In a unique five-round special attraction, UFC 266 will feature a rematch between the return of Nick Diaz and former UFC welterweight warlord Robbie Lawler.
As I always say when it comes to left-handed pairings, it can be difficult to predict the benefits on paper given that most fighters in the left-handed position predominantly predict their plays against the orthodox opposition. We might have gotten a glimpse of this when Diaz and Lawler first met at UFC 47, which took place before I could legally buy alcohol.
At the time, Diaz was widely known as a jiu-jitsu fighter, while Lawler was hailed as the next Mike Tyson. But when the fight started, it was Diaz who beckoned to the striking exchanges with a boxing style that would soon become his trademark.
Relying on a controlling right hook that lefties typically use to frustrate orthodox opposition, Diaz was able to surprise Lawler early and often as the Militech fighter struggled to beat another southpaw’s punch. And in the second round, it only took one perfectly placed check from Diaz to put Lawler face first on the canvas.
Since then, the two fighters have obviously evolved in the field of the strike.
Under the care of Richard Perez, Diaz has regularly refined his southpaw style and his propensity for pressure. Blessed with a certain God-given durability, Diaz has been able to overcome a decent part of his opposition through a series of relentless taunts and sharp punches that provide opportunities for building.
Confident (almost overly) in his ability to shoot and return shots, Diaz will put himself in danger in order to fire shots that he can counter and capitalize. And when Diaz is able to muster his opposition against the cage, the former Strikeforce champion will unleash a fury of lever hooks and uppercuts that vary beautifully depending on the body.
– Dan Tom (@DanTomMMA) September 21, 2021
Still, defense hasn’t necessarily been Diaz’s strong suit, as fighters who can counter skillfully have traditionally been his toughest clashes. For this reason, I’ll be curious to see how the best of Stockton stack up against a more polished version of Lawler.
While we may have seen Lawler age more in the later stages of his career, he is still – at heart – a fighter who does his best to push and counter.
Similar to Sanford MMA teammate Anthony Johnson, Lawler will steadily lower his opposition, cutting the octagon while shifting his weight left to right.
Fueled by an excellent awareness of angles, Lawler symbiotically moves his head defensively as his feet prepare for offensive assaults. This approach allows Lawler to stay balanced when attacking, which – at least on paper – helps him stay in position to defend level-changing takedown attempts.
The former welterweight pivot also retains more of a selection of anti-wrestler strikes, throwing things like shovel hooks and uppercuts (from the lead hand and back hand), as well as the occasional lifting knee when he can get the timing. However, with Diaz not offering much of a takedown threat, I suspect we’re seeing more of the left Thai kicks that Lawler fell in love with in later parts of his career.
I’ll also be curious about the current state of Lawler’s killer instincts, especially if he’s able to get Diaz to his traditional kill zone between the fence and the interior black octagonal lines. Either way, I expect we will see close combat stanzas intermittently end up in this contest if nothing clean comes along early.