Nate Diaz is living up to the hype
Some stories, you remember everything. That's how it is when I recall Nick Diaz introducing me to his brother, Nate.
I knew Nick pretty well, having covered some of his early fights in California. This was back when promoters did same-night tournaments.
For instance, I saw Diaz win twice on a scorcher of a night near Fresno, before Jeremy Jackson knocked him out in the finals. Despite losing, his talent for fighting was obvious.
By the time we crossed paths late in the evening at the Trump Plaza in Atlantic City in June 2005, Diaz had erased that loss with a stoppage and submission over Jackson, taking the rubber match in his UFC debut.
Follow us on Twitter
Don't miss a moment of the latest MMA coverage from around the world. Follow us on Twitter and stay informed. Join »
Whenever you see a fighter up late the night before he or she steps into a cage, it's worth a conversation. We didn't get far before Nick pointed to 20-year-old Nate, who was just one fight into this pro career.
Nate, Nick said, was going to be a better fighter than him.
An emphatic endorsement, really; one that at first came off like sibling pride. I didn't think it was possible until this Saturday when Nate, now 27, no longer the scrawny kid, made an emphatic statement about his potential in mixed martial arts by finishing Jim Miller for the first time.
Prior to meeting Nate Diaz in a five-round main event on Fox, Miller felt his opponent was in the same class of fighter as Frankie Edgar, Gray Maynard and Benson Henderson. Unfortunately for Miller, he was correct.
After struggling to round into form, to find a weight division that worked for him, Nate Diaz (16-7) has come into his own. It's still too soon to say if the younger will surpass the older, but we know this: Nate could possess a UFC title soon, something which has eluded Nick to this point.
UFC on Fox 3 grades
If you read my column on Sunday, you know I gushed over Alan Belcher's effort. And so it continues. A perfect score for the 18-6 middleweight. I still can't get over his attack on Rousimar Palhares about the legs and living to tell the tale. The 28-year-old is set up for big fights following that effort, and he's capable of winning them.
Nate Diaz showed that outside or in, it didn't matter, he was a better fighter than Miller. Perception coming in was that Diaz could struggle against a style of fighter -- strong, controlling grapplers -- that troubled him in an earlier run at 155 pounds and ended a stint at 170. Not so much. If there's a difference in the way Nick and Nate fight, it's an edge to the younger brother. Nate appears to have the ability to be as calm as he likes. That gives him the time to be calculated, which for a man with his weapons is increasingly bad for opponents. Up next: a title fight against Benson Henderson or Frankie Edgar. Can't imagine either matchup being anything but a great contest.
People love watching Lavar Johnson, and he delivered to the best of his abilities in the opening TV bout. There was considerable pressure to perform considering the circumstances, yet that clearly didn't play a factor in his performance. Unless, I guess, it motivated him to stop Pat Barry late in the first round. Johnson, 34, is a heavy hitter. He can take a shot. There's going to be a place for a guy like this in the heavyweight division. Give him Mark Hunt or Travis Browne next.
This happened Friday in Bellator. The odd main event between Michael Chandler (10-0) and Akihiro Gono (32-18-7) ended as it should have, with the guy that went blow for blow against Eddie Alvarez last November taking no quarter versus a washed-up opponent. This will be a problem for Chandler and Bellator if the promotion can't come up with better fights than Gono. The best bout Bellator can make is a rematch between Chandler and Alvarez, but would they give the former champion that chance on the last fight of his contract?
Michael Johnson (11-6) showed a lot of improvement in this fight. The late replacement scored often with his left hand, which proved to be a terrific weapon against rangy power puncher Tony Ferguson. He could be one of these guys who emerges from TUF to stick around the UFC for a while. At the very least, the 25-year-old looks like he's a better fighter today than even six months ago.
I'm starting to wonder about John Hathaway. He's gone the distance in his past six and hasn't done much to separate himself from a pack of welterweight prospects. At 24, he has time -- but there's an unflattering pattern forming. One way or another it will sort itself out. Hathaway (16-1) remains a top English prospect, is big and can wrestle. Would it be asking too much to see Hathaway fight Rory MacDonald?
Taking into account that Johny Hendricks, 28, walked into his fight against Josh Koscheck with a pretty nasty cough, this grade should probably be higher. Hendricks again stood his ground against a quality welterweight, receiving a split decision that could have gone either way. As it happens, it broke for the Oklahoma State Cowboy. I had someone tweet that Hendricks (13-1) fights like a smaller Dan Henderson. There's some truth to that. He has no problem mixing it up. Big difference, though: he's a southpaw.
When I wrote about Belcher and Johnson having stories worth remembering, I failed to mention Bryan Baker, who beat back leukemia as he continued to fight in MMA. In his second bout as a welterweight, Baker (18-3) looked strong while out-pointing Ben Saunders (13-5-2). He'll have to get past David Rickels or Karl Amoussou to get a shot at Ben Askren. I wouldn't mind seeing that fight. Baker, 26, has many tools to work with.
Don't put me in the group that hails John Dodson as future king of the flyweights. Facing a tougher than expected test against late replacement Tim Elliott (8-3), Dodson (13-5) fell into some bad habits. He can get stuck in a mode of not moving forward much, throwing one or two punches at a time rather than utilizing his considerable speed and agility.
Josh Koscheck (17-6) put on a solid performance against Hendricks, but it wasn't quite enough. He seemed to have trouble with his right eye again, which, of course, was the epicenter of damage inflicted by Georges St. Pierre a year and a half ago. It's unlikely that will improve much as he moves along. Hendricks didn't think Koscheck would have a speed advantage, and he was basically correct. Without that advantage, Koscheck could take a step back.
Jim Miller was prepared, knew what he wanted to do -- he was committed to that. Didn't matter. He ran into a buzz saw. Miller will continue to be a challenge for any lightweight, but it's clear now that he has his work cut out for him to reach the top of the sport. You never want to count out a guy with that much heart, intelligence and skill, but Miller, 28, might not have enough to get it done physically against the best of the best.
Rousimar Palhares (14-4) got a pitch in his wheelhouse and whiffed. The master of leg lock disasters couldn't find the right combination of control and pressure to make something on Alan Belcher snap. And once that was settled, he didn't seem to have much else going for him. Off his back, Palhares, 32, almost looked lost. He allowed the taller Belcher far too much space. He paid the price by eating elbows, forcing the referee to save him.
Oh, figure Pat Barry (7-5) sticks around the UFC. People like the 32-year-old kickboxer. His fights usually end in fireworks.
MORE MMA HEADLINES
- Justino slated to fight Tweet in first defense
- Johnson spoils Gustafsson's homecoming
- Pena returns from knee injury with April 4 fight
- Faber, Assuncao to headline UFC Fight Night
MOST SENT STORIES ON ESPN.COM
- Jordan Breen retweeted
- Bruce Buffer retweeted
- Bruce Buffer retweeted
- Jon Fitch retweeted
- UFC retweeted
- Vinny Magalhaes retweeted
- Brian Knapp retweeted