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Diaz vs Lawler: One for the Ages

Whoever Lands First Big Shot Could Prevail at UFC 266

Las Vegas and UFC bring back the highly anticipated return of Nick Diaz and former champion Robbie Lawler in a stacked fight card on UFC 266. Plenty of UFC lines for the two-championship fight card takes place on Saturday at T-Mobile Arena where the main card will be on pay-per-view, the prelims on ESPNews, and the early prelims on ESPN+.

Reasons Why First Big Shot will be Telling

Unpredictability of the Chin

Diaz (26-9 MMA, 7-6 UFC) has not fought in nearly seven years dating to the debacle in 2015 when he tested positive for marijuana and was serving a five-year suspension. Who knows how a 38-year-old fighter will react to the first punch in a return to high-level competition? Who knows how Diaz’s would react had he been fighting the entire time? It’s impossible, which makes things a bit shakier for UFC’s best bets.

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Steve Marcus/Getty Images/AFP

Before the long layoff, Diaz had not lost by KO or TKO since his loss to KJ Noons at Elite XC in 2007. His chin had been holding up and he was facing fighters with knockout power, including Carlos Condit, B.J. Penn and Paul Daley.

You can say the same for Lawler (28-15 MMA, 13-9 UFC). He’s faced top-level competition and he hasn’t lost by KO or TKO since losing his title defense fight in 2016.

Lawler, Diaz in Great Shape

If you’ve fought as long as Diaz and Lawler, you’d know that finding yourself tired in a bout at some point in your career is possible, it’s just rare with these two. The fight going to a decision may be something to consider as a good bet online. They both have had unbelievable training camps throughout their careers and this fight is no different.

Lawler now trains at Sanford MMA after training at American Top Team for three years. He made the change after losing his title to Tyron Woodley and ahead of his UFC 214 bout against Donald Cerrone, where he got the unanimous decision win. Lawler says he feels great at the age of 39 and doesn’t play on retiring after the Diaz fight regardless of the outcome.

“My body feels good. It’s just waiting for a good fight that gets me excited and this is one of those fights,” Lawler told TMZ. “As long as my body feels good and I’m still loving what I’m doing and still get in there and train with these guys and hold my own. I’m enjoying what I’m doing. If all those things are clicking, then I’m going to be doing it.”

Something to consider when looking at the sportsbook is that Lawler has been 1-4 since changing camps to Sanford MMA despite training with the likes of Michael Chandler, Gilbert Burns and UFC up-and-comer Vicente Luque.

Both Fighters may be Incredibly Measured

Lawler says he’s more measured in the UFC Countdown interview to promote the fight. That is absolutely true. What makes this fight so compelling is the way his last fight with Diaz played out. Lawler was the known “knockout artist” and Diaz wasn’t known for his power. Lawler acknowledged how he reacts to getting punched now versus the last time he faced Diaz.

“I’m more measured, obviously,” Lawler told the UFC. “I don’t get emotional when I get hit with a shot. I’m more like, all right, why did I get hit with that shot.”

The Diaz brothers both have been very cognitive of their strengths over the years. Staying in shape has never been an issue. Diaz has been known to participate in triathlons, including one this year in June. He’s also known to be an incredible swimmer and has shown stamina in several of his fights.

Staying in shape has never been the problem. Where he is mentally coupled with his long layoff is what needs to be considered while going up against the more pro-active Lawler, who last fought just over a year ago.