UFC 143: Diaz vs Condit Preview

The UFC returns to pay per view on Saturday with UFC 143: Diaz vs. Condit, live from the Mandalay Bay in Las Vegas. BlackSportsOnline MMA Insider breaks down the card. You can listen to a Saturday Night Special Edition of Fighter’s Fury at 790TheTicket.com live from 6-8 PM Pleading up to the card.

Super Bowl weekend has been a big showcase for the UFC in recent years. Last year’s SB weekend event featured Anderson Silva’s front kick knockout win over Vitor Belfort (courtesy of Steven Seagal). This year, it was supposed to be Georges St-Pierre defending his welterweight title against rising star Nick Diaz. With GSP recovering from ACL surgery, the UFC 143 main event will instead be Diaz, the former Strikeforce champion, taking on former WEC champ Carlos Condit for the interim welterweight belt. Of course, with GSP off the card, the event loses a significant amount of star power. But for those on the fence about watching 143, you should note that Diaz vs. Condit might very well be a far more entertaining fight than Diaz/GSP would have been. GSP would likely use his dominant wrestling to hold Diaz on the ground and negate his striking. Carlos Condit, on the other hand, may be inclined to test his standup against Diaz. The potential for an all out striking war between two dynamic athletes has the hardcore fans salivating with anticipation. Meanwhile, if and when the fight goes to the ground, both men possess a similar Brazilian Jiu Jitsu based skill set, creating the possibility for exciting scrambles. The winner will face St-Pierre once he’s healthy, to unify the welterweight titles.

Nick Diaz is one of the most interesting personalities in the fight world. His area code, 209 (from Stockton, CA) has become both a philosophy and a battle cry for his fans. To MMA fans, “209” is synonymous with “the fighting spirit.” He’s known for his mean-mugging and in-fight trash talk. But there’s far more to Diaz than his gruff exterior. He’s a deep, intelligent, and tormented individual. He’s long suffered from social anxiety, and those close to him point out the fact that he doesn’t enjoy physically hurting people; not in the slightest. He fights for a living because he’s good at it. More importantly, he fights because that’s what pays the bills. In his spare time, Diaz runs marathons and triathlons. If long distance running could earn him six-figures, it’s unlikely that he would have ever become a professional cage fighter. But what’s most amazing to me about Nick Diaz is that despite all that, once the cage door closes, he fights with the unbridled passion of someone who truly loves what he’s doing. In the MMA world, we often describe an exciting fighter as someone who “brings the fight” to any opponent. Nick Diaz embodies that philosophy. His aggression is constant and his cardio is never ending. He throws punches at a staggering volume and he’s always coming forward. While many top level fighters would favor the “safe route” to victory over the exciting route, Diaz isn’t afraid to stand and trade strikes with anyone. It’s been said that Diaz never loses a fight, he just runs out of time. That’s the perfect description of the type of fighting spirit he brings.

The good news for fans is that Carlos Condit fights with a similar passion. He’s a native of New Mexico and a long time Greg Jackson protégé. Much like Diaz, he’s a dangerous striker and an active Jiu Jitsu black belt. He’s a life long martial artist, like his opponent. And although he’s not from the 209, he’s also not afraid to stand and exchange with any man. He comes off four straight wins, with the past three coming by knockout or TKO. Specifically, his last two wins came with a highlight reel flying knee and a one punch KO from a left hook. The road to UFC 143 has been a roller coaster for Condit. Prior to UFC 137 in October, he was scheduled to face BJ Penn in the co-main event, with Nick Diaz challenging Georges St-Pierre in the headlining fight. Diaz no-showed a pair of media obligations and was pulled from the title fight, with Condit immediately elevated to challenge GSP. But Condit’s title shot was lost when St-Pierre pulled out of that card with injury. Then, Condit temporarily lost his subsequent UFC 143 title shot when the UFC decided to elevate Diaz over Condit. But fortunately for Condit, GSP again had to pull out with injury, and the UFC decided to book Diaz vs. Condit for an interim belt.

Confused? I know I am. The important thing to know is that the final product: Diaz vs.Condit, should make for a superb 5-round interim title fight.

As for the match up itself, I’ll reiterate, this one should be very exciting. Both men are aggressive. Both love to strike, but each has a black belt in BJJ to fall back on if the fight goes to the canvas. In the striking department, Diaz will hold an advantage with his volume. He doesn’t possess one punch KO power early in a fight, but he throws his hands extremely accurately and with a very high output. The typical Diaz route to victory sees him wear opponents out with his volume, battering them early before scoring a TKO in the late rounds. He appears to get faster and sharper as the fight goes on, and that effect is intensified by the fact that his opponents usually slow down quickly. On paper, Condit should have enough cardio to keep up with him, but if Diaz can mark him up and accumulate damage, Condit, like anyone else, will fade. In the standup range, Condit’s biggest advantage lies in his versatility. While Diaz is almost strictly a boxer, Condit varies his attack with kicks, elbows, and knees. He also possesses enough power to end the fight with a single strike, whereas Diaz will rely on more of a finesse approach.

Their styles differ on the ground as well. Diaz is a more conventional Jiu Jitsu player. He’s aggressive off his back and actively searches for submissions when he’s put in bad positions. Condit, meanwhile, thrives on the ground by creating chaos. When put on his back, Condit explodes for scrambles. Those scrambles give him opportunities to either stand back up, or work for unexpected submissions. He has excellent guillotines and triangles. Diaz specializes in armbars and kimuras. Chances are, most of the action will take place in the striking range. If the fight goes to the ground often, it’ll probably be because one fighter feels out-classed on the feet and needs to change things up. Whether it’s a 3-minute knockout or a 25-minute war, Diaz vs. Condit should be explosive.

In the co-main event, Fabricio Werdum returns to the UFC after a two and a half year stint in Strikeforce, to take on Ultimate Fighter 10 winner Roy “Big Country” Nelson. At this point, Big Country isn’t so big anymore. The formerly tubby heavyweight has trimmed down to 246 pounds, no longer sporting his trademark belly. His last outing was a TKO victory over Mirko Cro Cop at UFC 137. Prior to that, he had suffered two straight losses, but both against elite competition in current heavyweight champion Junior dos Santos and former champ Frank Mir. Werdum went 3-1 during his time in Strikeforce, losing only to top UFC heavyweight title contender Alistair Overeem. Both Nelson and Werdum are BJJ black belts, but Werdum has the better grappling credentials. He’s considered one of the elite grapplers in the world, and should hold the edge if and when the fight hits the mat. Most MMA fans remember Werdum as the man who tapped out Fedor Emelianenko with a triangle/armbar in 2010, handing “The Last Emperor” his first loss in a decade. The big difference between Werdum and Nelson on the ground is the fact that Werdum is lethal off his back, while Nelson generally thrives strictly from top control. Werdum simply has too many ways to win a fight on the ground, meaning Nelson is very likely to try and keep things standing. Big Country may hold the striking edge. He throws quicker combinations than you’d expect, and packs a ton of power behind his overhand right. To be fair, Werdum’s striking looked better than expected when he fought Alistair Overeem. Throughout his MMA career, his standup has been a work in progress. But even if he can put solid combinations together, a knockout is unlikely. Nelson has displayed a superb chin, even going the distance with the hard hitting Junior dos Santos. The key for Werdum will be dragging Nelson to the mat as often as he can. He likes to set up his takedowns with clinches. For Nelson to succeed,
he’ll need to maintain space in the standup range and pick Werdum apart at a distance. It’s also worth noting that despite the fact that Nelson has never appeared to be in great shape, to say the least, he possesses deceptively good cardio. The only exception was his loss to Frank Mir where he gassed out badly. But it was revealed shortly after that fight that he was suffering from walking pneumonia. If Nelson is healthy, he’ll likely hold a slight cardio edge over Werdum.

The remaining pay per view bouts will be a welterweight tilt between Josh Koscheck and Mike Pierce, a bantamweight clash between Renan Barao and Scott Jorgensen, and a middleweight fight between Ed Herman and Clifford Starks. Koscheck, a former title contender, would be a huge stepping stone for Pierce, if Pierce can pull off the win. That’s easier said than done, though. Koscheck is one of the best wrestlers at 170 lbs, and Pierce’s only UFC losses have come to elite wrestlers Jon Fitch and Johny Hendricks. Koscheck is a former NCAA National Champion with some of the most explosive takedowns in the sport. Even so, he’s fallen in love with his hands in recent years. He’s got a powerful right hand and one punch knockout power. Pierce is a decent striker in his own right, but will probably try to use his striking within a closed distance after initiating clinches. Overall, Koscheck should hold the advantage both standing and on the mat. Pierce will need to be very sharp on fight night in order to overcome Koscheck’s power and physicality.

Meanwhile, Barao vs. Jorgensen appears to be a dark horse candidate for fight of the night, assuming those honors don’t go to the main event. Jorgensen is a former title contender at 135, and Barao is one of the most dynamic prospects out there. Barao is 4-0 in Zuffa (UFC and WEC) and his explosive rear naked choke victory over Brad Pickett at UFC 138 clearly illustrates how dangerous he is. He can pull off submissions from any angle, and his punches, kicks, and knees are equally dangerous. The Brazilian might only be one victory away from a title shot in the relatively shallow bantamweight division, but Jorgensen won’t be an easy test for him. Jorgensen is a former All American wrestler at Boise State, and will surely put the pressure on Barao for as long as the fight lasts. The
big question will be: if Jorgensen plants Barao on his back, will he be able to avoid the Brazilian’s submissions? A victory for Jorgensen will require crafty game planning and flawless execution.

UFC 143 starts at 10pm EST live on pay per view on Saturday, February 4th. Prior to the main card, you can watch 2 hours of preliminaries on the FX Network from 8 – 10. The prelims will be headlined by a pivotal featherweight bout between Dustin Poirier and Max Holloway. If Poirier wins impressively, he might earn himself a title shot against
featherweight champ Jose Aldo. Poirier has won his last four fights impressively, and is 3-0 in the UFC.