UFC Vegas 37 shined a spotlight on the light heavyweight division this past weekend as Anthony Smith earned his third straight first-round finish. In dominant fashion, Smith outworked Ryan Spann from start to finish before capping a great performance off with a rear-naked choke submission victory.
This upcoming weekend’s UFC 266 card will feature 11 bouts, five of which are slated to reside on pay-per-view. Alexander Volkanovski looks to defend his belt against Brian Ortega who both featured as coaches on the most recent season of The Ultimate Fighter. Featuring in the co-main event will be the women’s flyweight champion, Valentina Shevchenko taking on first-time title contender Lauren Murphy.
In what seems to be the most anticipated fight on UFC 266, Nick Diaz is set to return after almost seven years away from the octagon. He’s scheduled to take on Robbie Lawler for a second time in his career, a rematch 17 years in the making. Today we will be breaking down the “people’s main event” and give you an idea of what to expect on what is sure to be a special night of fights.
UFC 44: Nick Diaz vs Robbie Lawler 1
With Nick Diaz having a professional MMA record of 8-2 and Robbie Lawler entering the bout at 8-1, both being in their early 20’s at the time of their first meeting, it was clear both fighters would be around the game for a very long time. However, to have a rematch 17 years apart is unique to say the least.
Both men were extremely raw talents at the time of their first meeting and the fight may honestly play no significance in what happens on Saturday night. Diaz was pulling a lot of in-cage antics that seemed to visually agitate Lawler which played right into Nick Diaz’s game plan.
However, one key aspect of the first fight was Diaz’s ability to stay patient on the feet, letting Lawler rush into shots before throwing his own technical combinations with speed. Diaz was able to catch Lawler with a beautiful check hook, being only one of two fighters to knock out Lawler to date.
UFC 266 Fighter Comparison
“Ruthless” Robbie Lawler (28-15 MMA, 13-9 UFC)
Robbie Lawler is a legend in the sport of mixed martial artists without a doubt. A world champion in multiple organizations including the EliteXC middleweight and UFC welterweight championships, Lawler was must-see tv every time he stepped into the cage. His first UFC run started back in 2002 making his debut against Aaron Riley, earning himself a unanimous decision victory at just 20 years old. Lawler would go on to finish Steve Berger and Tiki Ghosen back-to-back. Now riding a three-fight winning streak, Lawler was now considered a young, formidable contender at welterweight. Going 1-2 in his next three including a KO loss to Nick Diaz, Lawler found himself fighting outside the UFC and would do so for the next decade of his career.
A lot of Lawler’s time was spent inside the ElixeXC and Strikeforce cage where Lawler would fight for both middleweight titles, knocking out Murilo Rua for the EliteXC championship in 2007. Ruthless went on to fight the likes of Jake Shields, Melvin Manhoef, Jacare Souza, Tim Kennedy, and Lorenz Larkin under the Strikeforce banner. Lawler amassed an 11-7 record since his last fight in the UFC and was finally offered a return back to the octagon. In early 2013, Lawler was scheduled to take on Josh Koscheck in his return fight where he knocked him out in the very first round.
Lawler finished 2013 off with wins over Bobby Voelker and Rory MacDonald before being offered a vacant title opportunity with only Johnny Hendricks in his path to gold. After a tough back and forth 25 minutes, it was Hendricks who came out on top earning a unanimous decision victory on the judges’ scorecards. In the next two years, Lawler went unbeaten winning all five of his contests and earning the fight of the year award three straight years in the process. It began with a quick turnaround after excepting a fight against Jake Ellenberger just two months after taking his first UFC loss since rejoining the promotion. a TKO victory earned him a title fight eliminator against Matt Brown who was then riding a seven-fight winning streak which he won by unanimous decision.
In the 2014 fight of the year, Robbie Lawler was able to best Johnny Hendricks in their rematch after five rounds of championship-caliber action to win the vacant UFC welterweight championship via split decision at UFC 181 at the Mandalay Bay in Vegas. This result no doubt earned him the title of 2014 Fighter of the Year after going 3-1 in a span of nine months. His first title defense would be another rematch, this time against Rory MacDonald in what turned out to be an instant classic as both men were painted with blood by the time Lawler was able to finish MacDonald late into the fifth round, earning his second victory over the “Red King” and the title of 2015 Fight of the Year. After a well-earned six-month rest, Lawler was involved in his second title defense and what turned out to be his third straight Fight of the Year when he and Carlos Condit fought to a very close split decision that had Lawler edging it on the scorecards.
Facing Tyron Woodley in his next bout, Lawler was knocked out for only the second time in his career in less than a round which unfortunately saw the end of his UFC title reign. Since then, Lawler has only fought five times, his last win came over “Cowboy” Cerrone and has since lost four straight to Raphael Dos Anjos, Ben Askren, Colby Covington, and Neil Magny respectively.
Nick Diaz (26-9 MMA, 7-6, 1 NC UFC)
Mixed martial arts icon Nick Diaz is finally set to make his long-awaited octagon return after spending a long seven years outside of any type of MMA competition. The now 38-year old made his UFC debut on UFC 44 at the ripe age of 20 when he fought Jeremy Jackson for the third time in his last six fights, ending in a third-round submission victory. In the next two years, Diaz would go 3-4 in the promotion, losing three straight and leaving the UFC for the first time in 2006.
Diaz found great success in various promotions, most notably fighting for the inaugural EliteXC lightweight championship in 2007 and winning the inaugural Strikeforce welterweight three years later. He also fought for the likes of DREAM and PRIDE before returning to the UFC in 2011 to take on MMA legend, B.J Penn. In a three-round beating that earned Diaz fight of the night, next up for the Stockton-born fighter was a chance at UFC gold when he took on Carlos Condit for the interim welterweight title that saw the ladder take home the victory and the belt. Despite spending a year on the sidelines due to suspension because of his marijuana use and dropping a decision in his last outing, Diaz was offered the George St-Pierre title fight as soon as he was eligible to return. St-Pierre successfully defended his title and Diaz announced his retirement from MMA competition and would later tell the press at UFC 170 he would only return if it was for an immediate title shot.
Two years would pass and at UFC 183 Diaz was scheduled to take on another MMA legend in Anderson Silva, who was coming off of a horrific leg-break injury that also saw the Brazilian out of action for close to 24 months. The bout was iconic not for its action, but for its antics. Both men were true entertainers inside the octagon and put on a unique show for the fans that saw Silva prevail over five rounds earning a unanimous decision victory on the night. A few days later, the Nevada State Athletic Commission issued a five-year suspension after a failed drug test involving marijuana metabolites from his UFC 183 samples. The sentence was later reduced to 18-months after an appeal and lifted in late 2016. it seemed at this point Diaz had no intention to return to the sport that loved him so much, which brings us to now.
UFC 266 Preview & Prediction
In their first meeting, the narrative was that Lawler was the overwhelming favorite if the fight took place on the feet for extended periods of time, but if it hit the mat it was Diaz’s fight without a doubt. After the fight, the narrative changed and Diaz proved he was a formidable opponent with his hands. In the coming years, Diaz continuously proved he was an elite figure on the feet and that the knockout against Lawler was no fluke. As for Lawler, he continued his pressure forward with volume and power style but added a little more calculation into his setups instead of bull-rushing in like he did against Diaz in the first fight.
Lawler has slowed down tremendously within the last couple of years and hasn’t stayed the most active albeit a lot more compared to Diaz, competing just three times in the last four years. Including Saturday, this will be Diaz’s third fight in 8 years but claims he’s always in fighting shape.
To say any outcome in the “people’s main event” is a foregone conclusion would be a joke, Both men are of similar ages, and the time Diaz has taken off can only be extremely good or bad depending on how you want to look at it. On one hand, Diaz hasn’t punished his body to the same level as Lawler, yet in another, Diaz hasn’t been in a real-fight scenario in over half a decade and may have trouble finding his timing. The only thing you could guarantee about this fight is that it will be a spectacle.
Official prediction: Diaz via TKO