Amid all the hype and anticipation for Nate Diaz’s meeting with featherweight champion Conor McGregor, one question towered over all others. “Will Nate slap him?” As McGregor poured on the pressure and the power in the first round and Diaz turned with terrific blows, throwing his palm across McGregor’s chops each time, the question then became an incredulous, “how can he slap?!” To a fight fan it might seem like going to a duel with a wiffle bat instead of a sword. A slap is considered to be a non-threat—if you want to hurt someone, they say, you should ball up your fist and hit them like a man. But there is a lot more to slapping a fool than just slapping a fool.
But the Stockton Slap had been in action long before that. In arguably the biggest win of Nick Diaz’s UFC tenure, the slap was turned against ferocious up-and-comer, and presumed future champion, Robbie Lawler. Diaz, being the “jiu jitsu man” in the match up surprised everyone by going toe-to-toe with Lawler on the feet, though he ate heavy counters when he stepped in. Instead, Diaz wanted to get Lawler coming in on him so that he could drop away and land the counter right hook which even then was his money punch. Clipping Lawler over the back of the head with this sent Lawler to a hand on the mat briefly in the first round.
When you build your martial art around locker room horseplay.
Igor Vovchanchyn is remembered as one of the hardest hitters that MMA has ever seen, but coming up in bareknuckle contests he quickly realized that accuracy was key. For his swings he’d use his palm or his wrist, and he would only throw his fists in well set up punches which he felt he had a decent chance of landing cleanly and safely. Even then, Vovchanchyn retired with a number of plates in his arm.
Soon Diaz was in Lawler’s head. Just as Nate Diaz got into Michael Johnson’s by pointing at him every time he landed a good punch. The opponent just has to do something to send the message that they are winning the fight. Lawler drove in hard in the second round and walked straight onto the counter right hand which sent him to the mat for the KO.
And Bas Rutten, being one of the few good strikers in Pancrase, will happily tell you about the merits of hitting with the palms. From the time he palm struck Masakatsu Funaki’s nose across his face from above, to the upward palm strikes he used to damage Frank Shamrock while on one leg.
In boxing it is popular because the scoring area of the glove is heavily padded, where the inside of the glove is the less padded heel of the palm and below that the scantily cladded bone of the wrist. To see a fighter cuff and hit with the inside of the glove constantly, watch a Muhammad Ali fight or two. They used to call Ali a slapping or slashing puncher because he didn’t turn his hooks over and bring his elbow through, he’d slap opponents with the inside of his glove instead until the rare occasion that referee told him not to.
There is a good argument to be made for hitting with the palm just for the safety of the fists. When you try to swing a hook in from slightly too far away—unless you over rotate to connect with the back of the knuckles—it is common to end up connecting with the “door knocker knuckles”. Essentially hitting with the balled fingers, not an impact any puncher wants to throw any weight onto.
For the street application of this, check out the “You’ve been Tango’d” advertising campaign which was hastily pulled as children deafened each other for life with slaps around the ears in playgrounds across the U.K.
The Stockton Slap has been a favorite meme of fight fans for years. But hiding in plain sight is the Diaz brothers' most effective and undervalued weapon.