Robbie Lawler spoils Nick Diaz's return, forces referee stoppage in Round 3

·Combat columnist
·3 min read

LAS VEGAS — Nick Diaz’s improbable return to the UFC on Saturday drew a sellout crowd that loudly supported his every move. It had the atmosphere of a major title fight as he and Robbie Lawler made their way to the cage for their middleweight fight on the main card of UFC 266 at T-Mobile Arena.

But Diaz, who hasn’t won a fight since beating B.J. Penn at UFC 139 in 2011, didn’t have enough left in the tank to give the crowd what it came to see.

Lawler dropped him with a check right hook early in the third round and Diaz went down awkwardly. Lawler threw a left that partially connected and sent Diaz tumbling over onto his side. Lawler then backed to the center of the cage and told Diaz to get up.

Referee Jason Herzog asked Diaz if he wanted to continue when he was slow to arise. Diaz waved his right hand and Herzog called it off, giving Lawler revenge in the rematch of a fight that happened 17 years ago.

When Diaz was leaving the cage and head to the locker room, Yahoo Sports asked him if he’d hurt his knee. Diaz said, “Yeah, a little bit.”

But in the cage after his defeat, Diaz twice said “No excuses. I had it coming and he’s in great shape.”

He simply couldn’t summon the magic that made him one of the best fighters and biggest stars in the UFC’s early years of the Zuffa ownership.

In the first round, he came out of the corner at the start and threw a spinning back kick at Lawler that was slow and without a lot of snap. Lawler avoided it easily and was firing heavy shots at him.

Diaz’s heart is as big as any fighter who ever stepped into the cage, and he threw lots of punches in a bid to sway the fight in his favor.

He didn’t have much on them, though, and Lawler was firing rockets at him. The crowd repeatedly chanted Diaz’s name during the fight and erupted when he did anything even remotely positive.

LAS VEGAS, NEVADA - SEPTEMBER 25: (R-L) Robbie Lawler punches Nick Diaz in their middleweight fight during the UFC 266 event on September 25, 2021 in Las Vegas, Nevada. (Photo by Jeff Bottari/Zuffa LLC)
LAS VEGAS, NEVADA - SEPTEMBER 25: (R-L) Robbie Lawler punches Nick Diaz in their middleweight fight during the UFC 266 event on September 25, 2021 in Las Vegas, Nevada. (Photo by Jeff Bottari/Zuffa LLC)

Lawler, though, was in command throughout.

“He did a great job, but I was just relentless,” Lawler said in the cage.

Diaz was fighting for the first time since losing to Anderson Silva at UFC 183 on Jan. 30, 2015 in Las Vegas. That fight was later changed to a no-contest when both fighters failed post-fight drug tests.

When Diaz opted to return after so long away, it got the UFC fan base fired up. Diaz was essentially the main event Saturday, even though two championship fights went on after him.

But watching him in the cage was not like watching him in the prime. It’s hard to forget the site of the athletic, graceful Willie Mays stumbling around for the New York Mets in the 1973 World Series against the Oakland A’s, or John Unitas getting beaten up while concluding his career with the San Diego Chargers.

And that’s what it was like seeing Diaz. He had the heart. He was in condition, but he didn’t have what he once did.

“That’s what I expected, for him to push the pace, but I was right there with him,” Lawler said.

Diaz smiled in the cage after the loss and accepted the defeat gracefully. He smiled and gestured to the fans as he dabbed his nose with a towel to quell the flow of blood.

“At least I put on a show,” Diaz said.

He did that, though it wasn’t much of a fight.

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