The last preview of UFC Fight Night 15 is the main event, Militech Fighting Systems product Josh Neer vs. The Ultimate Fighter 5 winner Nate Diaz. This fight has more meaning for Diaz than it does for Neer, but I am sure you won’t be able to tell that by watching it as this should prove to be a slobberknocker.
Nate Diaz (9-2 MMA, 4-0 UFC) is the brother of supremely talented problem-child Nick Diaz. Not only do they share a distaste for “mean-muggin”, but a true aptitude for submission fighting. Nate is a brown belt under Cesar Gracie in Brazilian Jiu Jitsu, but definitely operates at a black belt level as 7 of his 9 professional wins are from submissions. He defeated Manny Gamburyan in the finale of the Ultimate Fighter season 5 when Gamburyan separated his shoulder and had to concede the victory even though most perceived that Gamburyan was winning the fight. Since winning the ultimate fighter in somewhat controversial fashion, Diaz seems to exhibit a desire to prove his legitimacy in each of his fights. As a result, Diaz has capped off a 4 fight winning streak inside the UFC with a stunning come-from-behind victory over a very tough and underrated Kurt Pellegrino by triangle choke. With his middle-finger laden win Diaz has served notice that he is a threat to everyone in the lightweight division.
Although Diaz is a very talented BJJ practitioner, he is still an evolving fighter. Diaz is severely lacking in the wrestling department. He has a tendency to get bullied by stronger fighters with superior wrestling, as Pellegrino did when he used his wrestling to ride and pummel Diaz for the first 5 minutes of their tilt. But Nate showed he is as head-strong as his brother, never giving up even after being utterly dominated in the round. Diaz is very resilient, what he lacks in physical strength he makes up for with his length and patience on the ground in the submission game. He waits for mistakes and will set up multiple submissions when he sees an opening. Diaz’s overall length gives his stand up an added dimension as well that very few possess in the lightweight division, even though he is still learning how to use it to his best advantage. Diaz also lacks the overall strength to do any real damage to an opponent, but his striking is effective enough to force opponents into poor decisions. He is still learning how to set up his takedowns with his striking, which is not necessarily a bad thing. Diaz possesses a weak single leg take down and relies too much on his greco clinch. Lucky for him it doesn’t matter if he gets the takedown or is taken down himself, as his guard is absolutely treacherous. The definition of perilous, Diaz has proven that his guard is one place most lightweights do NOT want to be for long as it may be the most active guard in the division.
Josh Neer (24-6-1 MMA, 3-3 UFC) is a very savy veteran at a very young age. He trains at the Miletich camp and exhibits the standard “tough as nails” attitude that all of the MFS fighters possess. He is not outstanding in one area but is above average everywhere that a fight can go. Neer is a lifetime wrestler who has evolved into a complete fighter over the last few years and his fights show it. After fighting his whole career at 170lbs, he never seemed to be able to get that big win to put him on the map. He followed impressive wins over Melvin Guillard and Joe Stevenson in the UFC with disappointing losses to Josh Burkman and Nick Diaz. Looking for a second chance at the big time at 170lbs, he was building momentum in smaller shows until his fight with Mark Miller in the IFL. He simply got caught and was knocked out in 54 seconds, but it was enough to push Neer to make a change. A drop to lightweight followed and the UFC gave him a new lease on life. He had a dominating and imposing win over a very formidable Din Thomas. Although it was a unanimous decision, he pushed the pace and had stretches of complete mastery over Thomas. Neer proved he is going to be a menace at lightweight.
While Neer does not excel in one specific area, he brings all the intangibles that make him the type of opponent that fighters try to avoid. He has a ton of experience. He has excellent cardio. He has a cement chin. He is deceptively strong. He is extremely aggressive and in your face for the length of the fight.
Neer’s stand up is very crisp and he is extremely accurate with his strikes. He also only throws to connect, he is not one to throw punches in bunches and waste energy. He is a very good wrestler and his BJJ game is above average for most fighters coming out of MFS as they are not known for a staggering ground game. He is new to 155lbs division, only fighting twice, and both wins. He is 7-1 in his last 8 fights since leaving the UFC.
This fight is going to be a back-and-forth affair with a very high pace in the first round. I think Neer is going to be extremely confident in his ability to force the action and effectively bully Diaz around the ring and possibly into poor decisions. And I think that confidence may be his undoing. Diaz is a fighter capable of losing 14 minutes of a 15 minute fight and then catch you in a dazzling submission to snatch victory from the jaws of defeat. Will Neer’s submission defense be enough to effectively ground and pound Diaz, or will he abandon his ground game altogether and choose to push the stand up battle?
Look for Neer to dominate the fight early on and possibly damage Diaz heavily in the first round, as he is self-admittedly a very slow starter. Diaz will finally get some extended periods on the ground in the second round, and there is where he will catch Neer being over-aggressive with his ground and pound for the triangle choke tapout. A win for Neer goes a long way towards establishing him in the upper tier of an extremely crowded lightweight division. But a win for Diaz moves him into the top five or ten at 155lbs and one more marquee win away from a title shot. Josh Neer is a durable and hard-nosed fighter, but Nate Diaz is an extremely talented grappler riding a wave of confidence right now which should be too much for Neer’s tenacity to overcome.