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With GSP vs. Carlos Condit postponed, a second look at BJ Penn/Nick Diaz

By Zach Arnold | October 18, 2011

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Our friend David Castillo tackled the path in which Nick Diaz could beat BJ Penn at UFC 137. That fight now is the main event of the show because Georges St. Pierre postponed his fight with Carlos Condit due to a knee injury. St. Pierre is getting heat online for making his call given that UFC has a show in Toronto on December 10th and that’s a good landing spot for him. Another fight in Canada?

Anyhow, we present to you round two of the Penn/Diaz chronicles featuring two different perspectives on the upcoming fight. The odds at the sportsbooks are still a pick ’em for each guy.

Jed Meshew can be reached at jmeshew@gmail.com or @stanleykael on Twitter.

Nick Diaz fights BJ Penn at UFC 137 and, if he wins, Diaz will get to reclaim the title shot he lost just a few weeks ago; however, that is a huge if. BJ Penn is quite possibly the worst stylistic match-up imaginable for Diaz. Nick’s primary weapon is his high-volume boxing which forgoes many basic fundamentals in favor of constant attack. Previously he did this without setting his feet which resulted in his shots lacking power and made his style one of accrued damage rather than that of a knock out artist. However, in his last couple of fights Nick has begun sitting out on his punches more which gives him much more snap and allowed him to put a hurting on Paul Daley. But, though he has begun to find his power Diaz’s defensive boxing game remains underwhelming, relying heavily on his ability to absorb punishment rather sound defensive skills. Against Penn this is likely to be his biggest downfall as BJ has fantastic head-movement and thrives on slipping punches and countering with power shots. BJ has quite possibly the best pure boxing in the UFC so standing with him is always a gamble, one that Nick is likely to embrace.

The other major weapon in Nick’s arsenal is his sneaky submission guard game. Against BJ that is all but futile. Penn has probably the best top game in the UFC and his guard passing is second to none. Nick will have a hard time maintaining guard much less throwing up subs from his back thus Nick’s best chance on the ground is to try and force scrambles to get back to his feet where he has at least a fighting chance. Should Diaz somehow end up on top of Penn, BJ’s guard game is primarily defensive so Nick would have an opportunity to grind away on top providing he can avoid Penn’s sweep attempts.

Stylistically, Diaz’s biggest strengths are Penn’s biggest strengths except BJ does them better. That being said there is one area of the fight in which Diaz has a significant advantage and that is in Penn’s oft-maligned cardio. The MO on BJ has long been his poor conditioning, particularly at welterweight while Diaz has an incredible gas tank. The question then becomes how can Nick Diaz wear down BJ in only three rounds when he is not the type of takedown-grind-em-out style of fighter BJ has had problems with in the past. To me, the key for Diaz is a skill which he has recently been using more and more and which will prove his most potent offense come his fight with BJ Penn, the body shot. In his last few fights Diaz has made excellent use of hooks to the body which against Penn could prove highly effective at draining BJ’s gas tank and tiring him out. Body shots also play around Penn’s ability to slip punches with head movement so there is a real avenue for success here for Diaz. The only problem is that often Nick throws body shots as punctuations on his combinations and when fighters are covering up against him whereas BJ is more likely to maintain range and move away. With that in mind, Nick will have to get inside while avoiding BJ’s very solid work inside the clinch. If Nick can do that then he has a great opportunity to take the wind out of BJ early and as Penn fades his defensive boxing begins to slacken and he starts eating more punches. So, if Diaz can work the body early his jab-heavy attack can certainly find the mark in later rounds.

For Nick Diaz to win, he needs to do the following:

He has no chance of submitting BJ, so to win he needs a TKO or a decision. After the Fitch fight, BJ said it was time he returned to his grappling roots and if that is the case here then Nick is in a world of trouble. To win, Nick can’t let himself get taken down and play guard. BJ Penn is not Cyborg Santos and he will not be tapped. If Nick is content to be on his back he will lose a decision thus Nick needs to either keep the fight standing or find a way to put BJ on his back where BJ is often content remaining defensive. The problem here is that BJ’s flexibility and balance make taking him down extremely difficult and often a liability as he actively punishes takedown attempts with uppercuts. Nick has never been considered a great wrestler (offensive or defensively) so he expecting him to takedown BJ is foolish and wouldn’t be Nick’s style anyway. So that leaves Nick’s options of winning this fight relegated to standing up with BJ. I envision Nick winning the standup battle with BJ by establishing range using his length to keep Penn away and when the fight gets inside working the body. The real key for Nick is to keep active on the feet. His continuous work-rate would both keep BJ active defensively, tiring him out and score points with judges who often mistake “effective aggression” with motion (like in the first Penn-Edgar fight, or any Leonard Garcia fight ever). If Diaz can combine his punches-in-bunches style with lateral movement and some strong body work he can certainly take home a decision over Penn.

To be frank, this is a nightmare match-up for Nick Diaz. BJ Penn is one of the most preternaturally gifted fighters alive today and his particular skill set happens to coincide perfectly with the deficiencies in Diaz’s game. To beat BJ you have keep him guessing by mixing up punches, kicks and takedowns. Nick can’t wrestle with BJ and never throws kicks and for all his offensive dynamism remains a relatively predictable fighter. Nick’s game is predicated on a high volume offense which plays directly into BJ’s wheel house so for Nick to win he will either need to make some dramatic changes to his style or come in with a well crafted game-plan. If not it is highly likely that he will suffer fifteen minutes of counter rights, left hooks, and upper-cuts. But if Diaz can get inside and work the body while avoiding Penn’s sneakily good clinch game and highly underrated takedowns then he can really put the screws to BJ and put himself in a position to win a crack at UFC gold.

Julien Solomita is a student at Chapman University. He can be reached on Twitter @JulienSolomita and he is sponsored by Street Made. They are on Twitter @StreetMadeTeam.

B.J. Penn has fought the best in both UFC’s welterweight and lightweight division and has used his elite boxing to win many fights. This Hawaiian has crazy dexterity and a dangerous ground game backing up his world class striking. He faces off with Nick Diaz at UFC 137 in a welterweight showdown. Diaz is returning to the UFC for the first time since 2006 and must execute certain tactics for his best prospect of victory over B.J. Penn. These are Nick Diaz’s keys to victory.

In Penn’s two losses to the current champion Frankie Edgar, he was completely out-struck. Edgar was able to pick Penn apart with quickness and relentless attacks. Although Diaz doesn’t have this speed factor that Edgar possessed, he does have accurate and deceptively powerful hands. Diaz will never be able to replicate Edgar’s striking but that doesn’t mean he won’t beat Penn. Diaz strikes from unusual angles and doesn’t stop throwing until he is put away. Diaz doesn’t have quickness and devastating power, but his relentless striking wears on fighters and will be vital to breaking the Prodigies’ will. B.J. Penn became noticeably slower as Edgar continued his level-changing onslaught in both of their title bouts. Diaz needs to employ this strategy and work body shots into his repertoire. By stalking and keeping Penn at bay, Diaz must attack with counter strikes both to the head and body. Keep in mind that Frankie Edgar’s body shots against Penn slowed him down at 155 pounds. At welterweight Penn will be slower, and this effect will be magnified.

Although Nick Diaz has not faced the competition that Penn has since Diaz’s past octagon career, this won’t be much of a factor in my estimation. First of all, Diaz has proved his utter dominance in the Strikeforce 170 pound division and although Strikeforce’s talent is not on the level of that of the UFC’s, they are not far apart. Second, both guys always come to fight no matter who is standing in the other corner and once the door closes it’s just the two fighters, no records or past wins matter any longer. Both Penn and Diaz are high intensity athletes and will bring plenty of energy into this fight. Diaz is a vigorous striker who pushes his opponents’ pace to control the distance to take fighters out of their comfort zone. He is also effective when he throws counter shots at forward moving opponents. His knockout over Robbie Lawler was a perfect example of Diaz’s ability to stand and trade with a powerful striker. Lawler was able to land on Diaz a number of times, but it was Diaz that was getting the better of the exchanges and ended up planting Lawler face down on the mat with a back-stepping lead hook. Diaz also will not be out of a fight until he is forcefully put away. His last fight against Paul Daley showed just the kind of heart and undying will that has brought the Strikeforce champion such success.

Penn is going to work to finish this fight, as he infamously hates giving judges a say. However, Diaz has fast recovery power and is tough to finish. Nick can get into an opponent’s head rent-free and disrupt their fighting rhythm. If this was a five-round fight, the edge to Diaz would be greater. Just ask Cesar Gracie. A five round fight would be ideal for Diaz as he would be able to weather a number of takedowns until Penn gets tired and leaves himself open to a brawl.

Nick Diaz’s stiff jab is one of his deadliest weapons and will be yet another critical tool for Diaz to employ against Penn. Diaz has a reach advantage on Penn and must establish his swift jab to keep Penn uncomfortable. When a fighter gets tagged with an abrupt shot, they are immediately thrown off of their game and become mentally preoccupied. Diaz times his jab very well in setting up strong combinations and landing his jab on Penn will set up more opportunities for Diaz to capitalize on while also keeping Penn confined. Getting into a stand up war with B.J. Penn is a gamble, but it is where Diaz’s best shot at victory lies. Staying in Penn’s face will allow Diaz to dictate the pace, and counter takedown attempts with quick shots possibly catching B.J. and discouraging future takedown tries.

B.J. Penn is a surprising fighter and often has unexpected game plans. He started his rematch with Jens Pulver bringing Pulver to the mat, which is where he finished the fight with a second round submission. At UFC 127 he completely shocked Jon Fitch when he turned the tables and took the wrestler down. Penn is no slouch on the ground owning a black belt under Andre Pederneiras and is capable of effectively ground and pounding his way to a submission or TKO victory. Although Diaz has an active guard, he must stalk Penn and force the fight to stay standing. If Penn is able to get Diaz down, Diaz must be quick in getting back to his feet. He is one of the most athletic fighters in the sport and must use this athleticism to scramble and get back to striking. Respecting Penn’s ability to damage downed fighters will be important to Diaz’s chance at staying toe to toe.

In certain fights in Diaz’s career, he has been able to push an intolerable pace for opponents and quickly finish fights. In his DREAM 14 bout with Hayato Sakarai, Diaz took Sakarai down and overwhelmed him with non-stop strikes until the weary Sakurai left his arm susceptible to a Diaz submission. Nick Diaz hasn’t faced a fighter with the wrestling of B.J. Penn and will need to find a way to combat the takedowns. Diaz has never been great at takedown defense, and B.J. will most likely look for the takedown. Keeping pressure in Penn’s face is going to be a key to Diaz hindering Penn’s takedown game. Making fighters mentally uneasy in a fight is the one thing that Diaz does much better than Penn. If Diaz can keep Penn threatened with his aggressive movement and strikes this will slowly disrupt Penn’s rhythm and provide more openings for Diaz to land big shots.

In the first round, Diaz will be forced to weather a few early takedowns and work hard to get the fight back up. While on top, Penn will be aggressive yet careful of getting lured into one of Diaz’s sneaky submissions from guard. If Diaz even able to get to his feet after being brought down, he will try to get his striking rhythm started will lose the round to Penn’s takedowns.

The second round will consist of Penn coming out looking for a takedown through the clinch or slipping punches, but Diaz is going to push the tempo getting into stalk mode and let his hands go. Diaz will land a number of times and maybe even rock Penn with a combination, but won’t finish. Penn will secure a late takedown but Diaz will have already won this round by landing more shots.

In the final round, Penn will not be nearly as fresh as Diaz and his wrestling won’t be as forceful as it was early in the fight. Penn may get one takedown in this round if he is lucky, but Diaz being the fresher fighter, will get back up and go back to work with his bombardment of punches. Diaz won’t rock or really hurt Penn this round but will bloody him up, and inflict the most damage. Diaz will win the split decision 29-28 taking the last two rounds.

Some of Penn’s best success has come from his uncanny ability bring fighters into striking chess match, and outlasting his opponents on the feet. Facing Nick Diaz will bring an interesting task for the former Lightweight Champion to handle. Diaz’s belligerent style with underlying lethal precision has what it takes to beat the former UFC champion. If Diaz can storm through Penn’s poise and keep the fight on his wild terms, he will be able to neutralize the strengths of the Prodigy and have his hand raised after fifteen “fight-of-the-night exciting” minutes.

Topics: Media, MMA, UFC, Zach Arnold | 1 Comment » | Permalink | Trackback |

One Response to “With GSP vs. Carlos Condit postponed, a second look at BJ Penn/Nick Diaz”

  1. Stel says:

    smart bet dees guys gonna smoke da kin togetha after de fite

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