Diaz triumphs in tight clash with Santos

Sun, 30 Jan 12:35:00 2011

Nick Diaz retained his Strikeforce welterweight championship with a tap-out victory over Evangelista 'Cyborg' Santos.

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When Santos took Diaz down with 20 seconds left in the second round, he probably saw it as a way to clinch a close round.

Instead, the move was his undoing. Immediately after Santos scored the takedown, Diaz began working for an armbar. Seconds later it was locked in, and Diaz retained the title via tapout victory with 10 seconds left in the round. Santos punched the mat in frustration, while his wife, Strikeforce women’s middleweight champion Cristiane Santos, put her head in her hands and broke down in tears at cageside.

Santos (18-14), whose record coming into the fight made him a suspect challenger, was competitive in an exciting fight that brought the HP Pavilion crowd of 9,059 to its feet at the end.

Santos won much of the first round until being rocked with punches late which turned the tables. And he was winning the second round with an attack of leg kicks that Diaz admitted after the fight were the hardest he had ever taken in competition.

“I think ‘Cyborg’ was a really worthy opponent,” said Diaz (24-7, 1 No Contest), who won his ninth straight fight.

“He’s probably the biggest guy I’ve fought and he was strong. He’s got big legs and big feet. He kicks harder than anyone else I’ve ever fought or trained with. I could tell it from watching his fights. I knew it was coming. It was nothing I didn’t expect. I expected what I got and I’m happy with surviving the fight.”

Diaz downplayed the effect of the leg kicks in the fight, although his leg buckled once in the first round from them before he started checking them, and he did need medical attention after the fight.

“He was eating a lot of punches,” said Diaz, a native of nearby Stockton. “He throws leg kicks and I throw punches. For all the leg kicks I was taking, he was taking more punches. I started checking the kicks and I had to figure out what I needed to do to stop taking those kicks.”

He said he started feeling a little better after the fight, but figured the left leg would stiffen up later.

Diaz, who has seemingly replaced first-generation stars Frank Shamrock and Cung Le as the main local headliner in Strikeforce’s hometown, won his 12th straight fight in Northern California and third straight main event in the company’s main arena, following wins over Shamrock and KJ Noons.

“You know, I train really hard and really consistent, and I didn’t think too much about it (fighting not far from home),” he said. “It’s great I get to fight before local area crowds. Before I’d come here and I wasn’t always the favourite when I fought against San Jose and Frank Shamrock. But now it’s nice.”

He taunted Santos, who was trying to become the other half of the first husband and wife major world champion tandem in the sport’s history, but Diaz was eating low kicks early. Just as the low kicks seemed to take their toll, Diaz fired back and had Santos in trouble with body and head punches late in the first round, wobbling the Brazilian veteran. Another strong punch rocked Santos at the end of the round.

Diaz got into a kicking exchange in the second round that he didn’t get the better of. But as they traded punches, Santos’ punches started losing their zing, and the feeling going in was Diaz, with his triathlete endurance, was going to be tougher to beat if he wasn’t finished early.

Diaz stood up to Santos’ punches that landed accurately. Diaz continued to taunt, but as it turned out, the key point in the match was when Santos went for a surprise move, the spin kick, and then exploded against the off-balance Diaz for a takedown.

But Diaz was ready.

“I did see him taking me down after taking too many punches,” Diaz said. “I saw him getting tired and I did feel I could finish with an armlock or triangle choke.”

A couple of names were batted around as Diaz’s next opponent, including Paul Daley, who will likely get the shot if he beats Yuya Shirai on Febraury 26 in Manchester. Tyron Woodley’s name was thrown in the mix, as was a grudge match that would be out of his weight class against Jason Miller.

Diaz spoke confidently about Daley, who he noted had good knockout power but didn’t see as a complete fighter. Diaz’s team-mate, Jake Shields, finished Daley on the ground when they fought in 2008.

“I see me putting punches on him and maybe him trying to take me down and then he’ll get caught in a choke or something like that,” Diaz said.

“He could run from me, but then I’ll run him down and take him down and beat him on the ground. I can see the fight going a lot of different ways.

"I’m not really impressed with Paul Daley as an MMA fighter. He’s got great stand-up and good knockout power. I wouldn’t judge him from the Scott Smith fight. That fight was made for him. They both punch and he punches a little harder.”

Diaz got emotional when Miller’s name was brought up as some have accused Diaz of coming up with reasons not to fight Miller. Adding fuel to the fire, there have been out-of-competition incidents between the two and online videos by Miller making fun of Diaz.

“I don’t think that would be a title fight,” Diaz said, angering at a reporter asking the question.

“If I’m not fighting for a title, they can work that out. I’ll fight him at 185 pounds. I don’t care. I just don’t care, I just want you (the promotion) to make it worth my while. This is hard stuff. I’m training hard every day, harder than people who work eight hours a day holding a camera. You can’t do what I do. Money talks.”

The name of Miller, the host of the MTV show Bully Beatdown, was a lightning rod all night. Ronaldo Souza (14-2, 1 no contest), who retained his middleweight title with a submission at 2:00 into the third round over Robbie Lawler (18-7, 1 no contest), also grew upset when Miller was mentioned as a potential challenger.

“You’re kidding me,” Souza responded. “I beat this guy two times (the two fought twice in Japan, once with Souza winning via decision and the other ruled a no contest after Miller cut Souza’s head with an illegal kick). No more!”

Lawler will probably question the fight for a long time, as he knocked Souza down with a barrage of punches in the first round, and then suddenly, for reasons he couldn’t explain, he wasn’t himself.

“I was tired three-and-a-half-minutes in, and even now, I’m still out of breath,” Lawler said after the fight. “I don’t know what happened. His takedowns were pretty good. I knew my wrestling, how to defend, but I just didn’t have the energy to do it. I just felt lethargic.

"Everything seemed slow, even when I got out of that armbar (in the second round). I trained hard and felt good the last week.”

Herschel Walker, 1982 Heisman Trophy winner who turns 49 in a few weeks, went to 2-0 with a one-sided win over 40-year-old Scott Carson (4-2) at 3:15 in the opening round.

Walker gave no answers as to whether he would fight again, but said that he loves training at the AKA Gym in San Jose that has been his home for much of the past 15 months. But he quickly dispelled any ideas of taking on the top names in the sport.

“No, there’s no way,” he said when asked if he would be willing to step in as an alternate in the heavyweight tournament Strikeforce is running this year. “I have an opportunity to step into the ring with the guys in AKA like Cain (UFC heavyweight champion Cain Velasquez). These guys are amazing. Cain works with me a little but, but when he decides to turn it up, I know how much I need to learn. That’s what the sport is all about.”

“No way I’m going after the belt,” he said. “The only belt I’m getting will be the one that I buy. You can’t buy a belt here, this isn’t boxing.”

And then he quickly realized what he said.

“All you boxing fans, I didn’t really mean that.”

Dave Meltzer / Eurosport

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