When Josh "The Punk" Thomson knocked out Nate Diaz last year, I was really moved by the content of the fight. It was a totally strategic fight. Recently, when Diaz has lost, it has normally only happened when he is forced to grapple from the bottom. Thomson did not go that route, and instead he chose to strike and knocked Diaz out. It reminded me how Thomson himself was knocked out during his first UFC run by Yves Edwards (and his high kick), but in the fight with Diaz, Thomson used Diaz's reflexes against him to land his own high kick.
Let me provide a breakdown of that fight.
At first, Diaz was aiming to brawl with his hands from a comfortable distance. What Thomson did to counter that was to avoid fighting from that distance. He either kicked from far away or used clinch work in close. Another key tactic was Thomson’s decision to change stances, which made Diaz's reflexes slower. That made Thomson’s attacks more varied and gave Diaz more to worry about.
Also, Thomson’s clinching and shots forced Diaz to sprawl and that made Diaz's reflexes slower as well. Thomson landed a variety of kicks and even punches to the knee. He tried to avoid being predictable, and because of that, it was harder for Diaz to predict and anticipate high kicks. All of these things confused Diaz. In the end, he could not figure out what was coming next and he was unable to react in time with his blocking hand before Thomson’s high kick landed.
When Thomson was asked to describe his fight with Tatsuya Kawajiri, a question was posed as to whether he had become frustrated by Kawajiri’s ability to control the action on the ground. Thomson answered that he did not feel that Kawajiri had frustrated him, but rather that Kawajiri had succeeded at executing his strategy and that he had not. That ultimately cost Thomson the fight. There was no "what if?" scenario about Thomson’s opponent or about the fight after it had ended.
Now, when I think about Thomson’s fight with Diaz, it reminds me of his answer to the question about the Kawajiri bout. Thomson built a strategy and he detailed the skills and techniques that he needed in order to knock Diaz out. Most of the time, a fight isn't going to go exactly how one fighter imagined, but Thomson’s strategic movement and his striking and grappling skills were executed perfectly against Diaz. Before the fight, Thomson really broke down what Diaz had to offer him and he prepared a great game plan. That, along with Thomson’s past fight history and veteran mentality, made me feel that this was the most enjoyable strategic fight in recent times.
My checkpoints during the watching of the fight:
With 3:26 remaining, Thomson punches Diaz’s knee.
With 3:19 remaining, Thomson lands a high kick, but beforehand Diaz reacts to Thomson’s punch.
With 2:42 remaining, Thomson tries to initiate a clinch.
With 2:39 remaining, Thomson touches Diaz's arm and then lands a high kick (Diaz again reacts to Thomson’s hands).
With 1:33 remaining, Thomson tries strike when Diaz show back (which reminded me of how Edwards finished him). This indicates that he was not very worried about the risk of getting hit.
With 0:32 remaining, Thomson gets a takedown. With so little time left in the round, there was little risk of getting submitted.
With 3:28 remaining, Diaz takes Thomson down. Thomson is only focused on getting back to his feet and he does so.
With 1:37 remaining, Thomson shows high kick movements and then goes to a clinch.
With 1:29 remaining, the final head kick lands. Diaz tries to react to Thomson's hands, but he ducks into Thomson's high kick and is finished with punches soon after.
Big thanks to Robert Sargent (MMA Rising) for English editing.