(Nick Diaz walks to the cage. Check out the full gallery here.)
Nick Diaz survived a knockdown scare against DREAM Welterweight Champion Marius Zaromskis and ended the Lithuanian’s night with a right hook with 22 ticks left in the first round to become the first Strikeforce Welterweight Champion. In doing so, the Cesar Gracie black belt entered the pound-for-pound ranks and bringing a third major organizational belt to the same camp for the first time in history.
With quality wins at lightweight, welterweight and middleweight, Diaz’s post-UFC career has sent the Stockton, Calif. native’s stock soaring. He left the UFC on a high note—it’s rare to see fighters exit the UFC with back-to-back wins—and has only lost once since in nine bouts, a cut stoppage loss to KJ Noons. Anderson Silva is the only other fighter to earn meaningful wins in more weight classes – Shooto middleweight (167 pounds), Pride welterweight (183 pounds), UFC middleweight (185 pounds) and light heavyweight (205 pounds). Diaz’s recent run has earned him a place in the pound for pound conversation along with “The Spider,” Fedor Emelianenko, Georges St-Pierre, BJ Penn and Lyoto Machida.
Diaz (21-7), started his unlikely ascent by tapping PRIDE Lightweight Champion Takanori Gomi with the gogoplata in 2007, bouncing up to middleweight and stopping reputable middleweights Frank Shamrock and Scott Smith before finishing off with a return to his natural weight of 170-pounds and becoming the first man to unify major belts in Japan and America with his first round TKO over Zaromskis.
Diaz’s 170-pound strap completes a Cesar Gracie Jiu-Jitsu triple crown. Pat Miletich is the only other trainer to boast major-promotion champions in three different divisions – Jens Pulver, Matt Hughes and Tim Sylvia – but the three never held their belts concurrently. Strikeforce Middleweight Champion Jake Shields, Strikeforce Lightweight Champion Gilbert Melendez and Diaz became champions in consecutive months.
Champions are defined by their title defenses though, so Diaz and Cesar Gracie’s team have stern challenges ahead to maintain their status. Diaz is likely to face former International Fight League Welterweight Champion Jay Hieron, who took a unanimous decision over Joe Riggs earlier in the night, while Shields and Melendez are rumored to have Dan Henderson and Shinya Aoki on the horizon.
Strikeforce’s cupboard isn’t as bare as it was just 12 months ago, but the promotion still needs to think carefully about how it uses its talent. Here are some suggestions:
• If Marius Zaromskis doesn’t return to DREAM, a tilt with Tyron Woodley would provide good style tests for both.
• Marloes Coenen would be wise to enter the April 145-pound female tournament to try and earn a rematch or await Gina Carano’s expected summer return for a noteworthy contest.
• Robbie Lawler’s reluctance to jump into the title picture should see him tangle with Jason “Mayhem” Miller. Melvin Manhoef and Benji Radach could present equal excitement as Manhoef-Lawler, and a rematch of that fight later this year would be worth watching.
• Putting Bobby Lashley across from former UFC title challenger Jeff Monson would be a step in the right direction if he and the “Snowman” haven’t formed an unbreakable bond at American Top Team, and the same could be said of Antonio Silva.