TUF 18 Finale November 30, 2013 Lightweights: Gray Maynard vs. Nate Diaz By Reed Kuhn, @Fightnomics Big Picture: It’s a sneaky trilogy matchup dating back to 2007. Nate Diaz first met Gray Maynard on the fifth season of The Ultimate Fighter, when Diaz won by guillotine choke to advance to the show’s finals. In 2010 the two men met again in the Octagon for a main event matchup that resulted in a split decision win for Maynard. The win pushed Maynard into a title eliminator matchup that led to his two eventual title fights against Frankie Edgar, while Diaz spent time at welterweight, before returning to lightweight and earning a shot against Benson Henderson. Both men failed in their lightweight title opportunities and are now coming off recent TKO losses. It’s a tough spot, but someone will get to turn things around, while the other will be flung down the division ranks with another defeat. Although Diaz first opened as a slight favorite, the market quickly pushed the line towards Maynard where it has remained. Maynard is now a -140 favorite, with Diaz now an underdog at +120. Summary Stats:
Tale of Tape Matchup: Physically, these two have very different builds that are worth noting. Maynard is a compact and powerful 5’ 8” lightweight with a below average 70” reach, while Diaz is a tall and lean 6’ 0” with a huge 76” reach. MMA historically favors the longer fighters, and Diaz’s long range compounded by his Southpaw stance give him some strong Tale of the Tape advantages in standup striking. In addition, Diaz is six years younger than Maynard, who is – perhaps surprisingly – now approaching the age of 35. Every one of these factors favors the underdog. Striking Matchup: When it comes to striking offense, Diaz gets the technical advantages in accuracy and pace, while Maynard has more punch for punch power. Diaz is very accurate with his long range jab, and he when he gets opponents moving backwards, he can overwhelm them with staggering volume (as he did in his record-setting performance against Donald Cerrone). Maynard shows slightly better defensive metrics than Diaz, but only slightly, and Maynard’s chin rating has been heading south fast in the last two years. Overall, if these guys stand and trade it will be Maynard trying to counter with power while Diaz should be able to control the cage and land the larger volume. These factors may cancel each other out in the “who will score a knockdown first” prediction, but on the score cards it favors Diaz. The strange thing is that this scenario is basically how their second fight played out. Diaz outworked and outscored Maynard significantly in all three rounds, yet lost a split decision. The lack of definitive damage should have meant the controlling fighter would have won rounds, but in such a close fight it appears the judges were hedging a bit. It remains a rare case when judges scored against the more active fighter in a fight that stayed standing. Grappling Matchup: On the ground is where things really diverge. Maynard has strong ground control stats, and has rarely been put on his back. He attempts takedowns at a slightly higher than average pace, and lands about half of them. When combined with his very strong takedown defense (he ranks 9th in the UFC all-time), the result is that he has dominated on the ground with his wrestling. Diaz, on the other hand, is perfectly content to fight off of his back. He spends most of his ground time on his back, but using the position to attempt frequent submissions. The notoriously dangerous guard game of the Diaz brothers is justified with Nate alone earning seven submission stoppages in the UFC. In their last fight, Maynard didn’t even try to work any ground and pound, instead choosing to leave the fight standing. If Maynard repeats this strategy, Diaz is unlikely to get this fight to the ground. Reed’s Pick: Diaz to win (click for latest MMA odds) I can’t claim to know what judges were thinking in 2010 despite being in the arena that night in Fairfax, VA, but I do see this playing out similarly to their second fight. Diaz will always have range control and aggression on his side, but the lack of power that he uses led judges to score against him in their last fight. Maynard didn’t want to fight Diaz on the ground last time, and that will likely be true again. The line is close for good reason: these two guys stylistically cancel each other out. Maynard is susceptible to hard hitters, but that’s not Diaz. And Diaz has exposed power strikers on the ground, where Maynard won’t let this go. In his last fight, Diaz was defeated by a more aggressive striker in Josh Thomson, so maybe Maynard will cut to the chase and try to get Diaz on the defensive. Conversely, the threshold for Maynard’s knockdown resiliency appears to be declining and maybe Diaz has enough power to wobble him. These are all reasons why this moneyline should remain close throughout fight week, and why no pick here can be made with certainty. Reed’s Recommended Play: I see slight advantages for Diaz in the Tale of the Tape, standup striking, and even on the mat. Despite how their last fight was scored, Diaz presents a reasonable upset pick given the underdog plus money. I hope the fight doesn’t play out exactly as it did last time – if so we’re in for a slow three-rounder (at least it’s not five!), and also a confusing decision favoring the fighter who remained on the perimeter and accomplished less. Hopefully, Diaz learned his lesson and picks up the aggression just enough to make those volume differentials count more clearly. The under is +180 at 2.5 rounds, which I also think presents reasonable value, but only because of Diaz. Should Maynard play it safe and grind out a win, I don’t expect him to finish his younger opponent. The question for a finish will be whether age and cage time has caught up with these two fighters, or if Maynard makes a mistake that opens up a submission attempt for Diaz. That means taking the under is mostly a play on Diaz (though not entirely given Maynard’s power and Diaz’s recent knockdowns), but also one that currently presents better value than a straight up pick on the underdog. I don’t recommend this as a big play, so if you opt for a prop look for even better plus money on Diaz inside the distance later in the week.