MMA: Nate Diaz

Five fantasy, non-title "superfights"

July, 31, 2014
Jul 31
7:20
AM ET
Okamoto By Brett Okamoto
ESPN.com
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The Anderson Silva-Nick Diaz "superfight" is 185 days away.

That should be enough time to determine whether we’re actually going to call it a "superfight" to begin with. We’ve spent years talking about potential superfights in the UFC, but did we ever actually define what they were? We didn't, did we?

Whatever: Superfight status or not, Silva versus Diaz is something you want to watch if you’re a fight fan. Their personalities go a long way in that, but it’s also a fight that just feels different.

At a time when the UFC sometimes airs two cards in one day, different is welcomed.

It's definitely not your average UFC pay-per-view main event. There is no title involved, nor are there any recent wins involved. Both are 0-2 in their respective last two fights.

But this is a matchup that doesn't really care. The stakes feel high, although they’re hard to define. Maybe superfights don’t need UFC titles involved.

In the spirit of this matchup, here are five non-title "superfights" we could all get into. Will any actually happen? Probably not. But that's actually fitting. If there is one attribute about a "superfight" we know of, it's that they rarely come together.

No. 5 -- Nate Diaz versus Matt Brown, welterweight
Right? I mean, right? What if the UFC had announced, "Diaz versus Brown," and when you got to the fight poster it was a picture of Nate? How many pieces would your mind blow into? After Brown lost to Lawler, there was no better opponent for him than Diaz, but he was destined for Silva. How about his younger brother fight Brown instead? We already admitted none of these fights are likely going to happen, but now that this one is out there, I really want it.

No. 4 -- Glover Teixeira versus Junior dos Santos, heavyweight
So many bungalows would be thrown. Both guys don’t go down easy, but they put guys down easily. The exchanges would be nuts. If one of them switched gears and went for a takedown, it would be Teixeira -- but him taking dos Santos down is doubtful. So, what we’re looking at here is a guaranteed stand-up between JdS and Teixeira. Let that marinate for a minute.

No. 3 -- Urijah Faber versus Frankie Edgar, featherweight
Bump Faber back up to featherweight (although a teammate fight between him and Dillashaw would be a good time, too). This one writes itself. The prefight barbs would be as cordial as it gets, but the skill level in the cage would be off the charts. I’d rather see this fight over Faber vs. Masanori Kanehara.

No. 2 -- Anthony Johnson versus Alistair Overeem, heavyweight
Former teammates -- sort of. No one at the Blackzilians camp seems too broken up about Overeem’s decision to bail earlier this year. Johnson said he has no “beef” with Overeem but claims he was never part of the team. This all sounds like something we could exploit and magnify by placing the two in the same room with cameras and microphones for several weeks.

No. 1 -- Conor McGregor versus Donald Cerrone, lightweight
In Dublin. Cerrone would somehow commandeer a Bud Light party submarine for him and his buddies so he could still make a “road trip” out of it. Would Cerrone smile at the weigh-in and carry that carefree aura we’ve seen lately? Or might this kind of moment bring out the Cerrone that screamed expletives after knocking out Charles Oliveira in 2011 or who ran over Jamie Varner in a grudge match in 2010? Both of these guys are down to fight whomever, whenever. McGregor is a big 145.

Maynard in favor of half-point scoring

November, 29, 2013
11/29/13
2:07
PM ET
Okamoto By Brett Okamoto
ESPN.com
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LAS VEGAS -- When it comes to scoring controversies in Las Vegas, UFC lightweight Gray Maynard knows a thing or two.

Maynard (11-2-1), who fights Nate Diaz this weekend at The Ultimate Fighter Finale inside Mandalay Bay Events Center, came as close as one can get to winning a UFC title when he fought then-champion Frankie Edgar to a draw in January 2011.

Judges selected by the Nevada State Athletic Commission that night scored the bout 48-46 for Edgar, 48-46 for Maynard and a 47-47 draw. Edgar retained the belt and went on to defeat Maynard in a rematch nine months later.

Even before the draw with Edgar, Maynard said he has believed mixed martial arts needs to alter the way it scores fights -- and a half-point system would do that.

"If they did half-points, it would be better for the sport," Maynard told ESPN.com. "It's always 10-9, 10-9, 10-9. There's no way to add in that 'this guy did more in that last round.' The half-points would help choose who won the fight."

In the first round of that 2011 title bout, Maynard appeared to be on the verge of a finish when he knocked Edgar down multiple times with punches.

All three judges gave Maynard a 10-8 score in the first round. Some argued that if that dominant of a round was 10-8, then a 10-7 round doesn't really exist.

Edgar went on to recover, somewhat miraculously, between the first and second rounds. On one judge's card he won each of the next four rounds, thus the fight. Those rounds Edgar won were much closer than the one-sided first.

Under a half-point system, it's possible that one or two close rounds scored for Edgar would have rendered 10-9.5 scores, therefore altering the final result.

A similar situation occurred earlier this month in Las Vegas during a welterweight title fight between Georges St-Pierre and Johny Hendricks at UFC 167. St-Pierre retained his title via split decision.

[+] EnlargeMaynard
Donald Miralle/Getty ImagesGray Maynard believes a switch to a half-point scoring system might have helped him win a UFC title in his second bout with Frankie Edgar.
The result basically came down to how each judge scored a close first round. Two scored it for St-Pierre 10-9, the same score Hendricks would receive for a far more dominant effort in the following round. Had the half-point system been used, Hendricks would have likely won unanimously.

In Maynard's opinion, the scoring of these types of fights isn't ruining the sport (a concern voiced by UFC president Dana White at UFC 167), but it demonstrates athletic commissions' unwillingness to evolve with the sport.

"The scoring system isn't ruining the sport, but it's not helping it grow," Maynard said. "There has been a lot of talk about judging, and you have to take that into account and evolve. The sport changes every year, every month, every day. That change has to happen with the scoring as well."

Several athletic commissions have tested the half-point system through trial runs, although a committee ultimately advised the Association of Boxing Commissions against its use in 2012. The system has its fair share of detractors, including White.

Obviously, Maynard has history to consider when it comes to his stance. The 34-year-old lightweight, whose fight with Diaz on Saturday could very well go to a close decision as it did in 2010, said if commissions don't change the scoring system, they should at least clarify more what they're scoring in a fight.

"It's just kind of hard to tell what they want," Maynard said. "There are a couple that look at the points, that look at damage as points. Some don't look at the ground game at all.

"I don't know. That's the question. What do they want, what do they look at, how will they score it?"

Lightweight contenders and pretenders

May, 29, 2013
5/29/13
7:19
PM ET
Okamoto By Brett Okamoto
ESPN.com
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The UFC lightweight division is the deep end of the pool. It’s nondebatable.

According to the new ESPN.com rankings, a well-rounded talent like Jim Miller no longer cracks the Top 10. Same for Nate Diaz -- and he fought for the title six months ago. Athletic knockout artist Melvin Guillard is facing potential unemployment.

With as loaded as the division is, it’s pretty unbelievable Benson Henderson has already tied BJ Penn's record for all-time wins in a UFC lightweight title fight. Breaking that record in his next fight against TJ Grant is far from a given.

In 2011, I wrote a similar column to this, laying out the qualities it would take to beat Frankie Edgar. I ultimately said Henderson was the guy. I feel about 75 percent correct today. Edgar won that rematch, but you know. Spilled milk.

Question now is, who beats Henderson -- if anyone? Here are the lightweight contenders and pretenders, revisited.

The best of the rest: Mark Bocek, Guillard, Joe Lauzon, Miller, Ross Pearson.

These guys deserve to be in the conversation, but stars would really have to align for them to go all the way. Miller is terrific, but the evidence is there: When he runs into big, athletic lightweights he can’t push around, he struggles. I’d love to see him take his style to the featherweight division, which could use a mean, durable, bearded former lightweight willing to wear a farmer’s tan around. But Miller has long resisted the idea. We know Guillard is good for a handful of knockouts and an equal number of face palms Pearson could still develop, but he’s been beaten at his own game twice in his past five fights. Never a good sign.

That somebody that you used to know: Nate Diaz

Someone should probably stage an intervention for Diaz. Going back to his title fight against Henderson in December (not that long ago!), Diaz has tanked in back-to-back fights, talked about a return to welterweight (makes sense, given his vulnerability to bigger, stronger opponents) and been suspended for using a gay slur in a tweet (which he then said he wasn’t sorry about). How confident are you right now the Diazes aren’t at least thinking about a future WAR MMA card headlined by Nate? Not very, right?

The fantasy keeper league: Edson Barboza, Rafael Dos Anjos, Rustam Khabilov, Jorge Masvidal, Khabib Nurmagomedov

Every one of these guys is under 30 years old. Say you set up a fantasy keeper MMA league, where wins are worth one point and title wins are worth three. What order are you drafting these guys in? Tough call.

Barboza, Khabilov and Nurmagomedov are the Andrew Luck, Robert Griffin III and Russell Wilson of the UFC lightweights. Of the three, there’s something I really like about Khabilov. Even without the first-round finishes, you can just tell this guy does everything well and he’s on opponents from start to finish. Barboza has made that weird jump from slightly overrated to underrated, thanks to a TKO loss to Jamie Varner. It seemed like everybody wanted to talk about this guy, despite the fact he barely, barely squeaked by Anthony Njokuani and Ross Pearson. Now, I don’t think we’re talking about him enough. It’s tough to pick a future champion in this very young group, but I like Khabilov’s chances the best, then probably Barboza.

The head case: Donald Cerrone

It’s possible nobody beats Cerrone when it comes to looking awesome in a win and then fairly terrible in a loss. Cerrone referenced a sports psychologist after his latest win over KJ Noons -- if you’re unaware, that’s been going on for a while now. When he’s on, he’s similar to other Greg Jackson fighters Jon Jones and Cub Swanson. He mixes it up, he reacts, he doesn’t think. Other times, it’s like he’s trying to solve for “x” out there and he seizes up.

At this point, I admit I’m skeptical of Cerrone ever holding the belt. He doesn’t fight particularly well in the big moments and quite frankly, he’s never been that guy who expresses a burning desire to be a champion anyway. Worth mentioning though, I thought he beat Henderson at WEC 43 in 2009. As far as controversial Henderson decisions go, that’s right up there.

The threats: Grant, Pat Healy, Gray Maynard, Gilbert Melendez, Josh Thomson

These guys are somewhat close to a title shot (with the exemption of Maynard, but I’m not willing to count him out). Thomson is going to make a lot of noise. He’s not afraid to ask for things right now because at 34, his window at a title is smaller than it used to be. Melendez will be around. He’s well-rounded, consistent, mentally tough and we know he can go five rounds, let alone three. I like Grant a lot. He’s got the power to hurt Henderson and change the fight. As good as Healy is, and I like the welterweight-to-lightweight move right now, he’s not quite as good as Grant, so if Grant falls to Henderson, it’d be tough to pick Healy over him. Interesting that these are some of the bigger guys at 155. Did small ball pack up and leave with Edgar?

The future champ: Anthony Pettis

What just happened? Pettis had been waiting around for a title shot forever. For various reasons, mostly Edgar rematches, it never happened.

So in a move to speed up his title hopes, he called Dana White and asked to drop to 145. He fights Jose Aldo on Aug. 3. It’s possible (not official) Henderson will defend the lightweight title against Grant 14 days later in Boston on Aug. 17. So basically, Pettis agreed to drop to a weight class he’s never fought in to earn a title shot just two weeks sooner, and the UFC signed off on it. Seems like we all could have handled that better.

Anyway, win or lose, I don’t think Pettis is long for 145 pounds. He has always seen 155 as his division and he’s confident he has Henderson’s number. I’ve always believed Henderson’s claim he got caught up in the moment of the last WEC fight ever and strayed from his game plan against Pettis. I think that’s real. I just don’t think it matters. Even if Henderson goes into a rematch with a strategy more reliant on his size and pressure, Pettis beats him. Bold prediction time: Pettis is your UFC lightweight champion at some point in the next 12-18 months.

Melendez: 'This is my coming-out party'

April, 19, 2013
4/19/13
2:17
PM ET
Gross By Josh Gross
ESPN.com
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SAN FRANCISCO -- Gilbert Melendez’s long, winding ride to the UFC concludes Saturday, not so far from where it began.

The 31-year-old Californian, a Strikeforce lightweight champion and longtime resident of top-10 lists, enters the Octagon for the first time against Benson Henderson -- making him a rare rookie title challenger inside an arena that played host to some of his greatest moments as a professional mixed martial artist. All of this will be taking place an hour’s drive from where Melendez was introduced to the sport, on a whim, while wrestling at San Francisco State.

"It doesn't hurt that the Octagon is going to be in the HP Pavilion, where I've been plenty of times,” Melendez said. “So in some ways it's unfamiliar but in some ways it's so familiar.”

This could very well describe Melendez’s presence in MMA since 2002.

Compiling one of the most impressive outside-the-UFC résumés of any fighter in the sport, Melendez (21-2) fought at 143 pounds in Japan at a time when that meant something. Moving up to 155, “El Nino” dominated a strong contingent of contenders in Japan and the U.S. There isn’t a man he fought whom he didn’t defeat. Yet on the verge of his UFC debut -- a scenario he heavily though begrudgingly campaigned for in recent years -- Melendez is of the opinion that his numerous accomplishments don’t matter.

"This is the UFC. I'm 0-0 here,” Melendez said. “This is my coming-out party. Am I a certified fighter or not? Am I a joke or not? I could have a bad day and people would still think I'm a joke. I could lose and they'll think I'm a joke. But I have to win.

“I've stepped into rings. I've stepped in places where you can stomp on peoples’ faces and knee them in the head [on the floor]. I've been to other countries and other states with different rules. This is a different size cage, different rules, different organization, different title. So, yeah, I'm definitely walking in as a challenger."

The opportunity comes at the right time. Melendez readily admits he reached a plateau in Strikeforce, a promotion that couldn’t provide him with the kind of challenges he wanted, especially after Zuffa took control of the company in 2011.

"The politics behind Strikeforce, Showtime and UFC played with his head quite a bit,” said Gilbert Melendez Sr., a strong presence since the beginning of his son’s career.

Melendez got away with simply showing up in shape because it was his sense he was better than everyone he fought. “It hindered me not because of the talent of the people I fought, but the motivation,” he said. So his desire to improve waned as he struggled mentally with not being where he wanted to be. Among other reactions, frustration set in.

“You're Strikeforce champ, you can't be like, 'Hey, I don't want to be here anymore,' " said Jake Shields, who introduced Melendez to MMA and was similarly a Strikeforce champion before fleeing for the UFC when his contract was up. “He was getting paid, so he was happy in that sense but you could just see he didn't have any motivation. His training camps were suffering. I could see it.”

Rather than improving as a fighter, save taking the time to heal a nagging back injury, Melendez spent his days focused on his personal life, which included a fiancée, Keri Anne Taylor, and a baby girl. Melendez also opened an expansive gym in San Francisco’s warehouse district, not far from AT&T Park, where a full training camp was spent preparing for gifted UFC champion “Smooth” Henderson (18-2).

"He's on beast mode. He's ready to go,” said Nate Diaz, Melendez’s teammate and younger brother-in-arms. “I don't think there's anyone better than Gilbert in the lightweight division. This is his time.”

Diaz was the last member of Melendez’s crew to get a crack at a UFC belt, falling to Henderson on points in December.

"The thing with Gilbert is he really steps his game up for competition,” Diaz said. “When he's set to win, he wins. He does even better in fights than he does in training most of the time, and right now he's unstoppable in training. I think Henderson has his hands full."

All told, the Cesar Gracie jiu-jitsu team is 0-5 in UFC title contests -- a fact Melendez is keenly aware of but not consumed by. Their experience was built from the ground up, a distinctly Bay Area crew that molded itself into one of MMA’s most respected teams. All of that is undeniable and powerful should Melendez choose to call upon on it, though he knows on fight night, it’ll be just him and Henderson alone in the Octagon.

"Benson's a mixed martial artist,” Melendez said. “A lot of guys are Muay Thai guys that fight MMA. Or wrestlers that fight MMA. He uses all his tools. He's a good striker, good grappler, great submissions -- but he shines when he puts it all together. I'm also that guy, though. I'm not just a striker. I'm not just a wrestler. I'm not just a grappler. I'm an MMA fighter. I think we match up pretty evenly when it comes to that. He has some pretty good kicks but I think my hands are a lot better. Wrestling and grappling will be interesting.

“I've been thinking about this a long time. You want the respect. You want to brand yourself. You want to be be ranked. You want all that, but it's easy to put it aside. It doesn't matter: I got the opportunity.”

Johny Hendricks, odd man out (again)?

April, 19, 2013
4/19/13
5:34
AM ET
Okamoto By Brett Okamoto
ESPN.com
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SAN JOSE, Calif. -- Cover your ears, Johny Hendricks.

UFC president Dana White told reporters on Thursday he’ll talk to welterweight champion Georges St-Pierre soon. The two haven’t spoken since St-Pierre recorded his eighth consecutive title defense over Nick Diaz at UFC 158 last month.

Expectations have been that St-Pierre (24-4) would face Hendricks (15-1) later this year, but White said that bout would go on hold should St-Pierre express interest in a long-anticipated, lucrative superfight with middleweight champ Anderson Silva.

“I am literally going to call Georges St-Pierre today and see what he wants to do,” White said.

“If Georges says to me, ‘I want to fight Anderson Silva,’ you think I’m going to go, ‘No, you’re not. You’re fighting Johny Hendricks’?”

Silva (33-4) is scheduled to defend his 185-pound title against Chris Weidman at UFC 162 in July. In yet another superfight wrinkle, light heavyweight champion Jon Jones will defend his title against Chael Sonnen at UFC 159 next week in Newark.

White said he’s interested in any fight that involves two of the three champions, saying if both St-Pierre and Jones wanted Silva, “that’s a good problem to have.”

Hendricks would be the clear loser if St-Pierre opts to fight Silva next. The former collegiate wrestler is on a six-fight win streak and was already leapfrogged earlier this year by Diaz, who was coming off a drug suspension.

White said St-Pierre would not vacate the 170-pound title if he took the Silva fight, meaning Hendricks would have to wait or accept another fight.

“If [St-Pierre] lost, he could still go back down and fight Hendricks for the title.”

Mitrione fined, suspended -- but forgiven

UFC heavyweight Matt Mitrione has been fined an undisclosed amount and remains suspended for comments made last week regarding transgender fighter Fallon Fox.

The UFC quickly suspended Mitrione following an appearance on “The MMA Hour,” where he referred to Fox as a “freak.” Fox is scheduled for her third pro fight in May.

Mitrione (6-2), who defeated Philip De Fries via first-round knockout earlier this month, spoke with UFC president Dana White following the incident and took responsibility for his actions -- but there is no timetable for his return.

“It’s up to us,” White said regarding Mitrione’s suspension. “I’m not mad at Mitrione. He did something stupid. He knows he didn’t handle it the right way.

“I’m sure he wants to know [when he’ll fight again]. We’ll let him know when we decide. He was fined, too. Enough to make him call me three times.”

• A Brazilian fan attacked UFC light heavyweight Chael Sonnen during an event last weekend in Las Vegas, according to White.

Sonnen, who challenges Jon Jones for the 205-pound title next week at UFC 159, was in Las Vegas to attend "The Ultimate Fighter" finale at Mandalay Bay Events Center. According to White, he was involved in a minor scuffle during the show.

“I don’t know if any of you guys saw this, but he was there shaking hands with fans and one guy says, ‘Chael! Chael!” White said. “Chael goes over there and the guy started swinging at him, trying to punch him. The guy goes, ‘I’m from Brazil!'”

Sonnen (27-12-1) was involved in a heated rivalry with Brazilian middleweight champ Anderson Silva from 2010 to 2012. He went 0-2 in two fights against him.

• Whether his teammate claims the UFC lightweight title on Saturday or not, Nate Diaz says he’s moving back to 170 pounds.

Diaz (16-8) meets lightweight Josh Thomson on Saturday. His teammate, Gilbert Melendez, will look to dethrone champion Ben Henderson in the night’s main event.

Regardless of the outcome of either fight, Diaz says he intends to move back to welterweight, where he compiled a 2-2 record from 2010 to 2011.

“I already fought everybody at lightweight,” Diaz said. “I don’t think there is anything for me in the lightweight division. I already beat everybody or fought everybody. The only person who beat me was Ben. What, I’m going to sit around and fight all the same guys again? That’s boring. There’s no motivation in that.”

• Strikeforce Heavyweight Grand Prix winner Daniel Cormier still wants to fight UFC light heavyweight champion Jon Jones -- just maybe not as soon as he once thought.

Cormier (11-1) faces arguably the biggest challenge of his career on Saturday as he takes on former UFC heavyweight champion Frank Mir in the night’s co-main event.

The former U.S. Olympic wrestler has been quietly shedding weight for a potential trip to the 205-pound division. Cormier’s teammate, Cain Velasquez, currently holds the UFC heavyweight title.

Cormier has publicly expressed interest in fighting Jones previously, but now says he’d probably want a test fight at 205 pounds first. The 34-year-old experienced kidney failure while cutting weight in 2008 but is confident he can make 205.

“At first, I was so emotionally tied to [fighting Jones],” Cormier said. “I’ve thought about it, and I wouldn’t be opposed to fighting one time down there just to see how my body reacts to the weight cut. It would be very difficult to fight him in my first fight, a five-round fight.

“What if I get in a fight and I can’t do anything but wrestle because my arms are tired and my body isn’t responding to the weight cut? I don’t want that guy to be Jon Jones. Seriously, can you imagine standing in with him and not feeling your best?”

UFC on Fox 7 by the numbers

April, 16, 2013
4/16/13
3:17
PM ET
By Andrew R. Davis
ESPN Stats & Information
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UFC on Fox 7 will air on free network television from the HP Pavilion in San Jose, Calif., Saturday night. In the main event, UFC Lightweight Champion Benson Henderson will defend his title against the debuting #1 contender Gilbert Melendez, who was the final Strikeforce lightweight champion. In the co-main events, Strikeforce Heavyweight Grand Prix winner Daniel Cormier will face former UFC heavyweight champion Frank Mir and Nate Diaz faces another UFC debutant in former Strikeforce lightweight champion Josh Thomson. Here are the numbers you need to know for Saturday’s fights:

6: UFC decisions to start his career for Henderson, second among active UFC fighters behind flyweight champion Demetrious Johnson. Henderson is the only fighter to start his UFC career with at least five consecutive decisions won.

Most UFC Decisions to Start Career, Active Fighters
Demetrious Johnson 7
Benson Henderson 6*
Diego Nunes 6
Nam Phan 6
*Won all decisions

10: Consecutive title fights for Melendez, who held the Strikeforce title from April 2009 to January 2013 when the organization was dissolved into the UFC. Melendez won four fights by decision and three by KO/TKO. His notable wins include rival Josh Thomson (twice) and DREAM lightweight champion Shinya Aoki.

11: Wins by KO or TKO for Melendez, four under the Strikeforce banner. Henderson has been knocked down three times in his UFC/WEC career, most notably the jumping kick off the cage from Anthony Pettis at WEC 53.

9: This will be the ninth time Melendez will fight inside the HP Pavilion, the proverbial stomping grounds of Strikeforce. He is 7-1 in previous fights at the “Shark Tank,” losing the Strikeforce lightweight championship to Thomson in 2008.

21: Takedowns for Henderson in six UFC fights (3.5 per fight). Melendez has a 71 percent takedown defense but allowed a combined 13 takedowns in his two career losses (seven to Mitsuhiro Ishida, six to Thomson).

3.6: Strikes landed per minute by Melendez. During his seven-fight win streak, Melendez has outstruck his opponents 482-272 (plus-210) in significant strikes. Henderson absorbs 1.5 significant strikes per minute and only 30 in his last win over Melendez teammate Nate Diaz.

8: Mir has an eight-inch reach advantage over Cormier (79 inches to 71). That’s nothing new to Cormier, as he’s beaten Antonio Silva (82), Devin Cole (79.5) and Josh Barnett (78).

6: All six of Mir’s career losses have come by way of KO or TKO. The former UFC heavyweight champion has never lost back-to-back fights in his career. Seven of Cormier’s 11 career wins have come via strikes (five KO/TKO, two submissions due to strikes).

8: Submission wins by Mir inside the UFC Octagon, tied for second most all time. Cormier has faced only one submission attempt in his Strikeforce career (Barnett).

Most UFC Wins by Submission
Royce Gracie 11
Frank Mir 8
Nate Diaz 8
Kenny Florian 8

3: This is Mir’s first camp with Jackson’s MMA in Albuquerque, N.M. If he wins, Mir would be the third UFC heavyweight from Jackson’s to win in this calendar year, joining Shawn Jordan (UFC on Fox 6) and Travis Browne (TUF 17 finale).

5: Of his eight submission wins inside the UFC Octagon, five have earned Nate Diaz a UFC submission of the night bonus (second all time). Thomson has never been submitted in 25 professional fights and also has nine submission victories of his own (four in Strikeforce).

Most Submission of the Night Bonuses
Joe Lauzon 6
Nate Diaz 5
Terry Etim 4

208: Diaz landed 30 significant strikes in his title fight against Benson Henderson, 208 fewer than his victory over Donald Cerrone in two fewer rounds. Thomson will be tough to hit as well; he absorbs 1.8 strikes per minute, but did absorb 3.0 per minute in his last loss to Melendez.

No shortcuts on Bendo's road to greatness

April, 16, 2013
4/16/13
6:41
AM ET
McNeil By Franklin McNeil
ESPN.com
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HendersonRon Chenoy/US PresswireDespite all his success, UFC champion Benson Henderson feels there's still room for growth.
Benson Henderson didn’t begin preparing for his showdown Saturday night with Gilbert Melendez a few months ago, when the UFC officially announced the fight.

That process started six years ago, when Henderson trained for the first time in mixed martial arts. It was at that moment that he took the initial step toward achieving his ultimate goal: of one day being recognized as the greatest mixed martial artist ever.

In every training session, Henderson visualized himself competing and winning fights. Sometimes he’d put a face on his imaginary foe. On a few occasions, the foe would be Melendez.

And in every one of those imaginary battles, Henderson would walk away victorious.

Although Henderson was just a wannabe mixed martial artist at the time, he never doubted that, with extra hard work, his goal could be achieved. Then he turned pro and racked up a few wins, and the visions of defeating future opponents, including Melendez -- a guy who was already manhandling some of the sport’s top fighters -- became more pronounced.

So when Henderson steps inside the Octagon to defend his UFC lightweight title Saturday night in San Jose, Calif., against Melendez -- the former Strikeforce lightweight champion -- he's sure to recall the many hours spent getting ready for this moment and those visions of having his hand raised afterward. He can take solace in knowing that his years of preparation for this battle serve as the great equalizer. Those years of training for this bout will play a part in lessening Melendez’s distinct experience edge.

Melendez began his professional career in 2002, four years before Henderson participated in his first MMA training session.

“I was in college watching him fight in Japan,” 29-year-old Henderson told ESPN.com. “I wasn’t even fighting then. He has so much more experience than me. I have so much more room to grow.

I was in college watching him fight in Japan. I wasn't even fighting then. He has so much more experience than me. I have so much more room to grow.

-- Benson Henderson, on Gilbert Melendez's experience as a mixed martial artist

“When you look at my career, I’ve only been fighting for [a little more than] six years. Gilbert Melendez has 20,000 hours of boxing practice. I have maybe 10,000 hours of boxing practice. I’m OK now. But I’m nowhere near as good as I will be three years from now, four years from now, five years from now.”

Stylewise, there isn’t much that separates Henderson and Melendez. They are similar in many ways. Each possesses a strong wrestling foundation. Both are aggressive fighters who pack power in their hands and legs.

There is, however, the perception that their careers are heading in different directions. Henderson admits he is still in the learning stages. He is far from his fighting peak.

“I’m just getting started,” Henderson said recently.

It could be argued that Melendez, 31, is in his prime. He’s pretty damn good, but has had his share of very violent battles. His fight with Henderson is expected to be the latest in a long line of brutal encounters.

They are sure to leave one another battered and bruised because neither is a backward-step type of guy. In a matchup like this, between two very aggressive, hard-nosed combatants, something has to give.

When the smoke clears Saturday night, one fighter will have paid a hefty price. This is the kind of bout fans are likely to remember for many years -- the type Henderson craves.

It fits right into his master plan of one day being recognized as the greatest mixed martial artist ever. But if Henderson is to accomplish this goal, he must defeat the likes of Melendez. There can be no setback; claiming to have an off night won’t cut it.

Come up short Saturday night to Melendez and the possibility of one day being classified the greatest ever gets greatly diminished.

With so much at stake, Henderson isn’t looking past Melendez. The road to greatness, where there are no shortcuts, doesn’t allow him that luxury. It’s always going to be: defeat this great opponent, then the next and the next.

Melendez represents the current hurdle, albeit one that has been visible for many years. This isn’t just another title fight for Henderson, however -- none is, at this point; it’s the latest block that’s necessary to build his legacy of greatness.

“There is a much bigger picture,” Henderson said. “Too often people forget about the bigger picture and focus on the little things. And they forget about the bigger picture, the master plan.”

Henderson never removes his eyes from the big picture. His destiny is at stake each time he steps in the cage, and Saturday night is no different. He vows not to stumble; he’s had more than enough time to get ready for this showdown.

“Life is like a roller coaster, you’ll have ups and downs,” said Henderson, the former WEC champion who works diligently to never again taste defeat in a title fight. “Every time I step into the Octagon, I want to be fully prepared as a champion emotionally, spiritually, physically.

“I’m fighting Gilbert Melendez on Saturday night. I’ve been preparing six years for this.”

Nick Diaz showed up and talked

March, 14, 2013
3/14/13
6:31
PM ET
Mindenhall By Chuck Mindenhall
ESPN.com
Archive

MONTREAL -- The big news was that Nick Diaz showed up. Believe it or not, this was a concern after the challenger skipped Wednesday’s open workouts in Montreal. And after, you know, his history of sort of not showing up.

“Well it was either I miss that, or I miss this, but I was going to have to catch up on some sleep,” he explained right off the bat at the press conference to promote his title fight against Georges St-Pierre. His flight from Northern California touched down in Quebec at midnight Tuesday evening. Wednesday was no good for him, but by Thursday, he was at last refreshed and ready to talk.

And talk he did. Diaz careened off into subject matter that ranged from sweating out toxic water, to his outdated likeness on the UFC 158 promo posters, to point deductions being handed out for stalling and holding guys down (some psychology aimed at St-Pierre), to the UFC selling wolf tickets (“they’re selling you all wolf tickets and you people are eating them right up”).
Snake oil was never mentioned. But had it have been, it would have fit right in. “Diazisms” were a dime a dozen. St-Pierre, whose own distaste for press conferences and the redundancy of the questions was barely contained, fired back once in a while. But most questions were directed at Diaz and Dana White, who was looking down at him with a red, muted face as if to interject (or destroy him via telepathy).

Meanwhile, Carlos Condit, Jake Ellenberger and Nate Marquardt, all on the card and present, never said a word. Marquardt smiled and chuckled along with the media. Ellenberger might as well have had laryngitis. As for Condit, he did roll his eyes at one point when Diaz went off on yet another tangent.

Actually, hey, let me get out the way and post a couple of those tangential highlights. My thoughts follow in italics.


“I would like to put out the best image I could. To be honest with you I think a lot of times they make me out to be the evil guy. I fit the description of the evil villain. I think Georges fits the description of a good guy. I mean, look at my poster. No offense, but [the UFC] has had plenty of time to switch my poster. That picture of me is from years ago. Can I get one buttered up, photoshop picture on a poster?”

It’s true. The poster features a younger Nick Diaz, who is mean-mugging more than entirely necessary. Come to think of it, he has a legitimate beef here.

–- “Georges likes to say I remind him of the bullies that picked on him growing up. How many times did you have a gun to your head, Georges? How many times has somebody put a gun to your head? How many of your best friends have been shot through the chest with a .45? How many of your friends have been stomped and put to sleep in a coma? How many kids put gum in your hair?”

He reiterated a form of this in an ESPN interview. The guess here is GSP can count on one hand how many times he’s had gum put in his hair.

–- “Georges here is selling wolf tickets. Dana here is selling wolf tickets. The UFC is selling you some wolf tickets. You guys are eating them right up.”

Wolf tickets are now out-hashtagging GSP’s dark place on Twitter.

Meanwhile, White, who curtailed some of the “antagonism” headed Diaz’s way and had a semi-heated moment with MMA Fighting’s Ariel Helwani, did a good job of reminding everyone of why we were here.

“All the stuff that leads up to this thing, all the selling of wolf tickets, all the things that happen leads up to this fight -- there is going to be a fight Saturday night.”

Condit done with being cautious


There was a moment at UFC 154 when it looked like Condit was going to break the heart of Montreal when he rocked St-Pierre. It was only for about 90 seconds or so of a 25-minute fight, but it was enough to bring him to a realization: Should he get that rematch with St-Pierre, he’ll go for broke.

“In [the St-Pierre fight], I think I hesitated,” he told ESPN.com. “Sometimes I was a little bit gun shy. I just need to go back to letting it all hang out, leaving everything in the cage, and really just focusing on what I bring to the table as opposed to training for the other guy’s strengths.”

When asked if he can let it all hang out against a smasher like Johny Hendricks, who has an anvil for a left hand, Condit thought about it for a quick second before answering.

“I can, but I just have to be smart,” he said.

Potluck

ESPN’s Brett Okamoto asked Diaz if he changed anything in his use of medical marijuana after what happened last time (when he tested positive for metabolites in Nevada, and was suspended for a year).

“I think I tested for metabolite, or nanogram, or something,” he said. “I just did a little more than I did last time, so sorry if I don’t pass the test -- but I think it should work out. I’ve passed plenty of them before, unless they just weren’t testing me. I wonder how much they test people around here.”

Then he shot St-Pierre a strong, insinuating glance. What does it all mean? Not even remotely sure. But “it should work out” didn’t exactly come off like reassurance to the boss who was standing right next to him.

(White mentioned later in the media scrum that, should Diaz test positive for marijuana again, he would “probably” be cut).

Brotherly gloves

Diaz’s younger brother Nate, who will be in Nick’s corner on Saturday night, was at the press conference and speaking to media. Somebody brought up the incestuous matchmaking methods of the Canadian promotion MFC, which recently booked a fight between brothers Thomas and Mike Treadwell.

Since we all know Nate Diaz is a “Diaz brother” and not just Nick’s brother, he was asked about his thoughts on that.

“That kind of makes me sick, when you think about it. Guys fighting each other, and they’re brothers? They’re a bunch of idiots as far as I’m concerned. It’s ridiculous. Do they even know each other?”

Diaz reveals an image-conscious side

March, 13, 2013
3/13/13
7:08
AM ET
Gross By Josh Gross
ESPN.com
Archive


Descending into the rabbit hole that is Nick Diaz.

Last week's all-time terrific conference call featuring Diaz and UFC welterweight champion Georges St-Pierre ahead of Saturday's title fight in Montreal was revealing in many ways.

It opened a window, at least one I hadn't had a chance to peer into before.

I had no sense prior to Diaz’s back-and-forth with St-Pierre that the man coveted anything more than good times with his friends, the space to live as he pleased, the chance to be a martial artist, and the opportunity to fight -- because for the past 12 years as a pro he made it a point to express just how little anything else meant to him.

Choose your path. Walk it. What comes, comes. That’s what Diaz did.

In some ways that has yielded tremendous success. Take the title shot with St-Pierre. Fans had an expectation to see him fight GSP, and Zuffa is in business to capitalize off of stuff like that. No problem. He may not “deserve it” in the sporting definition of the phrase, not coming off a loss against Carlos Condit. And certainly not in place of Johny Hendricks. But he scored the fight because he developed a following over the years for exciting action and unpredictability.

Yet, the unpredictability that produced Diaz’s counter-culture following also ensured endorsement deals and the like won’t come his way. Even if he beats St-Pierre to claim the title, it’s hard to imagine that changes. Opportunities in and out of the sport have been limited solely by him. That fact has prompted many of Diaz’s fans, other fighters, his promoters and even his closest allies to call into question his ability to think and act in the ways society expects people in his position to think and act. Which is totally fine. Everyone has the right to self-determination. Attitudes, however, have consequences.

"Nobody knows who I am,” Diaz lamented during the teleconference. “I mean, I guess, everybody does, but as far as like your mainstream magazines and your Nike, adidas and all your good stuff, I'm left out of that.”

Whose fault is that?

I can say I've tried to get some access to him and cover him more closely since joining ESPN, only to be turned down by his trainer Cesar Gracie, who said he did so after asking his fighter. Outside of the veteran trainer, who also was highly influential over Nate Diaz, Gilbert Melendez and Jake Shields to name a few, Diaz never had use for handlers, or public relations people, or a social media marketing campaign, or anything that coincides with brand building. And, ironically enough, that became his brand. He only had his hands, which were balled up in fists or assembled in such a way as to send a pointed message.
[+] EnlargeNick Diaz
Kari Hubert/Zuffa LLC/Getty ImagesNick Diaz' penchant for rubbing people the wrong way hasn't exactly attracted a legion of sponsors.

Now the man is ogling recognition and red carpets and pampering? Now he wants everything that requires consistently diligent work and, dare I say it, playing the game? I believe that’s what he said, though sometimes it can be difficult to decipher, and he’s prone to contradictions. Well, that’s not how life normally works, especially not when reputations are hardened like bunkers.

“I'd like to be known as someone who kept it real … I just don't like that I'm made out to be this evil person that needs to be down or you know, that needs to be like conquered,” Diaz said.

Fair enough. Diaz isn’t remotely evil or ill-intentioned. He's said to be a great friend to the people who know him that way. But he has been controversial and, at times, socially odd and a major pain for people who would like to rely on him.

Some fans love Diaz for being this way. His rants against fighters with painted toenails and Las Vegas and the people it attracts are infamous. The fakers, the lowlifes, the people who refuse to remain who they are in the face of celebrity and the like. Those are things he has slammed -- the anti-“fake” part of him he alluded to last week.

Less and less these days people seem willing to sacrifice money, or fame, or celebrity for keeping it real. Diaz was that guy. Perhaps as he approaches 30, that’s changing. MMA has come to accept that Diaz doesn’t give a damn, mostly because he led us to believe that’s how he preferred it.

Last week’s window into his soul somehow suggested otherwise.

Nick Diaz, image-conscious kid from the streets of Stockton, Calif. That’ll take some getting used to.

What the future holds for Diego Sanchez

March, 5, 2013
3/05/13
2:47
PM ET
Okamoto By Brett Okamoto
ESPN.com
Archive
Takanori Gomi and Diego SanchezSusumu Nagao for ESPNDiego Sanchez, left, outlasted Takanori Gomi by split decision in a successful return to 155 pounds.
In case you missed it: Diego Sanchez returned to the cage last weekend.

He missed weight in his first attempt to cut to 155 since 2009. He edged Takanori Gomi via split decision, looking just OK in the process (ESPN.com writer Josh Gross graded Sanchez's performance a C+, which sounds right). Then he called out Nate Diaz.

So, what is there to really take from Sanchez's return? Does Diaz make sense next?

Sanchez (24-5) is an interesting subject, especially when viewing him through a matchmaker's eye. Fans love him. He's one of the originals; a cast member of the first season of "The Ultimate Fighter." He's given us five fight of the nights, some spectacular UFC walkouts and the single greatest moment of any MMA Awards show to date.

In terms of being an elite fighter at this point in his career, that's up for debate. He's 3-1 in his last four, but is he a title contender? Respectfully, no. He's only 31, but hasn't always taken the best care of his body. He gets hit often. He's too small for the welterweight division and too slow for the best lightweights.

Seeing him take on Diaz (whether Diaz defeats Josh Thomson in April or not), I have to say, doesn't excite me too much. Sanchez made a good sell. The fight would deliver action (although, likely one-sided action) and it was a smart move to bring up the win he earned over Nate's older brother in 2005.

My problem is we can pretty much guess the outcome of that fight. Kind of like how we could somewhat guess the outcome of this fight against Gomi. Regardless of who won, we knew the two were evenly matched. We knew neither one is really a title contender. We didn't learn much.

To me, the best way to look at Sanchez now is this: Let's say you've found yourself a good walking stick, but you want to test out its strength before hiking through the mountains with it. So, you go ahead and bash that stick against a rock a few times.

In this scenario, Sanchez is the rock. He's a tough, durable, stationery object. You get a prospect you think is good, but you're not quite sure yet and you bash him against Sanchez. And I'm not saying make him a stepping stone to bolster a younger fighter's career, because I still believe Sanchez wins his share of those fights.

Here are several opponents I'd rather see Sanchez fight next, over Diaz: Edson Barboza, Michael Chiesa, Daron Cruickshank, Tony Ferguson, Khabib Nurmagomedov.

It's probably not a popular list. Generally, fans like to see two guys they're familiar with. If the UFC truly needs to cut close to half the lightweights on its roster though, I'd rather see Sanchez test these guys (and himself) than get lit up by Diaz, who holds such a stylistic advantage over him.

Miller expecting fun fight with Lauzon

December, 28, 2012
12/28/12
2:28
PM ET
Mindenhall By Chuck Mindenhall
ESPN.com
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LAS VEGAS -- It's been a long 2012 for Jim Miller, who lost to Nate Diaz in May and was resolved to the idea that he would have to wait to fight again until 2013.

But as has been the case all year with the UFC, one man's misfortune becomes another man's opportunity. Gray Maynard, who was expected to fight Joe Lauzon at UFC 155, had to drop out with a knee injury. Enter Miller, who'd been in a holding pattern since Cinco de Mayo.

That's a long time to contemplate tapping for the first time in a seven-year career to a guillotine choke.

Must have been a difficult seven months, right?

"For me it's actually pretty easy," Miller told ESPN.com. "I know what I'm capable of. I know that I could have beat either of those guys that beat me on that night had things gone my way. I've had to deal with other things in the past that were out of my control, and you gain a sense of maturity with that, and I know when that door closes it's just me and my opponent. A lot can go right, and a lot can go wrong. I'm just looking to fight to my abilities."

It's not like Miller's recent skid was against slouches, either. He lost a title eliminator to eventual champion Benson Henderson while suffering from a kidney infection and mononucleosis. That decision snapped a seven-fight winning streak. His loss to Diaz in a big headlining spot stung, but sandwiched in between was a submission victory over Melvin Guillard.

In other words, a fairly normal stretch by any other fighter's standards is a novel experience for Miller. Losing isn't something he's used to (his only other losses in seven years are to Frankie Edgar and Maynard). And then again, neither is waiting around.

Maybe that's why Miller says he's "fired up and giddy" heading into Saturday's bout with Lauzon. Being giddy is something you don't loosely associate with a blue-collar grinder like New Jersey's Miller. But the prospect of facing Lauzon, who takes home more end-of-the-night bonus money than everybody not named Anderson Silva, is a fun temptation.

"[Lauzon's] a very aggressive fighter, and he comes forward," Miller said. "He's obviously very dangerous with his strikes, and he hits hard. So [for me] it's just fight clean, and not give him those opportunities to do what he excels at. I'm good in the scrambles myself. It's kind of just not getting going too much where he might pull out and advantage, but do what I am good at doing, and just take the fight to him. He's very aggressive, and he's always attacking. I try to do the same things when the fight hits the mat."

As for Lauzon's ability to capitalize on mistakes?

"It's different than most guys because most guys have that little voice that says 'I might end up in a bad spot.' But [Lauzon] really doesn't care about that, because he's going to string another sub off of it," Miller said. "So it's difficult, and you've got to be careful, and if you're worried about a triangle the next thing you know you're in an armbar type of deal, and also every time you attack you leave yourself open for counters and passes and that kind of stuff. I just got to be sharp, let it all go and have some fun in there."

The "fun" Miller's forecasting extends to his coach, Mike Constantino, who can't help noticing the similarities in the styles.

"Lauzon likes to set things up with speed and accuracy from the scramble -- but I constantly instill the guys with scramble ability, and winning the scramble. And as you know with Jim's fights, he's a scrambler-based, too," Constantino said. "I just think this thing's going to be like a dust-up -- like a cartoon -- all over the cage.

"I agree with what Joe has been saying, that the first one to make a mistake will obviously lose, but somebody might graze somebody with a strike to set up the submission and that could be the difference in the fight."

So a frenetically paced fight that will be contested on virtual eggshells, with the first one to make a mistake losing? For a competitor like Miller, the opportunity was too good to pass up, and giddiness comes with the territory.

Ben Henderson-Nate Diaz by the numbers

December, 6, 2012
12/06/12
6:15
AM ET
By Michael Landigan
ESPN Stats & Information Group
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Fireworks are sure to fly Saturday at KeyArena in Seattle when UFC lightweight champion Benson Henderson defends his title against Nate Diaz. Here is a look inside the numbers for the UFC on Fox main event:

6 -- Inches in reach advantage for Diaz (76 to 70). Diaz is 3-0 since dropping back down to 155 pounds, where he has used his reach advantage and unorthodox boxing style to outclass Takanori Gomi, Donald Cerrone and Jim Miller on the feet. After landing only 62 significant strikes combined in back-to-back unanimous decision losses to welterweights Dong Hyun Kim and Rory MacDonald, Diaz landed a UFC-record 238 significant strikes in his classic stand-up battle with Cerrone at UFC 141. Henderson hasn’t fought with a definitive reach disadvantage since his unanimous decision victory over Mark Bocek at UFC 129.

48 -- Percentage of takedowns Henderson has completed, as well as the percentage of takedowns Diaz has defended. A former two-time NAIA All-American wrestler, Henderson might look for the takedown early if the reach of Diaz becomes a problem. Henderson’s preference was to keep the fight standing in his two close decisions over fellow wrestler Frankie Edgar, but he completed a combined 10 of 11 takedowns in unanimous decision victories over Bocek and Miller. Diaz does have a history of being controlled on the ground as all five of his UFC losses have come at the hands of high-level grapplers. After being taken down a combined 10 times in losses to Kim and MacDonald, Diaz was put on his back only once in five attempts by Miller.

20 -- Number of submission attempts by Diaz, eighth most in UFC history. If Henderson does choose to bring the fight to the ground, he must be wary of the high-level Brazilian jiu-jitsu skills of Diaz. Eight of Diaz’s 11 UFC wins have come via submission, most of any active UFC fighter. His guillotine finish of Miller at UFC on Fox 3 in May was the first time Miller had been submitted in 25 professional fights. Finishing Henderson will be no easy task, however, as the lightweight champ has not been submitted since his third career fight back in 2007. Henderson has made a habit of escaping deep submission attempts in his rise to prominence but would be wise not to test those Houdini skills against the Cesar Gracie black belt.

19:00 -- Henderson’s average UFC fight time, longest in UFC history (minimum five fights). Henderson has been criticized for his inability to finish a UFC opponent, as he has not tasted victory via knockout or submission since catching Cerrone in a guillotine back at WEC 48. The streak figures to be difficult to end against Diaz, whose armbar loss to Hermes Franca in 2006 remains the only time he has been finished in 23 professional fights. Both fighters also have never been knocked out in their careers, increasing the probability that, no matter who emerges with the belt, the bout is likely to go distance.

Statistical support provided by FightMetric

Diaz fighting for more than family name

December, 5, 2012
12/05/12
3:38
PM ET
Gross By Josh Gross
ESPN.com
Archive
From Jake Shields to Gilbert Melendez to Nick Diaz, Cesar Gracie has groomed popular mixed martial arts champions, though never a UFC king.

That will change Saturday if Nate Diaz topples lightweight champion Benson Henderson at UFC on Fox 5 in Seattle to win his first professional belt.

"My whole team has been champions somewhere down the line," Diaz said during a conference call last week. "Maybe it's my turn to represent for my team."

If so, it would mark the culmination of something few people thought possible until recently.

"Here's Nate without those titles," Gracie said. "It would be huge for him to get the most prestigious belt of all."

Huge … well, of course. A win for Diaz, who at 27 remains the "kid" of the group, represents the crowning achievement for a contingent of fighters who literally became men together at Gracie's academy in Concord, Calif.

Gracie met Nick Diaz and Nate Diaz 13 years ago, when elder brother Nick forced his baby brother to go to the gym and train. At Gracie's they were treated the same as everyone else, which is to say they weren't treated any way at all.

"You've got to remember, there's always a lot of kids going into an academy," Gracie said. "You don't really differentiate anybody and don't think anything of it. They have to differentiate themselves.

"They have to stand up by staying the course. We'll get a lot of guys and I'll fully expect not to see them five years later. We didn't give Nate any special attention or anything like that. It was sink or swim, and he swam."

Minnows swim, too, they just won't scare other fish. In time -- despite his tall and skinny build, despite his brother's looming shadow and despite a dearth of wrestling in his game -- Nate, like the guys around him, grew dangerous in predatorily deep waters. That's how it was, because that was their world.

Shields and the elder Diaz scrapped all the time -- iron sharpening iron and such. They shared designs on becoming MMA champions and propelling the team forward, which in the early days included putting Nate, who wasn't yet old enough to drive, heads-up with Melendez, a college wrestler.

Nate was mostly pushed around in the beginning, "but he was as squirmy and tenacious as always," Melendez said. "Just a lot of fight in him. No one can last three five-minute rounds with Nate or three five-minute rounds with me in the training room, but we can do it with each other. And we'd battle each other a lot like that."

Ahead of Diaz's contest with Henderson, Melendez described his close friend as "tough to handle," keenly aware of what's happening in a fight, prone to filling opponents full of anxiety while maintaining his sanity, and "10 times more tactical now" than he was a couple years ago.

"I think Nate totally looks up to Nick's style and learned from him the way I learned from Jake," said the Strikeforce lightweight champion. "We're pretty much students of big bros."

From white belts to black belts, from aspiring fighters to top-ranked champions, Melendez described the camp as "more than a team."

[+] EnlargeNate Diaz
Ed Mulholland for ESPN.comNate Diaz, left, looks to become the first fighter from Cesar Gracie's camp to win a UFC title.
"I've been to other gyms and saw people throw hissy fits, throwing headgear and going on rants," he said. "That's never it for us. Nothing like that. Believe it or not, we beat the crap out of each other sometimes, and afterwards we just brainstorm how to make each other better and we go out and have some food. It's been really good."

Riding a three-bout winning streak at 155 after a stint at welterweight, the younger Diaz has never looked better -- or bigger, a benefit of moving up in weight and all that eating. Forged out of gym fights, street fights and brotherly fights, Henderson's challenger mimics a thrilling style by combining accurate volume punching with an active guard and potent submission game.

"He doesn't only copy Nick," Shields said, though the brotherly effect on Nate's game is unmistakable. "Nate does train with different people and has that influence. When I spar Nick and spar Nate, I definitely see a lot of the same stuff, but different techniques as well."

Diaz is especially useful with range and reach, and he can catch anyone on a hip toss. He'll need the full scope of his skills to upend Henderson, who comes into Saturday's contest the bigger, stronger, faster, more athletic man.

On the surface, that's trouble. Diaz has a reputation for struggling against larger grapplers, especially those intent on going to the judges.

However, since winning Season 5 of "The Ultimate Fighter," eclipsing his 25th birthday, and returning to 155 from 170, the kid doesn't come off like one anymore.

"A hilarious journey," Melendez called it. More importantly, he hasn't self-destructed like his 29-year-old brother, whose costly run-ins with promoters, fellow fighters, state athletic commissions and media are well-documented.

As an example: Nate, the current No. 1 lightweight contender, despises interviews, probably more than anyone alive, Shields said. Yet at last week’s media call, he proved capable of showing up.

"I'm sure he's learned a few things here and there,” Melendez said. "He'll play the game and I think he's serious about winning the title.

"He makes his own choices. His big brother helps him a lot, but he's still his own man."

Matt Brown eyes fight-of-the-night bonus

December, 3, 2012
12/03/12
11:48
AM ET
Mindenhall By Chuck Mindenhall
ESPN.com
Archive
Matt Brown is the protagonist in an adventure tale that’s still being told. His is a story with so many highs and lows, so many ebbs and flows that he can describe for you the gutter (in sincere detail) while sketching a general idea of the penthouse (his very own silo, maybe).

The plot is a continuously rolling thing that boils down to the essence of all human drama -- just stay alive. Only his story intersects with the fight game.

Toward the end of 2011, Brown lost a fight to Seth Baczynski, his fourth loss in five UFC bouts. All of the losses were of the submission variety. For a guy who’d already overcome so much in life -- addiction, overdosing on heroin, losing his father, a stint on “The Ultimate Fighter 7” -- it looked as if Brown was perhaps mortal after all.

But you don’t get a nickname like “The Immortal” unless you are ruthlessly resilient. To the UFC’s credit, it did not cut the Ohio native Brown, a blue-collar scrapper in the welterweight division. Instead, it threw him in the Octagon with another TUF alum in Chris Cope, and that was the beginning of Brown’s latest resurrection. He’s won all three of his bouts this year heading into his Dec. 8 fight with a similarly resilient Mike Swick.

From life on the bubble to an inspirational tale is heartwarming stuff, right? Not if you’ve never been into tidy Hallmark sentiments.

“I don’t really think about it,” Brown told ESPN.com. “I’ve learned just [to] take it one fight at a time, to not worry about the past or the future, and just worry about what you’ve got to do today to be the best you can.”

A boring, staid statement like that in the hands of other men might test your immune system toward clichés.

But Brown is sincere. If you’ve listened to him talk at any point in his four years in the UFC, you know that he doesn’t get too high on the highs, nor too low on the lows. It truly is a “one foot in front of the other” proposition. He’s not eyeing the 170-pound belt, because he doesn’t do horizons. He doesn’t do animosity, trash talk or social media eavesdropping, either. In fact, between training with Robert Drysdale and Mark Meacher out in Las Vegas and his camp back in Ohio, he barely kept up with what was going on with the outside world.

For example, asked how it felt to hear the recently victorious John Hathaway calling out the winner of the match between him and Swick -- to be in a position where guys are trying to get to him, rather than the other way around -- Brown suppressed a yawn.

“I don’t care. I don’t pay attention to that stuff,” he says. Then it dawned on him, and he added: “I thought [Hathaway] and Matt Riddle had a little beef or something? I thought he was going to end up fighting Riddle.”

In other words, Dan Hardy (who had the beef with Riddle) and Hathaway are interchangeable to a guy who doesn’t put much thought into anything other than what’s in front of him. And right now that’s a nationally televised bout with Swick, who came back from a stomach ailment that sidelined him for 2½ years to knock out DaMarques Johnson in August.
[+] EnlargeMatt Brown and Luis Ramos
Ed Mulholland for ESPN.comThough technically sound, Matt Brown has no qualms about mixing it up in all-out brawls.

“[Swick] presents a lot of challenges. He’s got fast hands, he’s an explosive guy,” Browns said. “He’s got a pretty solid punch that will hurt you pretty good. And he seems to have a good ground game. So yeah, all around, he’s pretty solid. He’ll give you a lot of problems on all aspects.”

Anybody who’s paid attention to Brown’s career knows that he’s technical, but he’s willing to brawl as well. He does brawl, because to him it’s never anything other than a fight. A Brown scrap is always a combination of technique, savagery, instinct and attrition. His in-cage gravitas makes it that much more intense.

Swick is much the same way.

What’s the hunch? That as they kick off the big UFC on FOX 5 card, you can’t help but think this one could be a showstopper. That, even though it is fourth billing to Nate Diaz versus Benson Henderson, Alexander Gustafsson versus Mauricio Rua and BJ Penn versus Rory MacDonald, that it could sneak off with some end-of-the-night bonus money.

You’d think that, but history suggests otherwise. For all of the careening in Brown’s career, there’s one thing he hasn’t accomplished in 13 fights -- he’s never been awarded an end-of-the-night bonus in anything. That’s almost hard to believe when you think about it, but it’s true.

“I always think I’ve got fight of the night,” he says. “Then I don’t get it.”

Maybe Saturday night, Brown uses this theme to begin a new chapter to his incomplete adventure tale.

Jumping weight classes is trending

November, 29, 2012
11/29/12
5:49
AM ET
Mindenhall By Chuck Mindenhall
ESPN.com
Archive
AldoEd Mulholland for ESPN.comJose Aldo is just the latest fighter considering a move to another weight class.

Now that Frankie Edgar has finally been persuaded to fight in the UFC’s featherweight division, we can get on with other fresher transplantations.

Next up: Jose Aldo, to lightweight.

Go figure. Edgar goes down to fight for Aldo’s belt; Aldo goes up, so long as he defends that belt in a satisfactory manner against Edgar on Feb. 2. They’re gauging things whichever way you look at it -- just two ships passing in the night.

(Or, you know, two high-powered motorboats).

And if Aldo defends that belt, expect Edgar to return to 155 pounds, too. He’s really just dipping his toe in the water. And if Aldo loses at lightweight, he’ll whittle his form back down to 145 pounds. And even if he wins at lightweight, he may get greedy and become an exotic collector of belts.

Greatness is not above hoarding.

Why all the division jumping? Because, for one thing, disappearing from a familiar weight class and appearing in a foreign one means reinvention. It means fresh challenges for fighters, and intriguing, previously only imagined match-ups for fight fans. It’s rethinking divisional rankings and visible abs. Most of all, it means something new, and in the fight game new is always appreciated.

Everybody likes to have a reset button, and these days more and more fighters are using it. Why not? It’s usually a smart play, especially as the UFC grows along with our fascination in matchmaking. Some careers need kick-starts, and others just need a little spice.

Others being Anderson Silva, who does it because, so far as most of us can tell, he’s bored. Now he’s talking about cutting down to something in the range of 178 pounds for a catchweight fight with Georges St-Pierre (a fighter whose hands go clammy when he contemplates playing fast and loose with weight fluctuations). For Nik Lentz, it’s to make a name he couldn’t make at lightweight. For Demetrious Johnson, it’s because he was tired of fighting 135-pound monsters. Ditto Chris Cariaso.

It goes on.

Former middleweight Demian Maia went from one of the slickest practitioners of human origami ever to enter the Octagon (circa 2007-09) before turning into a nondescript kickboxer who lost a lot. What did he do? He began by dropping down to 170 pounds, and in the process he remembered the jiu-jitsu that Fabio Gurgel spent all that time teaching him. Reinvention? More like repentance. He’s remembering his roots while on a diet of apples and tuna.

[+] EnlargeGeorge St. Pierre
AP Photo/Eric JamisonThese days, welterweight champion Georges St-Pierre's reluctance to move up or down in weight is an exception to the rule.
Tim Boetsch went from the first-ever victim of a Phil Davis “Philmura” to a middleweight contender. He has rattled off four wins in a row at 185 pounds. Nate Diaz has similarly re-reinvented himself by going back down to lightweight, and is now fighting for the 155-pound title against Benson Henderson on Dec. 8. B.J. Penn and Dan Henderson will appear in whatever weight class they need to, no questions asked. Kenny Florian tried four weight classes, and came up a bridesmaid in most. Chael Sonnen? He falls forward into title shots when he goes to light heavyweight. Same can’t be said for Rich Franklin.

Clay Guida goes down. Jon Jones, one day soon, will go up. We love the idea of that.

And Anthony Johnson? He has yet to find the weight class that can contain him. Maybe 205 pounds is right where he needs to be -- but if you’ve seen him walking around the Blackzilians gym in Delmar Beach, Fla., hulking like a linebacker and dwarfing guys such as Rashad Evans, you wouldn’t be so sure.

So what does it all mean? That Mike Dolce is in business, and that Georges St-Pierre is the new minority. He is at least a little reluctant to fight Anderson Silva because he’s (A) not desperate, (B) not bored or (C) not entirely masochistic. He is just dominant. At 170 pounds. Right where he knows he’s greatest.

If he declines to fight Anderson Silva at anything other than 170 pounds, he’ll not only be blameless in the ordeal, he’ll stand as a kind of traditionalist. He won’t just be defending his belt as a stubborn champion, he’ll become the defender of the weight classes.

And with so much movement between divisions, right now that in itself might feel like something new.

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