By Steve Davies – mmabay.co.uk
Condit fights smart, outlasts Diaz to claim Interim title, Diaz retires in disgust
With injured UFC welterweight champion, Georges St Pierre, at ringside, top contenders Nick Diaz and Carlos Condit locked horns in the main event to determine the Interim champion and the man to face GSP later in the year. Surely, there was no way that a five round battle between these two uber-aggressive finishers would be a let-down? It depends who you ask.
The tone was set from the first bell, with Condit refusing to stand still and allow Diaz to corner him and unload, but Diaz put constant pressure on ‘The Natural Born Killer’ and landed the more telling shots while taunting in trademark Diaz fashion. The second round was no different as Stockton’s finest stalked down the Jackson’s MMA man but for all his pressure landed little of merit, ending the frame with a vicious multi-shot combo to the ribs of Condit.
And then, the mood began to change. The setting stayed the same – Diaz stomped forward, taunting and feigning but Condit was beginning to land serious volume, getting the judges’ attention with some snapping leg-kicks and mixing up his striking. All of a sudden, ‘The Natural Born Killer’ had gone from looking timid and being two rounds in the hole, to possibly being all square entering the fifth and final round.
Another close round exploded into life when Diaz took Condit down late in the frame, taking his back with a body-lock and searching for the choke – somehow, Condit freed himself but immediately needed to defend an armbar attempt as the fight ended. All three judges saw the fight in favour of the underdog, and the Interim UFC welterweight champion, ‘The Natural Born Killler’. An emotional Condit was forced to endure a chorus of boos as he gave his speech before, shockingly, Diaz revealed that he was “done with MMA”, citing the judges’ decision as being the final straw.
Next for Condit: There’s endless options. While Condit’s victory has to be admired, it was hardly the ruthless showing we expected but the Greg Jackson pupil fought his fight and to his credit, Condit did a fine job. We can criticise his backpeddling but we didn’t do the same when Diaz tore apart B.J Penn – this time, the punching bag was hitting back, and scoring points. GSP will not be fit until November, meaning Condit will definitely need to defend the Interim strap one more time to keep the division moving. Do NOT rule out an immediate rematch with Diaz, you can bet Zuffa would have preferred Nick to go on to face GSP. But if that’s not an option, have Johny Hendricks fight the winner of next week’s clash between Jake Ellenberger and Diego Sanchez, to decide who’s first to challenge the ‘caretaker’ champion.
Next for Diaz: The polarising Cesar Gracie student was not terrible, but he can have no complaints as there were spells in that fight when he was literally doing nothing but walking forward. His emotions may have gotten the better of him but this writer feels Diaz’s career might have hinged on a blockbuster clash with GSP – perhaps the drive to fight ‘lesser’ guys has gone. As I said above, don’t rule out a rematch but as it stands, we have probably seen the last of Nick Diaz.
Werdum shows a nasty streak, improved striking as he batters Nelson to a decision
After a spell in Strikeforce, heavyweight top-dog Fabricio ‘Vai Cavalo’ Werdum make a triumphant return to the Octagon in the co-main event as he out-struck local Las Vegas favourite, Roy Nelson, to a comfortable unanimous decision.
The elite BJJ stylist was expected to impose his superior grappling on ‘Big Country’ but instead, Werdum was a breath of fresh air as he tossed out some impressive muay thai – hammering the hard-headed Nelson with damaging knees from the clinch and flustering him with combos. Nelson managed to drop the Brazilian late in round one, but that’s as close as ‘Big Country’ came to spoiling Werdum’s UFC return.
‘Vai Cavalo’ landed some crushing shots, leaving Nelson a puffing, panting bloodbath and although the new and improved Nelson showed again that he might have the best chin in the sport, his gutsy effort fell short in the eyes of the judges. All three swayed in favour of Werdum, with a landslide 30-27 score from all.
Next for Werdum: The former PRIDE favourite looked in good shape and was the most aggressive we’ve seen him in some time, add to this his infamous submission win over Fedor Emelianenko and you can place Werdum right in the top tier of heavyweight contenders. Expect ‘Vai Cavalo’ to face either Cain Velasquez or Frank Mir, potentially for the next title shot – or if Joe Silva wants to reintegrate the ground wizard more slowly, give him Cheick Kongo if he beats Mark Hunt in Japan this month.
Next for Nelson: Nelson weighed in at roughly the same as Werdum last night and he’s clearly taking this thing seriously nowadays. ‘Big Country’ could have the best chin in the entire sport and he can play spoiler for many a confident rising star in the division – we could see him face the loser of April’s bout between Travis Browne and another Strikeforce import, Chad Griggs.
Koscheck rides his luck, scrapes past Pierce by split decision
There was bad blood between welterweight wrestlers Josh Koscheck and Mike Pierce and it boiled over in the cage to begin with as what started as a real slugfest petered out into a stop-start three rounder. Pierce won the first round, darting in and out with heavy one-twos while Koscheck frequently dropped his guard and looked for openings.
The two gritted out a close three rounds, with both landing the odd takedown but doing little with the position, while Koscheck opened an ugly cut on the side of Pierce’s hairline that gushed blood for the duration. A few errant eye-pokes almost saw ‘Kos’ have a late point deducted and it was to be fortunate for the AKA veteran – while all three judges scored the fight 29-28, one swung in the favour of Pierce, handing Koscheck the split decision victory that resulted in the loudest boos we’ve ever heard for a winning fighter inside the Octagon.
Next for Koscheck: While Koscheck is not likely to work his way to another title shot, he has now won two straight and will undoubtedly get a top welterweight in a few months time, with the most intriguing option being unorthodox veteran, Brian Ebersole. It would certainly test ‘Kos’ against someone who isn’t a wrestler by nature.
Next for Pierce: The Team Quest prospect drops an unlucky loss and his solid Octagon record should guarantee that Pierce lives to fight another day. With their recent internet beef not quite forgotten, now is surely the time to pit Pierce against former training partner, Rick Story.
Barao schools Jorgensen, unstoppable Brazilian in line for title shot
Bantamweight phenom Renan Barao improved his record to 28-1 last night with a scintillating performance that left former WEC title contender, Scott Jorgensen, without an answer. The Nova Uniao Fighter was facing the toughtest test of his career to date and Barao passed it with flying colours.
Jorgensen’s attempts to land takedowns were brushed aside with ease by Barao, who again showed some scary improvements in his striking game to accompany his wizardy on the ground. The Brazilian beat Jorgensen to the punch often, and hard, rocking the colourful Idaho native with kicks, knees and punches.
We only saw fleeting glimpses of Barao’s A-game, but the surging bantamweight prospect took the clear-cut 30-27 unanimous decision, another emphatic UFC performance for the undisputed number one contender.
Next for Barao: Now 3-0 in the UFC with impressive wins over top competition, the Nova Uniao firebrand is a breath of fresh air in a division clogged with potential rematches for UFC bantamweight champ, Dominick Cruz. When Cruz has fought Urijah Faber for a third and final time (hopefully) in a few months time, the man holding the belt will have to come correct – Barao is coming for the gold.
Next for Jorgensen: ‘Young Guns’ was made to look bad by Barao but the all-action Jorgensen remains in the upper tier of the division and a fight with a fellow fallen contender, Brian Bowles, would put the winner back in the mix.
“Short Fuse’ gets the lone finish on main card, taps out Starks after early scare
Middleweight contender Ed ‘Short Fuse’ Herman continued his fine run of form that has seen him win three in a row since returning from long-term injury, picking up an impressive third win via hard-fought submission.
Herman’s opponent, Arizona-based wrestler Clifford Starks, brought an 8-0 record to the table and immediately showed that he had more than just takedowns to offer, lighting up Herman with punches and pushing the pace to win the first round and leave ‘Short Fuse’s eye swelling shut.
But the veteran got down to business in round two, landing a deft trip to put Starks on his back before quickly securing hooks and sinking in the rear-naked choke, forcing Starks to tap at 1:43 of the second round.
Next for Herman: The native of Portland, Oregon has three successive finishes under his belt and could be in the best form of his career – look for Herman to get another main card fight later in the year, possibly against the winner of next week’s clash between Aaron Simpson and Ronny Markes.
Next for Starks: The inexperienced Starks showed some promise last night and despite dropping his first career loss, the wrestler could still be one to watch. We could see Starks face a fellow wrestler in need of a win such as C.B Dollaway or Dan Miller.
Preliminary Card round-up
‘Submission of the Night’ bonuses went to featherweight prospect Dustin Poirier who moved to 4-0 in the UFC with a slick tapping of rookie newcomer, Max Holloway. Tipped as an exciting striker, Holloway showed no nerves as he landed better shots and had Poirier flustered for a while until ‘The Diamond’ took the fight to the mat. The Louisiana native switched to a slick and deep armbar that Holloway somehow escaped, only for Poirier to mount him with a triangle choke and torque a straight armbar – ending the fight with 3:23 of the first round elapsed.
Next for Poirier: ‘The Diamond’ is now 12-1 and looks an acceptable title contender but he needs to get in line. Assuming Chan Sung Jung is next for UFC featherweight champion Jose Aldo, expect to see Poirier get a rescheduled date with Erik Koch to determine the next man up.
Next for Holloway: The plucky Hawaiian was overmatched but showed some promise and some balls, he didn’t back down an inch. Holloway will be given one more shot, against someone more of his experience level such as Pat Schilling.
There was a bizarre outcome in the bantamweight scuffle involving former ‘The Ultimate Fighter’ standout, Alex Caceres and scrappy Texan Edwin Figueroa who put on a frenzied contest that saw both hard-hitting striking and speedy grappling. But two horribly hard, accidental shots to the groin from Caceres almost forced Figueroa out of the fight and saw ‘Bruce Leroy’ have two points deducted, a slightly weird move by Herb Dean. Although Figueroa almost finished Caceres with a stunning headkick and follow up punches in round one, ‘Bruce Leroy’ seemed to edge most of the action but it was Figueroa who took the split decision.
Next for Figueroa: The entertaining ‘El Feroz’ may not have deserved the win last night but he improves to 9-1 and 2-1 in the UFC, meaning a step-up in competition is in order for Figueroa. A scrap with Canadian banger Nick Denis would make for a solid addition to a FOX-related card in May or June.
Next for Caceres: ‘Bruce Leroy’ was unlucky to lose a bizarre fight that again saw him show marked improvements in his still young game. Sadly, the Floridian drops to 6-5 in his career and that record is going to be hard to improve consistently in the big leagues. Expect the quirky bantamweight to get a final roll of the dice against a recent TUF graduate like Dustin Pague.
With his back to the wall, entertaining but struggling welterweight Matt Brown shook off a stuttering start in his fight with fellow former TUF alumni, Chris Cope, to notch up another highlight-reel stoppage that will keep him under contract for at least another fight. ‘The Immortal’ did little in round one but in the second, a right hook by Brown wobbled Cope who was dropped like a tree with a follow up left hand. Brown landed a few more for good measure but Cope was stiff as a board, Kim Winslow’s intervention coming at 1:19 of the second round.
Next for Brown: The Ohio native is always game for a slugfest and he’ll be used as such, probably sneaking onto a main card in the coming months against a scrappy opponent like Josh Neer.
Next for Cope: ‘C-Murder’ falls to 1-2 in the UFC, losing twice in a row by brutal stoppage. The awkward, whooping Cope has seen the last of the big lights for now.
There was another razor-close split decision on the prelims as another former TUF contestant, Matt Riddle, looked to halt a two-fight skid in a war of attrition with newcomer Henry Martinez. A Jackson’s MMA prospect, the 8-1 Martinez looked great in round one as he lit up the much bigger Riddle with combos and left him bruised up and seemingly done. But the plucky Riddle came on strong as Martinez, probably feeling the burn due to having no time to prepare, began to fade. Riddle’s wild striking and frenzied punches on the ground earned him a hard-fought split decision.
Next for Riddle: The Pennsylvanian moves to 6-3 and is safe for another fight at least. If nothing else, you cannot fault the heart and guts of Riddle, and he’ll most likely be paired with an equally inexperienced welterweight like Stephen Thompson.
Next for Martinez: The NCAA wrestler and BJJ black-belt did not embarass himself and some have said that Martinez will actually fight TWO weight-classes below when he gets a chance to redeem himself. The hard-hitting New Mexican could be one to watch at 155lbs or 145lbs.
A decent enough middleweight tilt saw Brazilian prospect Rafael Natal move to 2-1-1 in the UFC and finally secure back to back wins as he edged out previously unbeaten Dutchman, Michael Kuiper, on the scorecards. ‘Sapo’s strong grappling and versatile striking saw him coast through the first, and part of the second round but Kuiper finished strongly – dropping Natal and coming close to finishing him. But Natal ended the round in control, taking the clear-cut unanimous decision.
Next for Natal: The well-rounded middleweight will get a bump in competition when he returns to the cage, maybe in the form of gritty all-rounder Chris Camozzi.
Next for Kuiper: ‘Judo’ drops to 11-1 but turned in a surprisingly solid showing, which coupled with his young age suggests that Kuiper has some serious potential. Training with Golden Glory, Kuiper will definitely be given a second bite at the cherry and could face durable banger Jared Hamman.
The opening fight of the night was a screamer as unbeaten welterweight prospect Stephen Thompson introduced the fans to ‘Wonderboy’, picking up ‘Knockout of the Night’ honours for his slick first round destruction of Dan Stittgen. Stitgen had little for the karate-styled striking of the decorated Thompson and with 4:13 on the clock a pitch-perfect high kick to the jaw sent Stittgen flopping to the mat in a heap, ending the fight.
Next for Thompson: ‘Wonderboy’ moves to 6-0 in style and you can bet this kid will be getting pushed further up the card next time out. The kempo stylist could take on Matt Riddle for guaranteed fireworks.
Next for Stittgen: ‘The Anvil’ showed….well, nothing. Stittgen didn’t even get into this fight but he jumped in at short notice and will be rewarded with another fight perhaps against the man he replaced last night, Justin Edwards.
That’s ‘UFC 143: Diaz vs. Condit’ in the bag – despite the strange, anti-climactic feeling of the main event’s outcome, let’s not take anything away from ‘The Natural Born Killer’ Carlos Condit who becomes the Interim UFC welterweight champion. Stay tuned to MMABay in the days to come for all the breaking news surrounding the fight card and Nick Diaz’s status as a UFC fighter.
By Steve Davies