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Nate Diaz closes the book on Gray Maynard rivalry with 1st round knockout
It's been six years in the making since Nate Diaz and Gray Maynard first met during the fifth season of The Ultimate Fighter, but their trilogy of bouts officially came to a close at the TUF 18 finale with the door slamming shut on the rivalry.
The first meeting, while not on their official records, ended with Diaz getting the win by guillotine choke before Maynard evened things up a few years ago when he pulled off a split decision victory in a hotly contested bout.
Now with both fighters coming off recent knockout losses, a win on Saturday night was paramount for Diaz and Maynard not only for their rivalry but to stay relevant in a deep and dangerous lightweight division.
Maynard, who moved training camps three fights ago to begin working with American Kickboxing Academy, showed up early with his wrestling — a go to staple of the early part of his career but something he's largely abandoned in his last four fights. While Maynard got the fight to the mat quickly, he wasn't able to subdue Diaz's counters where the Stockton native landed a judo throw on a reversal before ultimately working back to the feet.
It was there that Maynard started reaching for his shots, trying to tag the long, lanky Diaz with power punches, but largely coming up with air. Maynard landed only five significant strikes the entire fight out of the 15 total that he threw.
Accuracy and volume of punches weren't a problem for Diaz, who unloaded on Maynard at will once he got his range down and started tagging the former Michigan State wrestler. Diaz's output is unmatched in the division and as his fists started to find a home, his confidence grew exponentially.
As he looked for an opening, Diaz finally connected with a quick, straight left that knocked Maynard down to one knee and from there it was like target practice as he began firing off rounds without any resistance from his opponent. Diaz pinned Maynard against the cage and just rattled off punch after punch, waiting for the stoppage to finally happen.
Maynard's toughness outlasted his body because while he was still standing, there was no resistance to the punishment he was taking and referee Yves Lavigne mercifully stopped the bout albeit a few punches too late. As Diaz turned away to celebrate, Maynard attempted to step forward and just fell down on the mat unable to keep his balance after the mauling of punches he just endured.
All told, Diaz landed 33 of 55 significant strikes, which yielded an incredible 60-percent accuracy in the first round finish of Maynard.
It's sometimes hard to gauge what a win means for Diaz because he generally doesn't speak much about himself or his performance after a fight, and the same could be said when he was affording time with commentator Jon Anik following his first round knockout over Maynard. Instead of reveling in the moment, Diaz took the chance to pull in his teammate and close friend Gilbert Melendez and proclaimed that they were together the two top lightweights in the UFC awaiting all challengers.
"Just so everybody knows, the No. 1 and No. 2 lightweights in the world are right here in me and my man right here (pulls in Gilbert Melendez)," Diaz said. "My man beat Ben Henderson for the title and they let Anthony Pettis fight him. So you and (Josh) Thomson, get with me and my boy right now cause this is our division."
Diaz mentions Thomson because one fight ago he was knocked out by the former Strikeforce lightweight champion and has been gunning for a rematch ever since. Thomson is already set to face Benson Henderson for his next fight in January, but any time Diaz is involved in a rivalry there's always a chance the UFC would run it back and do it all over again.
As for his standing in the division after two tough losses in a row, a win on Saturday night was huge for Diaz (17-9), who can now move back into the thick of the contender's race. With a list of possible matchups at 155 pounds, Diaz could take on any top ten fighter and make it exciting although he has expressed interest in moving up to welterweight again in the future as well.
What comes next for Maynard (11-3) is a much different story to interpret. Once an undefeated title challenger, Maynard has gone just 1-3-1 in his last four fights with all three defeats coming by way of knockout. At 34-years of age, Maynard will now have to face an uncertain future when he wakes up on Sunday after the loss to Diaz and his eventual plummet in the UFC lightweight rankings.