Questions ahead of Jake Paul vs. Nate Diaz
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Questions ahead of Jake Paul vs. Nate Diaz

Jun 11, 2023

Max Kellerman breaks down why Nate Diaz is the perfect opponent for Jake Paul. (0:37)

Nate Diaz and Jake Paul have been exchanging trash talk on social media and in the press for over a year. Their two teams got into a physical altercation backstage during one of Paul's fights. Paul called Diaz out on several exchanges, including in his postfight interview after beating Anderson Silva last year.

Until recently, it didn't seem like the massive bout would come together. Diaz only became a free agent from the UFC last November. In February, Paul felt the first loss of his pro boxing career against Tommy Fury. But over the last month, things came together. And now the bout is official.

Paul, the YouTuber-turned-prizefighter, will take on Diaz, one of the most popular fighters in UFC history, in a boxing match Aug. 5 in Dallas. The bout is contracted for eight rounds at 185 pounds.

The two men couldn't be more different. Paul has built a lucrative boxing career after being a social media influencer and starring in a Disney show. Diaz grew up in hard-scrabble Stockton, California and has fought a who's who of MMA greats over 15 years in the UFC. There are many dramatic layers involving this show going into one of the year's biggest fights.

ESPN insiders Marc Raimondi, Mike Coppinger, Ben Baby and Jeff Wagenheim take a deeper look at the fight below.

It came together quickly -- in less than a month. Paul had three options after losing to Fury: a Fury rematch, a grudge match with fellow YouTuber KSI and a fight with former pound-for-pound king Floyd Mayweather. While Paul's team favored KSI as the next opponent because it would be, in the team's view, an easier fight with a big payday, Paul felt like Diaz was more of an authentic fighter who could present a challenge. There were rumblings about a potential pro bout with Logan Paul as recently as six weeks ago on Diaz's side, but that didn't come together.

Ultimately, both teams felt this opportunity was too big to pass up. There is legitimate bad blood with history and a storyline. Nothing else felt as big as this would be from a financial standpoint, and once all parties were on board, it got done relatively fast. -- Raimondi

It's undoubtedly the most crucial fight of Paul's short career -- his first following a loss. As he seeks to rebound from the setback against Tommy Fury -- the first genuine boxer Paul faced -- he returns to a familiar foil: an MMA fighter masquerading as a boxer.

In Diaz, Paul will face his most recognizable foe yet, though it's a quantum step backward in competition from Fury. That's not to say Paul-Diaz is an unacceptable matchup. On the contrary, Diaz seems to represent the perfect opponent for a revenue-generator looking to return to the win column.

With their penchant for trash-talking and Diaz's ardent followers, this event could be Paul's biggest money-maker yet. And against Diaz, Paul is facing a man with a tough-guy reputation that could give the YouTuber-turned-pugilist the respect he's looking for.

The former BMF champion has mixed it up with the elite of the UFC and is most famous for his two unforgettable fights with Conor McGregor, one of which Diaz won. Perhaps most vital here, a victory over Diaz could serve as a springboard to the ultimate showdown with McGregor.

Paul will be able to boast that he defeated the man that beat McGregor and push the promotional machine into hyperdrive to secure what could be the biggest event in combat sports.

And while any MMA fighter will be a step back from Fury, a pro boxer, Diaz seems to stack up well against the opponents Paul beat along the way, such as Anderson Silva and Tyron Woodley -- fighters respected for their standup game in the Octagon. Coppinger

He has no professional boxing matches, but boxing has long been one of his strengths in MMA, along with his Brazilian jiu-jitsu. He prefers a standup fight, but has the ground skills if things go that way.

Many of Diaz's biggest wins go a similar way. He's usually the slower fighter with less power, at least initially. He'll take some shots early, but has a great chin, immeasurable heart and outstanding cardio. So as the fight gets long, he becomes more dangerous. Just ask Conor McGregor, who could not put him away in two fights. Diaz choked McGregor out the first time and rallied in the second in a close majority decision for McGregor. Diaz was close to finishing McGregor in the latter part of the fight. Leon Edwards, now the UFC welterweight champion, had a similar experience. He was winning the whole way, doing some damage. But in the fifth, Diaz was still fairly fresh and rocked Edwards with a one-two combination. Diaz couldn't finish Edwards, but he landed the most impactful strikes of the five-round bout.

Regarding best boxing performance, it's hard to say because MMA is multi-dimensional. Maybe his win over Michael Johnson in 2015. Again, Johnson was winning early with his fast hands. But once an opponent gets a little tired, Diaz suddenly turns it on and boxed up Johnson en route to a unanimous decision. -- Raimondi

Don't count on it.

Let's take a look at the numbers. Paul has four fights against former UFC fighters, including a matchup against Silva, an MMA legend, and an incredible one-punch KO over Tyron Woodley in their rematch. Paul is 4-0 in those bouts with two knockouts. Paul has enough of a track record to say that he performs well against MMA fighters.

In addition to that, Paul will likely carry a big size advantage. Diaz was a UFC lightweight for most of his career and fought at welterweight at the end of his career with a record of 3-3. He tipped the scales at 171 pounds for his bout against Tony Ferguson last September. On the other hand, Paul has never weighed in at less than 183.75 pounds.

From a business perspective, would Paul take this fight if he believed Diaz was a legitimate risk? Paul is coming off his first loss as a boxer. If he continues to rack up defeats, his marketability will plummet. When the odds come out, expect Paul to be the favorite over Diaz.

Who would have imagined a sentence like that a few years ago? -- Baby

We have yet to hear the opening bell, but Paul vs. Diaz has already begun. The initial shots were delivered long before the fight was announced on Wednesday. The first several rounds took place on social media a couple of years ago, starting when Diaz ridiculed Paul's knockouts of Tyron Woodley and Ben Askren -- "You'd get smoked in a real fight tho." And there was an in-person confrontation last fall when Diaz slapped a member of Paul's entourage backstage before Paul's fight with Silva.

Now that an actual fight is booked, the antagonism will intensify and entertain. Paul got in the first jab on Wednesday when he tweeted out a photo of a gravestone with Diaz's name on it shortly after the fight announcement. An appropriate response would have been for Diaz to post a photo of The Undertaker, because this will be a full-on WWE buildup. The press conferences should be MC'd by Paul Heyman.

But here's the thing about Diaz: He doesn't play. His in-your-face bluster sells tickets and pay-per-views, but its aim is not necessarily commerce. He is a master of the mental game, using chest-thumping hostility to get under his opponent's skin and rile himself up. The fact that it's all part of a fight strategy, though, does not make it any less spellbinding.

These boxing matches between non-boxers are not for everyone. But even if you're inclined to save your pay-per-view bucks to spend on championship-level fights, there is still plenty of entertainment to be had here. Between press conferences, weigh-ins and other moments when Paul and Diaz come face to face, the hype fest is a better bet to deliver than the bout itself. Yes, when fight night comes and these two stars finally step into the ring, Diaz will surely deliver a meme-worthy moment. But it won't be the first. -- Wagenheim