Injuries, suspensions, you name it, have delayed a welterweight clash between UFC champion Georges St-Pierre and former Strikeforce champion Nick Diaz, but the pair will finally meet at UFC 158 on March 16.

The pair were expected to lock horns at UFC 137 in late 2011, but a knee injury suffered by St-Pierre put the champion on the shelf for 18 months.

Diaz went on to defeat B.J. Penn, but then fell short against recent title challenger Carlos Condit in an interim title clash. To pour salt in the wound, Diaz failed his post-fight drug test for marijuana and has been suspended ever since.

While there is plenty of room to debate whether Diaz is deserving of a title shot coming off both a loss and suspension, the bottom line is that the fight is happening.

Let’s take a deeper look at the match-up. And as a reminder, this is a side-by-side comparison of how the fighters’ skills match up against one another using similar scoring to the unified rules.

Striking: St-Pierre – 10, Diaz – 10

Diaz (L) presses forward (Esther Lin/MMA Fighting)

In terms of stand-up, St-Pierre relies on placement and timing more than anything. His karate background is evident with his use of range and ability to deliver kicks when his opponents least expect it. What can get St-Pierre in trouble on the feet is if his opponents get inside and throw off his timing. In his last fight, he was badly rocked by the aforementioned Condit after the challenger barreled forward and unleashed a head kick that GSP never expected. It’s unlikely Diaz would use that same approach, but the space that St-Pierre prefers isn’t going to be there against the aggressive Diaz.

Diaz’s biggest weapon on the feet is volume. His boxing is crisp and relentless, but it’s most effective when he finds an opponent who is willing to engage in the same game. The Stockton native wants to brawl, but the bad news is that St-Pierre is too smart to fall into that game. Condit laid the blueprint for beating Diaz on the feet by using movement and combinations to stay at range. Diaz can’t play that game in this fight. His chin is more than capable of holding up to anything St-Pierre can deliver, so Diaz will need to march forward and make the champion uncomfortable.

Ground Game: St-Pierre – 9, Diaz – 10

Diaz works for a choke (Esther Lin/MMA Fighting)

When it comes to the submission game, St-Pierre may be a Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu black belt, but he’s not on the same level as Diaz. GSP is no slouch on the mat, as he’s submitted the likes of Frank Trigg and Matt Hughes, but he was also submitted by Hughes in his first title fight, albeit eight years ago. The holes in the Canadian’s submission offense were exposed during his fight with Dan Hardy, as he demonstrated improper technique in an armbar attempt and a kimura. If this fight ends by tapout, it won’t be St-Pierre with his hand raised.

A lot will be made of Diaz’s black belt from Cesar Gracie and for good reason: he doesn’t give them out to just anyone. In the rare instances where Diaz’s opponents have opted not to stand and bang, Diaz has fallen back on his ground game. He forced veterans Evangelista Santos and Hayato “Mach” Sakurai to succumb to armbars over the course of the last few years, and his gogoplata over Takanori Gomi in Pride is still a piece of MMA history. What tips the scales further in the favor of Diaz in the submission department is the fact he’s never been submitted.

Wrestling: St-Pierre – 10, Diaz – 8

St-Pierre works from the top position (Esther Lin/MMA Fighting)

If there’s an elephant in the room in this fight, it’s the wrestling. Although St-Pierre did not grow up with a wrestling base, he’s developed one of the best takedown attacks in the sport. Couple that with his superb top control and even highly decorated wrestlers like Josh Koscheck have been put on their back against the Canadian. More often than not, GSP takes away his opponent’s strengths, and against strikers like Condit, Hardy and Thiago Alves, he’s been content with planting them on their back and working ground-and-pound. Diaz won’t be any different in that regard.

Quick, when was the last time Diaz faced a wrestler? No, seriously, keep looking. Find it yet? If you said UFC 59 in 2006, you’re correct. Sean Sherk was the last fighter with a solid wrestling base that Diaz faced. And in 35 career fights, Diaz has faced less than a handful of wrestlers. Why, you ask? Largely because he’s struggled mightily against them. Sherk, Joe Riggs and Diego Sanchez exploited a huge hole in Diaz’s game over consecutive  fights during his first tenure with the promotion—takedown defense. Is it possible that Diaz has improved his ability to keep the fight upright since then? Of course. But there’s little or no evidence to show it. This is where this fight will be won or lost for the Californian.

Strategy: St-Pierre – 10, Diaz – 9

St-Pierre delivers ground and pound (Esther Lin/MMA Fighting)

As already alluded to above, St-Pierre is a master at neutralizing his opponent’s strengths and implementing whatever aspect of MMA is their weakness. He puts strikers on their backs and makes wrestlers strike. It’s the reason he’s won 10 straight fights, including seven consecutive title defenses. Despite all the pre-fight build-up that would lead you to believe that St-Pierre is going to be the aggressor in this fight, expect him to rely on a strong game plan that will frustrate Diaz throughout.

Strategy? What’s strategy? Diaz is a fighter in the truest sense of the word. The bottom line is that he steps into the cage to fight. But against someone like St-Pierre, it means that he’s likely to get outpointed like he was against Condit. Diaz’s approach is easy for the fans to connect with and cheer for, but it’s not the smartest when facing a tactician like GSP.

Killer Instinct: St-Pierre – 9, Diaz – 10

Diaz (R) taunts his opponent (Esther Lin/MMA Fighting)

If St-Pierre’s nickname was “Safety First,” not many would be surprised. Since losing the welterweight strap to Matt Serra in 2007 and then recapturing it with a vicious TKO, the fighter has focused so much on strategy that he’s had trouble finishing fights. Sure, he’s come close with the submission attempts against Hardy and the masterful striking against Koscheck, but it’s clear that winning a fight is more important to St-Pierre than finishing it.

Meanwhile, there’s Diaz with 21 wins by some form of stoppage in 26 career victories. Prior to his decision win over Penn and decision loss to Condit, the Californian had gone the distance just once in his previous 11 fights. Diaz is always looking for the opening to finish a fight, whether it’s standing or on the ground. If this fight doesn’t see the scorecards, it’s likely that it will be Diaz’s hand that is raised as the victor.

X-Factor

Diaz has been out of action for an entire year due to suspension. Although he’s one of the most well-conditioned athletes in the sport, being out of the cage for a year only to return and face St-Pierre is a tall order. Most importantly, can Diaz prove that he’s fixed the holes in his wrestling game and force the champion to strike with him?

Total: St-Pierre – 48, Diaz – 47

Verdict: As said above, this fight doesn’t make much sense on paper, but for the UFC it makes cents (and dollars for that matter). Fans may love Diaz’s no-nonsense approach and bad-boy attitude, but the reality is that St-Pierre is a terrible match-up for him. Don’t expect this fight to be close, as St-Pierre embarrasses Diaz on his way to yet another unanimous decision win.

Top Photo: Georges St-Pierre (Esther Lin/MMA Fighting)