ANAHEIM, Calif. – What’s three years anyway, right?
In his highly anticipated return to the Octagon, Nate Diaz was brilliant in a unanimous decision (30-27, 30-27, 29-28) win over Anthony Pettis in the co-main event of UFC 241 on Saturday night at Honda Center.
Diaz had not fought since a loss to Conor McGregor at UFC 202 on Aug. 20, 2016. But he imposed his will on Pettis early and often. Diaz was able to press Pettis against the cage in every round and land punch combinations, elbows and knees. He closed the first and third rounds in good positions on the ground, an area he also controlled when the fight went there.
Afterward, Diaz said he was interested in fighting Jorge Masvidal next. He said he was impressed by Masvidal’s five-second knockout of Ben Askren last month. Diaz said there aren’t many “gangsters” left in MMA, but he considers Masvidal to be one.
“But he ain’t no West Coast gangster,” said Diaz, who hails from Stockton, California and enjoyed a huge partisan crowd Saturday night.
Diaz’s best round was the third. Like it happened multiple times previously, Diaz pushed Pettis against the cage and landed a lengthy combination with punches. Pettis dropped, but survived until the end of the round.
Pettis had his moments in every round. When striking at distance, he was more effective than Diaz. By the end, Diaz was cut near his right eye. But whenever Pettis started getting momentum from the outside, Diaz closed the distance and made it a clinch fight, which he dominated.
The bout was contested at welterweight, though both men have spent the majority of their careers at lightweight. Diaz is now the fifth fighter in UFC history to land more than 2,000 total strikes.
Diaz (20-11) went 1-1 against McGregor in 2016. They were two of the biggest pay-per-view events in UFC history. Diaz, 34, has a huge cult following among fans for his irreverence, exciting fighting style and propensity to flip a double bird. But he had not fought since that star-making year because he wasn’t able to come to terms with the UFC.
Pettis (22-9), the former UFC lightweight champion, was coming off a knockout win over Stephen Thompson. “Showtime” has alternated wins and losses going back to 2016. Pettis, 32, has been one of the UFC’s most marketable stars over the years, once getting his likeness emblazoned on Wheaties boxes.