill.
Keys for Diaz (Bryan Robison) – All the strange and awkward pre-fight activities are over. The fight is finally here. After weeks of confusion, whether it be Georges St. Pierre fighting Nick Diaz or Carlos Condit, whether Diaz would be on this card or not, or whether Diaz and Penn would end up being five rounds, it is finally over. Now we can focus on what we always want to focus on, the fight.
However, that is seemingly as confusing as the pre-fight activity. This fight is a very tough puzzle to figure out. Penn trained with Cesar Gracie years ago, and Diaz has always admired him for that and for his style. Now the two must clash in the octagon, even though it is obvious these two never had plans on meeting inside the cage.
With Diaz, you have a premier boxer. While Penn’s boxing is certainly not a weakness, few can match up with Diaz in that department. He’s also a well established Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu practitioner. But hey, Penn is great at that as well.
Well, then we get to wrestling, something Diaz has never looked highly upon. He’s criticized St. Pierre for years for his style, and it is obvious he will never want to get into that kind of fight but Penn certainly does not mind if that happens. In his last fight, Penn surprised Fitch with multiple takedown attempts, and it worked. He can do the same with Diaz here.
With that strategy, Diaz is going to have to be on the lookout for Penn’s grappling. Diaz has a reach advantage, and he always uses that well.
As stated, Diaz’ boxing is now his forte, and that should be put to good use with Penn. Keeping him on the outside, and using his stunning combinations will be the key for Diaz. While it may not seem that Diaz has the quickest hands, he throws his punches in threes and fours, as opposed to ones and twos.
If it does go to the ground, both of them have excellent submission defense, but neither has utilized it in their last few fights. That pattern may continue on Saturday.
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