Nate Diaz’s Eight Best In-Fight Moments

Diaz vs. Michael Johnson

The Diaz brothers are beloved by hardcore MMA fans for their aggressive fighting style, but also for their genuine demeanor. Part of that comes out in interviews, when they freely speak their minds, even when it gets them in hot water. But it also manifests itself in their treatment of their opponents.

Both Nick and Nate are notorious for their trash talk. Perhaps most famously, Nick laid all the way down on the mat during his fight with Anderson Silva. But Nate is no stranger to in-the-cage antics himself. Whether it’s flipping an opponent the bird, hitting him with the famous “Stockton Slap”, or talking smack after landing punches, the younger Diaz has checked all the boxes.

Interestingly, while doing research for this piece, I noticed that Nate is also always respectful of his opponents after a fight. Early in his UFC career, he would even help fallen opponents to their feet, embracing them and giving words of encouragement and appreciation. But before and during the melee, Diaz is anything but friendly.

Many believe that the signature Diaz trash talk is part of a strategy to draw opponents into their type of fight, rather than a simple desire to embarrass or anger their adversaries. Whatever the reason, perhaps no one else in MMA can goad an opponent like the boys from Stockton.

With his colossal rematch against Conor McGregor at UFC 202 approaching this weekend (August 20, 2016), we focus on Nate Diaz. Read on for the most memorable moments of his UFC career.

NateDiazMedicalSuspension

8. Talking Smack To Rory MacDonald

The younger Diaz’s foray into the welterweight division delivered mixed results.

After beginning his career 5-0 at lightweight, close decision losses in three of four fights prompted a change for the Cesar Gracie disciple. His run at 170 pounds began with stoppage wins over Rory Markham and Marcus Davis, but his momentum was slowed once again by massive judoka Dong Hyun Kim. The Korean was able to repeatedly ground Diaz and keep him down, winning a decision.

The welterweight experiment ended at UFC 129 in Toronto, Canada, against Rory MacDonald. Once again it was clear that Nate was fighting above his weight class. The Canadian prospect outmuscled and outpointed Diaz over three lopsided rounds. Ever game, Diaz got in his shots, some of the verbal variety.

Diaz wanted to break MacDonald’s disciplined out-fighting, which saw him utilize clever footwork and long jabs and kicks to keep Diaz out of his preferred range. Trying to goad MacDonald into slugging it out with him, Diaz said “Come on, b****” while shrugging his shoulders as if to say “Is that all you got?” While he failed to get the desired response from his opponent, the verbal assault was one of many barbs thrown out by Nate Diaz.

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7. Post-Fight Reaction To Submitting Jim Miller

When Nate Diaz met Jim Miller in the UFC on FOX 3 headliner on May 5, 2012, he was facing an opponent who had never been finished in his career. More than that, Miller had lost only to Frankie Edgar, Gray Maynard, and Benson Henderson, all past or future champions or title challengers.

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There was no ill will between the combatants for this Diaz fight, but it previewed as a fierce battle between rugged veterans nonetheless. Diaz has been known throughout his career for his slick submission game, and had just earned his black belt one month prior to his fight with Miller. But he would be dueling submissions with a fellow black belt in the New Jersey native.

As the fight unfolded, Diaz began to take over, beating up Miller at distance and in the clinch. With about a minute left in round two, Miller was forced to shoot for a takedown and found himself ensnared in Diaz’s deadly front headlock series. Diaz locked up a guillotine, forcing Miller to tap for the first time in his career.

The signature moment that makes this list is what Diaz did next. He approached one of the cage-side cameras, flexed, mean-mugged, and exclaimed “What?!” It is an iconic image of Nate Diaz and one that perfectly encapsulates his in-cage persona.

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6. Flipping Off “Cowboy” Cerrone

Nate Diaz had perhaps the most dominating performance of his career at UFC 141 on December 30, 2011, against Donald “Cowboy” Cerrone.

Diaz seemed to hurt Cerrone with punches early, and continued to pour it on from there. The Stockton native even set a UFC record for significant strikes landed in a single bout with 236. The usually offensively dynamic Cerrone was forced on the defensive for much of the 15-minute beatdown. It is actually a testament to “Cowboy’s” toughness that he did not wilt under the relentless pressure Diaz put on him.

But the moment in their fight that makes this list is when Diaz told Cerrone he was “number one” between the second and third rounds. It has become a staple of Diaz highlight reels since, as he gives first one, and then both, “one finger salutes”.

Drama between the two lightweight stalwarts had exploded at the open workouts in the days leading up to fight. Cerrone apparently approached Nate, looking to wish him good luck. Diaz responded by slapping his hand away, calling him a “punk a**”, and walking away. Cerrone took offense, and the bad blood was born.

After the fight though, in typical Nate Diaz fashion, he patted Cerrone on the back and thanked him for a good fight.

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5. Stockton Slapping Conor McGregor

You knew this fight had to be on this list somewhere.

With only ten days to hype their first fight, two of the best in the world gave us some of the best lines in trash talk history. From “touch butt” to “Nick’s little brother”, the hilarious barbs made the fans the real winners.

The two combatants got in their share of insults during the contest as well. When one fighter would land a big shot, he would clown on his opponent. When the opponent landed a hard punch of his own, each would no-sell it like it was nothing.

But the really embarrassing tactics were implemented by Diaz. Several times during their abbreviated battle, he hit McGregor with his infamous “Stockton Slap”.

The Diaz brothers’ boxing style is often described with that moniker. The Stockton natives do an outstanding job conserving energy by not throwing each punch with 100 percent force. But by constantly touching their adversary, they disrupt their rhythm, tire them out, and disguise their more powerful blows.

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While Nate essentially won the fight by utilizing that strategy, that was not the most memorable slap of the fight. Several times over the course of the bout, Diaz played the matador, and slapped an oncoming McGregor while circling away. He would grin at McGregor after doing this, no doubt incensing the Irishman.

As everyone knows, Diaz would go on to win by second round submission. Their hyped rematch is this weekend (August 20, 2016) at UFC 202.

Diaz vs. Maynard

4. Spreading Hands While Knocking Maynard Out

When Nate Diaz met Gray Maynard for a third time at The Ultimate Fighter (TUF) 18 Finale on November 30, 2013, both men had fallen on hard times. The two had a rivalry that went back to their time on TUF 5 together, and they had both since gone on to challenge for the lightweight strap. But after failing to come away with the championship, Maynard against rival Frankie Edgar and Diaz against Benson Henderson, the two had tumbled down the rankings.

After losing the final fight in his Edgar trilogy, Maynard took a decision from Clay Guida in one of the worst five round fights ever. He then got TKO’ed by TJ Grant in a title eliminator. (Incidentally, Grant has not fought since.)

Diaz, meanwhile, followed his one-sided decision loss to Henderson by getting knocked out for the first time in his career by Josh Thomson.

Both men desperately needed a win to stay relevant at 155, and they already had a history and a dislike for one another. Diaz guillotined Maynard on TUF (considered exhibition matches) to advance to the finals, while Maynard repaid him in kind by taking an official victory from him three years later.

The third fight played out completely differently than the first two, as it was exclusively a standup affair. Diaz’s overwhelming boxing won him the day. As he piled on a clearly dazed but still standing Maynard, he even spread out his arms completely and yelling his trademark “What?!” before resuming his onslaught.

Referee Yves Lavigne eventually intervened. As Diaz was pulled away flexing and still mugging Maynard, “The Bully” staggered along the cage and collapsed to all fours.

Nate Diaz toys with Michael Johnson during one of his greatest performances...

3. Pointing At Michael Johnson’s Face

The performance that earned Diaz a crack at “Red Panty Night” was his stellar fight against Michael Johnson. The two met at UFC on FOX 17 on December 19, 2015, in Orlando, Florida.

Johnson had blossomed into a promising lightweight contender since losing in the TUF 12 finale. His most recent run had seen him finish Gleison Tibau and beat the likes of Joe Lauzon and Edson Barboza. He was coming off a controversial split decision loss to fellow prospect Beneil Dariush, but he still had infinitely more momentum than Diaz.

After knocking out Maynard, Nate got absolutely brutalized by Rafael dos Anjos, possibly the worst stylistic matchup for him in the division. Though he survived to the final bell, his legs were savaged by the Muay Thai black belt’s kicks. On top of everything else, Diaz had also missed weight for the first time in his career. He then spent over a year on the sidelines.

It only took him a round to find his rhythm again. Many believed Johnson would make for another difficult style matchup for Diaz, as he had more diverse kickboxing and the wrestling to keep him guessing. But Diaz was able to do exactly what he needed to: draw Johnson into a slugfest.

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Diaz started to take over in round two. By the third, he was punching Johnson in the face and then pointing to the spot he just hit. He embarrassed Johnson over the final ten minutes of the fight to reestablish himself as a bonafide threat at lightweight.

He followed that picture-perfect performance with perhaps an even more important one: calling out McGregor in hilarious and expletive-ridden fashion. In nailing that second performance of the night, he got himself a crack at the biggest money fight of his career.

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2. Flicking Off Benson Henderson

Following his mediocre run at welterweight, Diaz returned to the familiar haunts of the 155-pound division to put on three of the best performances of his career. He humiliated lightweight great Takanori Gomi, posterized Donald Cerrone, and tapped the seemingly unstoppable Jim Miller. Those victories earned him a shot at lightweight champion Benson Henderson.

Unfortunately, a UFC belt would continue to elude the Diaz brothers and the rest of the Skrap Pack. Henderson refused to play into Nate’s style, picked away with kicks from the outside, and stifled him with his top game.

But what is so memorable for Diaz in this fight is when he flicked off Henderson… in the middle of a round. We have obviously seen that Diaz is anything but squeamish when it comes to flipping someone the bird. He had often done it between rounds, but never in the middle of a fight before.

Diaz was attacking a leg lock while Henderson looked to pull away, and the two found themselves in a stalemate. They pot-shotted one another with ineffectual punches as they adjusted, but nothing of note was really happening. Clearly frustrated by the way the fight was playing out and his opponent’s refusal to fight on his terms, Diaz told Henderson he really was number one right there in the middle of their exchange.

The gesture epitomized Diaz’s “zero eff’s given” attitude, and further endeared him to hardcores who were otherwise disappointed he did not get his hand raised that night.

Nate Diaz Triangle

1. Celebrating While Triangling Kurt Pellegrino

Nate Diaz has certainly had more important, more hyped, and more exciting fights in his career than his battle with Kurt Pellegrino at UFC Fight Night 13. But for my money, there is no better non-combat moment of his career than how he celebrated his victory that night in April 2008.

Diaz had started his UFC career with three straight submissions, but in Pellegrino he would be facing a black belt in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu. Despite his submission prowess, Diaz was only a brown belt.

It didn’t matter. Once again, the younger Diaz ensnared a more experienced foe in his guard, this time locking up a tight triangle choke. That’s when he hit a rare “walk-off submission”.

Diaz knew he had it won as soon as he adjusted his legs around Pellegrino’s head and arm. Before “Batman” could tap, the Stockton native was already celebrating. He first raised both hands over his head in victory, then did his trademark two-armed flex, and finally flipped the “double bird” for good measure. Only then did Pellegrino tap and referee Herb Dean intervene.

It remains the coolest bit of showboating, taunting, or trash talking of Diaz’s career, and he didn’t have to say a single word.