UFC 263 breakdown: Nate Diaz is a big underdog vs. Leon Edwards. Does he have a shot?

Leon Edwards

Staple info:

  • Height: 6’0″ Age: 29 Weight: 170 lbs. Reach: 74″
  • Last fight: No contest with Belal Muhammad (March 13, 2021)
  • Camp: Team Renegade (Birmingham, Eng.)
  • Stance/striking style: Southpaw/muay Thai
  • Risk management: Excellent

Supplemental info:
+ BAMMA welterweight title
+ Various amateur MMA accolades
+ 6 KO victories
+ 3 submission wins
+ 5 first-round finishes
+ KO power
+ Excellent footwork
^ Manages distance, moves laterally, etc.
+ Accurate shot selection
^ Coming forward and off the counter
+ Hard head and body kicks
+ Superb clinch game
^ Grip awareness, elbows off the break, etc.
+ Underrated wrestling ability
+ Good transitional grappler
+/- 3-1 against UFC-level southpaws

NEW YORK, NEW YORK – NOVEMBER 02: Nate Diaz of the United States fights against Jorge Masvidal (not pictured) of the United States in the Welterweight “BMF” championship bout during UFC 244 at Madison Square Garden on November 02, 2019 in New York City. (Photo by Steven Ryan/Getty Images) ORG XMIT: 775427884 ORIG FILE ID: 1185161198

Staple info:

  • Height: 6’0″ Age: 36 Weight: 170 lbs. Reach: 76″
  • Last fight: TKO loss to Jorge Masvidal (Nov. 2, 2019)
  • Camp: Cesar Gracie Fight Team (Stockton, Calif.)
  • Stance/striking style: Southpaw/boxing
  • Risk management: Fair

Supplemental info:
+ “The Ultimate Fighter 5” winner
+ Brazilian jiu-jitsu black belt
+ 5 KO victories
+ 12 submission victories
+ 8 first-round finishes
+ Aggressive pace and pressure
^ High-volume approach
+ Good boxing technique
^ Accurate jabs and crosses
+ Deceptively strong clinch fighter
+ Superb submission grappler
^ Solid transitions/comfortable in bad positions
+ Dangerous guard game
^ Excellent leg dexterity
+/- Physically durable/traditionally takes damage
+/- 5-4 against UFC-level southpaws

Leon Edwards

Amidst the title fights at the top, UFC 263’s main card will also feature a fun showdown between two savvy southpaws.

Southpaw versus southpaw matchups always gets me excited, as it’s an often understated stance pairing given its rarity. And though more traditional attacks become available on paper, forecasting results can sometimes be trickier considering that southpaws tend to predicate a lot of their game against orthodox opposition and training partners.

That said, despite their differences in styles, I suspect that both Leon Edwards and Nate Diaz are more than comfortable letting their offense fly against fellow southpaws standing.

Under the tutelage of Richard Perez (who is also the boxing coach of Nick Diaz), we have seen the younger Diaz brother steadily sharpen his skills standing.

Firing jab-cross continuums with the snap of a coiled cobra, Diaz will off-set striking rhythms, disrupting a fighter’s timing and subsequent approach. Coupled with unabashed physical taunts and mental warfare, Stockton’s own can sneakily steal the momentum of a fight right out from his opponent’s feet.

Jab-cross continuum’s from Nate Diaz #UFC263 pic.twitter.com/Oysb4UQZjb

— Dan Tom (@DanTomMMA) June 7, 2021

Although Diaz has been relatively inactive in recent years, he has attempted to show us that his cult status isn’t the only thing that has been growing.

Against Anthony Pettis, Diaz displayed an awareness of the traditional defensive pitfalls associated with his boxing-centric stance, smartly managing distance and switching stances in his approach (almost doing a variation of Thai marching when actively trying to pressure). Diaz also managed to check kicks a bit more than he typically does, something that proved to be crucial being that he was able to injure Pettis’ foot at the beginning of the second round.

Still, legs kicks or not, it is not unusual to see Diaz take damage in victory or defeat, as his in-your-face style of pressure does not come without its costs. And against a full-fledged welterweight like Edwards who is familiar with the art of eight limbs, Diaz could get more ‘smoke’ than he is accustom to this Saturday.

A slick, diverse striker who can counter or come forward with effect, Edward’s pairing of speed and accuracy helps him cover a lot of ground in regards to gaining respect.

Working behind a deceptive jab that he often uses to check his opponents, Edwards keeps powerful left crosses and kicks at the ready, occasionally sprinkling in sneaky teeps and explosive knees to intercept oncoming level changes. The Englishman also doesn’t mind throwing a shot away in order to land another, as Edwards seems perfectly fine with making adjustments on the fly.

Whenever his opponents offer up straight shots down the center, Edwards has a knack for countering over the tops of their shoulders. And when they decide to hook hard or launch power from the rear, Edwards is quick to suffocate their efforts by initiating the clinch and applying his patent close-quarter-combat tactics (which will likely come in handy for this matchup).

August 17, 2019; Anaheim, CA, USA; Nate Diaz pins Anthony Pettis to the mat during UFC 241 at Honda Center. Mandatory Credit: Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports

Considering that 170-pounds has traditionally been a weight class where wrestling is a major key to success, we will likely see two underrated clinch games collide.

Initially identified as a striker when first stepping onto the UFC scene, Edwards put a sizable emphasis on his wrestling after losing a close split-decision in his promotional debut. Since then, we have seen Edwards surprise better on-paper grapplers with suffocating clinches and well-timed trip takedowns that allow the Englishman to counter offensive efforts and win rounds in the process.

More often than not, it is Edwards’ knack for landing slick elbows off the breaks that make it easier for the English fighter to establish both underhooks and body locks as the fight goes on, making for a fruitful pairing to play off of. In fact, it is not uncommon for the Jamaican-born fighter to pair up attacks in order to stay ahead of his opposition:

Leon Edwards threatens with an inside trip to draw a reaction from Gunnar Nelson that exposes his hips to a rear body lock trip angle (a la Kamaru Usman), which he then uses to secure a leg ride with a wrist feed for cross control. #UFCVegas21 pic.twitter.com/JZYqjYPn5H

— Dan Tom (@DanTomMMA) March 10, 2021

Edwards also likes looking for the back, but – as seen in the tweet above – is just as happy playing the role of a positional rider and grinding things out with crafty controls and other forms of attritional warfare. Nevertheless, Diaz is a deceptive fighter to wrestle with in close quarters and has made many fighters regret trying to tangle with him.

Not only does Diaz have his patented front-choke threats to go to, but he also carries some quiet craftiness inside the clinch that could see the light of day. Emphasizing more on overhooks than underhooks, Diaz will use this tie-up to either set up his patented Uchi Mata hip toss or open up opportunities for sneaky trips and guard pulls.

Diaz is also very proficient in transition, only needing but a moment to shift the fight’s momentum from the front-headlock position by either landing knees or locking up chokes. If Diaz ends up losing position and has to fight from his back, the Cesar Gracie black belt’s leg dexterity offers him plenty of options from guard attacks to leg locks that allow for scrambles and submission opportunities.

Nevertheless, no matter how good Diaz’s jiu-jitsu is, he cannot afford to sleep on the grappling savvy of Edwards, who is positionally sound, conservative and hard to catch.

Leon Edwards

The oddsmakers and public are heavily siding with the English fighter, listing Edwards -500 and +400 as of this writing.

Between Diaz being favored to win just two of his last 14 fights (using closing betting lines) and Edwards’ undeniable momentum, then I suppose it’s not a huge surprise to see such long odds for Stockton’s finest.

Despite Diaz’s vaunted durability and cardio assisting him in upsetting the odds countless times before, I suspect that those staples have been steadily deteriorating over time. I know Diaz has cited injuries and poor camps on multiple occasions, but that doesn’t change the fact that he has arguably turned in just one consistently paced performance in the past six years.

Couple that with Diaz’s long-documented propensity to cut over his right eye, and I suspect that a lot of left-sided attacks will be lobbed his way this Saturday.

Impressive boxing acumen and undeniable toughness aside, I see Diaz’s style offering Edwards a lot of building materials to work with. Edwards, who can be a very stymying counter fighter, tends to do his best work when posed with partners who offer dependable offense in somewhat predictable doses.

Add in the fact that Edwards appears to have superior wrestling to go along with his clinch game, and I have a hard time being optimistic about Diaz’s chances of controlling the pace of this fight. And though both men have shown susceptibility to southpaw leg kicks a la Rafael dos Anjos, I believe that Edwards has the far better defense and offense in the kicking department.

For that reason, I suspect that Edwards starts attacking low and working the body early, eventually replicating Josh Thomson’s stoppage by selling a cross to land a kick up high come the third round.

Disguised high kicks on Nate Diaz #UFC263 pic.twitter.com/zaPt7Tffee

— Dan Tom (@DanTomMMA) June 7, 2021

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