By Steve Davies – mmabay.co.uk
Main Event – Interim UFC welterweight title
Nick Diaz (26-7, 7-4 UFC) vs. Carlos Condit (27-5, 4-1 UFC)
The Lowdown: UFC 143 is really all about the main event, as top welterweight contenders Nick Diaz and Carlos Condit square off for the Interim UFC welterweight title, the winner facing champion GSP at the end of the year. Stockton’s finest, Diaz vacated the Strikeforce welterweight strap in a blaze of glory with electrifying title defences against such top talent as K.J Noons, Marius Zaromskis and Paul Daley, switching to the UFC at the tail-end of last year.
The Cesar Gracie pupil blew his chances of an immediate title shot with his social anxieties causing him to miss what Diaz himself called “the beauty pageant” and as a result, the brash Californian was pitted against B.J Penn at UFC 137. In what would be one of the best fights of the year and perhaps in UFC history, the two BJJ phenoms traded bombs for three rounds with Diaz’s unorthodox ‘gangsta boxing’ doing a real number on ‘The Prodigy’. Diaz battered Penn for fifteen minutes straight, breaking the iron-chinned veteran like nobody before and taking the unanimous decision.
As for Condit, ‘The Natural Born Killer’ was lost in the shuffle of the title picture as the Jackson’s MMA firebrand was all set to face GSP himself on this card prior to being bumped down the card to face Josh Koscheck – then hauled back into main event status. The New Mexico native was a worthy title contender having beaten such prospects as Jake Ellenberger and Rory MacDonald, although both were close calls.
Condit really burst into the title picture at UFC 120 when he became the first man to knock out former title contender, Dan Hardy, in London with a left hook late in the first round. ‘The Natural Born Killer’ continued to show the versatility and thump of his striking game at UFC 132 last July, needing under three minutes to destroy Dong Hyun Kim with a flying knee and punches. The aggressive welterweight has proven himself against the top contenders but now it’s time for Condit to throw down with the real killers of the division – don’t blink, this one is going to be a classic.
The Verdict: Diaz and Condit could be the two most aggressive and relentless guys in the welterweight division and if this one turns out to be a dud, it’d be a shock. Both are the most hungry they’ve been in their careers and both want that shot at the champion, so don’t expect either man to back down an inch from the first bell. Diaz’s boxing is a much talked about facet of his game for good reason, but Condit has a fine chin and hard-hitting muay thai of his own and at 6ft 1in, he should do a better job of dealing with Diaz’s reach.
‘The Natural Born Killer’ is also capable of hanging with the black-belt on the mat, although you’d give Diaz the nod in pure BJJ but the chances of long spells of grappling are slim – neither has the wrestling to keep the other down for long. This one will be fought in the trenches, with Diaz constantly on the front-foot looking to throw volume while Condit looks to throw big knees and work the clinch. The difference will be Diaz’s unreal cardio and his triathlon training will once again pay dividends this weekend as he outlasts Condit – taking his licks in the process from the gutsy New Mexican – and puts him away in the championship rounds. Diaz, (T)KO, 4th round.
Fabricio Werdum (14-5-1, 2-2 UFC) vs. Roy Nelson (16-6, 3-2 UFC)
The Lowdown: The big dogs are let out of the pen for the co-main event as former PRIDE standout and BJJ black-belt Fabricio ‘Vai Cavalo’ Werdum makes his long-awaited UFC return after a stint in Strikeforce. Werdum’s 2008 stint in the UFC saw him impressively stop both Brandon Vera and Gabriel Gonzaga but the wheels fell off his wagon when he was surprisingly knocked out by current champion Junior Dos Santos – who at the time was a 6-1 underdog newcomer.
Werdum clearly took JDS for granted that night and after failing to reach terms with the promotion was sent packing, joining Strikeforce where he went on a three-fight winning streak – culminating in his infamous submission win over Fedor Emelianenko. However, ‘Vai Cavalo’ turned in a tepid performance as he repeatedly flopped to his back against Alistair Overeem in the Strikeforce Grand Prix, losing a decision.
The new-look, svelte Roy ‘Big Country’ Nelson returns to action in his home-town of Vegas and if the portly heavyweight gets past Werdum, he could find himself in another title-eliminator scenario. The winner of season ten of ‘The Ultimate Fighter’, Nelson’s knockout finishes of Brendan Schaub and Stefan Struve landed him a pivotal fight with Junior Dos Santos at UFC 117, one he lost comfortably by decision.
That loss was followed by a disappointing showing against Frank Mir at UFC 130, in which a supposedly pneumonia-stricken ‘Big Country’ was mauled to a decision once again. With his job under threat, Nelson rebounded in October as he showcased a more trim physique before flattening Mirko Cro Cop with punches in the third round.
The Verdict: This one will hinge on which version of Werdum shows up on the weekend. If the self-entitled, out-of-shape ‘Vai Cavalo’ turns up and underestimates Nelson, he’s going to sleep, simple as. Nelson hits like a freight-train and with his granite chin, there is no way Werdum finishes him – if anything, the Brazilian’s over-confidence would play right into Nelson’s heavy hands. Werdum needs this fight on the ground, where he is a slicker grappler than the self-trained ‘Big Country’ and should have the endurance to control Nelson for the duration a la Frank Mir. Mir showed the blueprint for beating Nelson, from a grappling perspective, and I’d expect Werdum to follow it to a tee – look for the Brazilian to clinch regularly and score takedowns more frequently as Nelson begins to tire. It’s Werdum’s fight to lose, but don’t count out ‘Big Country’ completely – he’s a live ‘dog for sure. Werdum, decision.
Josh Koscheck (16-5, 14-5 UFC) vs. Mike Pierce (13-4, 5-2 UFC)
The Lowdown: Welterweight veteran Josh Koscheck goes from facing fellow UFC stalwarts to squaring off with a rising star this weekend as he prepares to throw down with stocky wrestler, Mike Pierce. The American Kickboxing Academy mainstay fell way short at UFC 124 in his attempts to dethrone division champion, Georges St Pierre, leaving the Octagon with a decision loss on his record and a badly broken orbital bone.
At UFC 135, ‘Kos’ was given some problems by former champion Matt Hughes but with one second remaining of round one, promptly dropped the veteran and punched his lights out. The heavy-handed wrestler was pencilled in to face Carlos Condit this weekend before injury to GSP shuffled the deck and instead, Koscheck will face a more familiar type of opponent in Las Vegas.
Now training part-time with Team Quest in Portland, Oregon, Mike Pierce has quietly gone about his business in the UFC with his only defeats coming by way of decision to top 170lb contenders, Jon Fitch and Johny Hendricks. The heavy-handed and durable Pierce was recently seen edging out fellow wrestler Paul Bradley by split decision at ‘UFC on FOX 1’ in November. The Washington native matches up well with Koscheck and has been calling for a household name for a long time – Pierce has got it in ‘Kos’.
The Verdict: Pierce is a solid welterweight, but Koscheck is like version 2.0 of the former Brave Legion man. ‘Kos’ moves more fluidly inside the cage, has big power in his right hand especially and a more seasoned wrestling game. Pierce is your typical ‘wrestle-boxer’ – he has serviceable and hard-hitting boxing, but rarely puts an opponent down or out with it. Pierce also has little chance of out-wrestling the veteran, who will pick his shots sensibly and take a close, but not controversial, decision. Koscheck, decision.
Renan Barao (27-1, 2-0 UFC) vs. Scott Jorgensen (13-4, 2-0 UFC)
The Lowdown: A truly top-level bantamweight clash on the main card could produce the next title contender and for Brazilian phenom, Renan Barao, it would be a long overdue recognition of a sensational professional record. The Nova Uniao standout went 2-0 in the WEC before making the switch and after a lacklustre decision win over Cole Escovedo kicked things off, Barao threw down the gauntlet at UFC 138 in November.
The BJJ whiz showcased some nasty muay thai, battering top British contender Brad Pickett and hurting him on a few occasions before dropping him and locking up a rear-naked choke in the final minute of round one. The Brazilian will be in pole position for a title shot if he can shake off the challenge of ‘Young Guns’ this weekend and extend his unbeaten run to 28 fights and seven years.
Idaho’s Scott Jorgensen is one of the most colourful characters in the sport and since losing a one-sided decision to bantamweight champion Dominick Cruz in the WEC, ‘Young Guns’ has gone 2-0 in the big leagues. The wrestling convert scored a stunning knockout of Ken Stone with punches from full guard last June before being paired with veteran Jeff Curran at UFC 137 in October.
Jorgensen showcased his full arsenal that night, out-grappling and out-striking the experienced Curran to take the unanimous decision and put himself in a position to demand a rematch with the champ – if he can solve the riddle of Barao, that is.
The Verdict: This is as good as it gets at 135lbs, two legitimate top contenders locking horns. Jorgensen’s wrestling has been crucial to his game-planning in the past but don’t expect the all-action ‘Young Guns’ to be too keen to take this one to the mat – Barao is a certified killer on the canvas. Prior to the Brad Pickett fight, you’d have picked Jorgensen to out-strike the submission wizard but Barao showed some fearsome teeth standing in that bout and the odds are stacking against Jorgensen this weekend. Barao is a much-needed breath of fresh air at the top of a bantamweight division populated by contenders looking for rematches – he takes this one with a late choke to continue his charge to the title. Barao, submission, 3rd round.
Ed Herman (19-8, 6-4 UFC) vs. Clifford Starks (8-0, 1-0 UFC)
The Lowdown: Everyone’s favourite red-headed middleweight returns to the firing line this weekend as Ed ‘Short Fuse’ Herman is rewarded for some excellent recent form with a fight on the main card. The former Team Quest veteran spent a long time on the treatment table following a knee injury suffered inside the Octagon but two years out of action revitalised Herman, who made 2011 a memorable year.
In June, ‘Short Fuse’ needed less than a minute to drop and finish tough-as-nails Tim Credeur and the Oregon-based fighter then showcased his grappling chops – submitting Kyle Noke with a slick inverted heel-hook in August for a second first round victory on the trot.
Clifford Starks made a successful UFC debut in October but the Arizona Combat Sports prospect is being thrown to the wolves this weekend. The wrestling-based middleweight had put together a perfect record in such promotions as Shark Fights and Rage in the Cage before wrestling fellow rookie Dustin Jacoby to a stale decision at UFC 137.
The Verdict: First impressions of Clifford Starks were that he’s clearly an athletic specimen with good wrestling, but little else stands out about the Arizona native. Herman is battle-tested against much better opposition and with his heavy hands and solid BJJ game, ‘Short Fuse’ will be too much for the prospect this weekend. Expect Starks to have no answer for Herman standing and if he hits the takedown, he’ll have submissions to deal with – ‘Short Fuse’ takes this one with a no-nonsense TKO via ground and pound. Herman, (T)KO, 1st round.
By Steve Davies