The UFC returns to the Pay Per View airwaves this weekend with their traditional Super Bowl Weekend card; UFC 143 live from the Mandalay Bay Events Center in Las Vegas, Nevada. This year Carlos Condit and Nick Diaz will be looking to give Tom Brady and Eli Manning a tough act to follow.
With both of their fan friendly styles this main event has a ton of potential for fireworks. With GSP on the shelf until at least September these two will do battle over five rounds for the UFC’s interim Welterweight Championship. The two are backed by a number of bouts that show solid promise for entertainment value as the UFC hopes to rebound from what some people are calling a substandard performance last weekend on Fox.
In the co-main event of the evening Fabricio “Vai Cavalo” Werdum makes his return to the UFC after a long social media campaign when he takes on everyone’s favorite rotund grappler Roy “Big Country” Nelson. Perennial Top-10 Welterweight Josh Koscheck returns to the cage against the always-tough grinder Mike Pierce.
In Middleweight action the always tough Ed Herman takes on undefeated Middleweight prospect Clifford Starks. The lighter weight-classes of the UFC take center stage to open the PPV Main Card as surging Brazilian prospect Renan “Barao” Pegado takes on Scott Jorgensen in a Bantamweight bout. But let’s get started with the undercard.
Preliminary Card (Facebook): Welterweight Bout: Dan Stittgen vs. Stephen Thompson
Dan “The Anvil” Stittgen is a 31-year-old fighter from Schaumburg, Illinois. Stittgen is a grappler and submissions expert from the Midwest Training Center MMA Gym. Stittgen has fought mostly on the regional MMA circuit but has compiled an impressive resume there. In his most recent bout, a victory over Mark Stoddard it was the first time any of his bouts escaped the first round. His ground skills have proven to be his most effective weapon, as Stittgen possesses fairly mediocre striking skills. However, on the mat he has managed to secure five submissions and a TKO all because of his strong mat fighting. Overall, he possesses a career record of 7-1.
Stephen “Wonderboy” Thompson is a former professional kick boxer who only recently transitioned to MMA. Thompson has been kickboxing since the age of three years old, and as a professional kick boxer he owned a record of 56-0, with 40 Knockouts. Since switching to MMA in 2010 he has also gone undefeated in this sport, soundly outboxing all of his opponents on his way to a 5-0 record. Thompson is a member of the Pitch Black MMA Gym where he has worked with a number of fighters to improve his overall MMA skill set. In addition to his kickboxing skills, Thompson is also a black belt in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu and a black belt in Kenpo Karate.
Analysis and Prediction: This bout is surely going to come down to whether or not Thompson can keep himself upright long enough to win. Stittgen is a legit grappler with a strong submission game, but standing up he will surely be cannon fodder for “Wonderboy.” Thompson has added a number of grappling and wrestling coaches to his camp and has likely been drilling these aspects of his game in preparation for his UFC debut. He’s fought under the big lights before and knows what to expect when the cage door shuts, while his opponent may be dealing with some octagon jitters. Expect to see mostly sprawl and brawl from Thompson as he kicks and punches his way to a second round stoppage. Stephen Thompson via TKO in Round Two
Preliminary Card (Facebook): Middleweight Bout: Rafael Natal vs. Michael Kuiper
Rafael “Sapo” Natal is a Brazilian born fighter from Belo Horizonte, Brazil. The 29-year-old now trains stateside where he is a member and instructor of the Gracie Fusion Gym in New York City, New York. Natal is a BJJ black belt under Vinicius Magalhaes. Natal’s boxing isn’t the cleanest, but he does pack one hell of a punch which can sometimes make up for his technical deficiencies. On the mat Natal is a handful for nearly anyone to deal with. A muscular fighter with a smothering top game and a strong submission awareness he can create opportunities when given even the smallest openings. Natal owns career victories over notable fighters like Danillo Villefort and Travis Lutter. He recently got his first victory inside the UFC bringing his career record to 13-3-1.
“Judo” Michael Kuiper is a Dutch fighter from Riel, Netherlands. Kuiper is one of Europe’s top prospects in the fight game. The 22 year old is a member of the Gracie Barra Netherlands Gym in Tilburg, Netherlands. Kuiper owns a black belt in Judo as well as a purple belt in Brazilian Jiu Jitsu and has excellent grappling skills. Due to his background in Judo, he has a number of throws at his disposal which he can use to take fights to the mat. Kuiper has also shown himself to have solid striking skills, technically sound with some serious power in both hands. He has stopped all but one of his opponents either by submission (4) or by TKO (6). Kuiper holds an undefeated pro record of 11-0.
Analysis and Prediction: It’s hard to make an accurate assessment of Kuiper’s skills because of the relatively weak competition that he has faced in Europe. Footage of his fights has him looking impressive, but that can often be misleading when your opponent is completely overmatched. Despite that, I don’t think Natal is overly impressive and in a bout where one man’s Judo is likely to negate the other’s BJJ skills, this one is going to come down to striking. Natal can hit hard, but Kuiper throws better combinations and is more composed. I smell an upset. Michael Kuiper via Unanimous Decision
Preliminary Card (FX): Welterweight Bout: Matthew Riddle vs. Henry Martinez
Matthew “Monster Mash” Riddle is a 26-year-old from Allentown, Pennsylvania. He is a former cast member from the seventh season of The Ultimate Fighter. Riddle is a wrestling based fighter who trains at the Throwdown Training Center in Las Vegas, Nevada. Riddle is the only fighter in the modern era of MMA to have fought all of his career bouts in the UFC. His last bout at UFC 141 was called off on the day of the fight due to Riddle becoming ill and being unable to compete on the day of the event. Riddle usually uses his wrestling to take down his opponents and grind away on them with ground and pound. However, in recent bouts he has fallen a bit in love with his subpar striking and has been dragged into brawls that do not serve him well, which has caused him to drop his past two bouts. Riddle’s pro record is 5-3.
Henry Martinez is a fighter from Jackson’s MMA Gym in Albuquerque, New Mexico. I haven’t been able to find much footage of Martinez, but it’s worth noting that he is taking this fight as a late replacement, stepping in on just over a week’s notice for the injured Jorge Lopez. His last bout was actually only two weeks ago on January 21 when he scored a submission victory over Ali Hanjani at a Jackson’s MMA Event. Martinez is 8-1 as a pro fighter, with 2 wins via TKO and 4 via Submission, however, his record is mostly against regional level fighters, and Riddle will be a significant step up in competition for him.
Analysis and Prediction: I usually have on golden rule, never bet on Matthew Riddle. You never know what you’re going to get, take his fight against Lance Benoist as an example. He was lit up on the feet for two rounds, but continued to oblige his opponent before finally dominating the third round by using takedowns and ground and pound. However, there is one major factor that is changing my mind. Martinez is taking this bout on extremely short notice, he just fought over two weeks ago and is a Lightweight fighter, who has fought as low as Featherweight in his career! Riddle is a massive Welterweight who could easily outweigh Martinez by 20 pounds or more come fight time. All the skill in the world isn’t going to overcome that kind of weight discrepancy against a smothering wrestler like Riddle, he’ll get back on track in this one. Matt Riddle via TKO in Round Three
Preliminary Card (FX): Welterweight Bout: Matt Brown vs. Chris Cope
Matt “The Immortal” Brown is a 31-year-old fighter from Xenia, Ohio. Brown is a former cast member of the seventh season of The Ultimate Fighter. Brown is a Muay Thai and Judo based fighter who is working towards his black belt in Judo and also owns a blue belt in BJJ. Despite his solid ground-fighting credentials Brown prefers to stand and brawl with his opponents, despite it not being the best for his record it sure does make the fans love him. Brown’s Muay Thai skills are fairly basic, but he throws with decent power, but could stand to put his combinations together with more frequency. Too often Brown relies on winging power punches, instead of setting them up properly. Still Brown has solid takedown defense and can hit with big power if his winging punches connect. He owns a professional MMA record of 12-11 with 11 stoppage victories.
Chris “C-Murder” Cope is also a former cast member of The Ultimate Fighter, competing on the thirteenth season of the show. Fighting out of San Diego, California Cope is a member of the Arena MMY Gym. Cope is mostly a striker with a background in Muay Thai and a black belt in Tae Kwan Do. Cope has a strong sprawl and brawl style, but in this bout it’s unlikely that he’ll need to sprawl very much. Cope was formerly an amateur kick boxer and should be better than Brown at fighting at a distance. He’ll need to establish that range early on in this bout, or we might be seeing a replay of his fight against Che Mills at UFC 138. Cope owns a professional record of 5-2.
Analysis and Prediction: Brown has one fatal weakness and that is his submission defense, nine of his eleven career losses have come via submission. Luckily for him in this bout, he won’t have to worry. Cope is a competent kick boxer with decent technical striking, but he doesn’t have the wrestling skills to take Brown to the ground and isn’t a strong enough striker to keep up with Brown in a slugfest. With no options, he’s going to be forced to fight Brown’s fight, a dirty, tight close brawl where Brown is at his best. Brown can be devastating in the clinch and Cope can be overwhelmed on the feet as Che Mills showed, expect something similar to that bout in this one. Matt Brown via TKO in Round One
Preliminary Card (FX): Bantamweight Bout: Alex Caceres vs. Edwin Figueroa
Alex “Bruce Leroy” Caceres is a former Lightweight and Featherweight fighter. Best known for his stint on The Ultimate Fighter: GSP vs. Koscheck season where he was a member of Team GSP. The young fighter from Miami, Florida where he is a member of the Young Tigers Foundation. Caceres is a Jeet Kune Do and Brazilian Jiu Jitsu fighter with strong grappling skills. In his last bout he made his bantamweight debut and scored an impressive upset over Cole Escovedo, soundly outworking the veteran fighter for three rounds and taking a Unanimous Decision. Overall, Bruce Leroy has a career MMA record of 6-4.
Edwin “El Feroz” Figueroa is a 26-year-old fighter from the Janjira Muay Thai Gym in McKinney, Texas. Figueroa has been training in boxing and kickboxing since the age of six, fighting numerous times throughout his teenage years as an amateur. Figueroa is a heavy handed striker who has stopped six of his opponents with strikes. As he proved in his UFC debut against Michael McDonald, Figueroa is an extremely tough and durable fighter who can take a ton of punishment, but keep coming back for more. Figueroa owns a professional record of 8-1.
Analysis and Prediction: I have to admit that Caceres made me eat some humble pie in his last bout. I predicted that he would get outworked and beaten badly by Cole Escovedo. Instead he showed significant improvements in his striking and an aggressive grappling game that saw him dominate Escovedo from start to finish. Figueroa is a strong striker, but looked somewhat sloppy in his bout against McDonald. If he looks like that again on Saturday night, it could be another upset win for Bruce Leroy. I think this is a close bout, that’s destined for the scorecards, and I think Figueroa takes it, but I won’t be surprised either way. Edwin Figueroa via Unanimous Decision
Preliminary Card (FX): Featherweight Bout: Dustin Poirier vs. Max Holloway
Dustin “The Diamond” Poirier is one the top prospects in the UFC’s Featherweight division. The 23-year-old from Tim Credeurs Gladiator Louisiana Gym in Lafayette, Louisiana has proven to be a force to be reckoned with in his UFC career. Poirier has shown a very versatile game in his career so far, sometimes showing quick and accurate striking skills, other times showing an impressive grappling acumen. A former Lightweight fighter, Poirier is a large 145-pound fighter who can often bully his opponents in the clinch and on the ground, despite his wrestling skills not being top-notch. He prefers to strike with his opponents, but is perfectly willing to take the bout to the mat if things aren’t going his way in the striking department. His ability to fight well in multiple facets of the game is what makes him such a dangerous opponent. Poirier owns a career record of 11-1.
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Max “Lil Evil” Holloway at 20-years-old is probably the youngest fighter on the UFC’s current payroll. However, despite his age and relative inexperience he has proven to be quite a talent in his young career. Fighting out of Waianae, Hawaii he has shown excellent striking skills in his young career. He is also the current X-1 World Events Lightweight Champion. At 6’1” he is a lean and lanky Featherweight fighter who strings punches and kicks together well and has the cardio to strike for days against anyone who is willing to trade with him. His high output style of striking often overwhelms his opponents, causing them to shell up, allowing him to continue his pressure cooker offense with little fear of return fire. Holloway is undefeated as a pro fighter owning a record of 4-0.
Analysis and Prediction: Holloway is tall and lanky with a striking style that can give anyone fits. Poirier at 6’1” and a former 155-pound fighter is one the largest fighters in the division, he also has the wrestling and grappling ability to control where this bout takes place. Poirier prefers to strike, but isn’t stupid or proud enough to let that interfere with him winning this bout. I think he tests himself on the feet and if things aren’t looking great, he’ll force Holloway to the mat and work him over with ground and pound to set up a submission opportunity. Holloway is a legitimate talent and at 20-years-old has plenty of time to mature, but he’s taking this fight on late notice and likely isn’t experienced enough yet to take down Poirier. Dustin Poirier via Submission in Round Two
Main Card (PPV): Middleweight Bout: Ed Herman vs. Clifford Starks
Ed “Short Fuse” Herman is a 31-year-old fighter from the Team Quest Gym in Fort Collins, Colorado. Herman is the epitome of a grinder, who is amazing at nothing but strong enough at everything to outwork his opponents. Herman is a black belt in BJJ and the mat is his favorite place to be. From top control Herman shows great positional awareness as he is able to constantly pressure his opponents by passing guard and raining down ground and pound. Herman is a former cast member of the third season of The Ultimate Fighter, where he was a finalist, losing to the show’s winner Kendall Grove. After suffering a severe knee injury in 2009, he overcame complete reconstructive knee surgery to return to the UFC and has gone 2-0 since, TKO Tim Credeur inside one round and then snatching a heel hook submission against Kyle Noke also in under a round. Herman owns a pro record of 19-7.
Clifford Starks is a 30-year-old fighter from Pomona, California. He is a wrestler and a kick boxer who now trains at the Arizona Combat Sports Gym in Tempe, Arizona. Starks is a former NCAA Division 1 wrestler who competed at Arizona State University and was a teammate of former UFC Heavyweight Champion Cain Velasquez. Starks won his UFC debut over Dustin Jacoby in a rather sloppy affair based mainly on the strength of his wrestling game and his takedowns. However, once getting the fight there, he was unsuccessful in making much else happen or inflicting much damage on Jacoby, something he’ll need to address if he wants to hang with Herman in this bout. Starks is undefeated as a pro fighter with a record of 8-0.
Analysis and Prediction: Despite basically dominating Dustin Jacoby in his UFC debut, Starks didn’t look overly impressive. He outworked him on the ground but never really came close to finishing the bout. Starks prefers to fight at a more measured pace, but against an opponent like Herman he’s not going to have that luxury. Herman will press forward and constantly pressure Starks. Herman’s ground game definitely makes up for his below average striking game, but unless Starks has another level to his game than what he showed against Jacoby it’s unlikely that he’ll be able to take advantage of Herman’s suspect striking. Expect Herman to constantly come forward and constantly pressure, securing a trip takedown from the clinch before sinking in a fight ending Rear Naked Choke near the end of round one. Ed Herman via Submission in Round One
Main Card (PPV): Bantamweight Bout: Renan Pegado vs. Scott Jorgensen
Renan “Barao” Pegado is a 25-year-old fighter from Natal, Brazil. He is one of the top prospects from Brazil’s famed Nova Uniao Gym. He is a Muay Thai and Brazilian Jiu Jitsu fighter who has an array of kicks, knees and punches in his stand up attack, well complimented by black belt level skills in BJJ. Barao lost his professional debut in 2005, but has not tasted defeat since, going 27-0-1 since the first bout of his career. In his last bout he showed impressive overall skills by going toe-to-toe with dangerous striker Brad Pickett for four minutes, before landing a massive knee and then latching onto a fight-ending Rear Naked Choke. Overall, Pegado owns a pro record of 27-1-1.
Scott “Young Guns” Jorgensen is a former challenger for Dominick Cruz’s Bantamweight title, though at the time it was still the WEC Championship. Regardless, the 29-year-old is one of the toughest match-ups at 135-pounds. A former NCAA Division 1 Wrestler from Boise State, Jorgensen now trains at the Combat Fitness Club in Boise, Idaho. Jorgensen has some limitations as a striker, but when he can get inside and use the clinch to his advantage he can throw serious power punches as he showed against Ken Stone at The Ultimate Fighter 13 finale. Jorgensen has an explosive shot and will likely be looking to take this fight to the mat early and often, rather than risk getting into a firefight with the hard-hitting Brazilian. Jorgensen owns a professional MMA record of 13-4.
Analysis and Prediction: This is a very intriguing bout for a number of reasons. It is a very interesting clash of styles. Pegado is the Brazilian stereotype a strong BJJ player with an impressive arsenal of striking attacks. On the other side of the cage the American wrestler. Jorgensen doesn’t stand a chance in the striking department and if he chooses to strike for an extended period of time, it’s likely going to end with him staring at the lights. He’ll look to move forward by pumping his jab and closing the distance quickly. Despite Pegado’s impressive record and grappling skills, we haven’t seen what he can do against a top-notch wrestler who might be able to control him on the ground. Pegado should be constantly sprawling and brawling, while using leg kicks to Jorgensen’s lead leg to slow down the impressive takedown shot of the American. Overall, I think Jorgensen has the tools to beat Pegado, but he’ll be in danger all the way and will need to fight an extremely intelligent fight. I’m not sure if he can do it and I wouldn’t be surprised to see him pull off the upset in this one. Scott Jorgensen via Unanimous Decision
Main Card (PPV): Welterweight Bout: Josh Koscheck vs. Mike Pierce
Josh “Kos” Koscheck is the “heel” of the UFC’s Welterweight division. The 33-year-old from Waynesburg, Pennsylvania is best known for his stint on the first season of The Ultimate Fighter. He is a former four-time NCAA Division 1 All-American wrestler. In the early days of his career he relied heavily on his wrestling, but he has made great strides in his striking game and now possesses solid boxing with big power in his right hand. Koscheck is a member of the American Kickboxing Academy and is coming off of an impressive thrashing of Matt Hughes at UFC 135. Koscheck holds a career record of 15-5.
Mike “Megatron” Pierce is an American from Oregon who is a member of the Team Quest and Sports Lab gyms in Portland and Beaverton, Oregon respectively. Pierce is a former NCAA Division 1 Wrestler from Portland State University. Pierce has fared well in his Octagon career losing only to the elite wrestlers of the division including Jon Fitch and Johny Hendricks both via decision (and the latter via close Split Decision.) Pierce uses wrestling and top control to earn points on the judge’s scorecards as well as an unorthodox but oftentimes effective stand up game. It’s not the prettiest way to fight, but it has been effective for him so far. Pierce has a career MMA record of 13-4.
Analysis and Prediction: Many people are expecting a blowout in this one, but I don’t think it’s likely to happen. Pierce is a pretty poor match up stylistically for Koscheck and I think both fighters know this. Take a look at Pierce’s only two UFC losses a close Split Decision to Johny Hendricks (that I actually scored 29-28 for Pierce) and close loss to Jon Fitch (which I scored 29-28 for Fitch.) Both of those fighters are similar to Koscheck in that they are both wrestlers with improving stand up skills. Pierce needs to make this fight dirty. Koscheck hits hard, but his striking is still pretty basic and he can get sloppy at times. In fact he was being outboxed by Matt Hughes in his last bout, before he was able to land that massive overhand right that put Hughes to sleep.
Pierce is going to need to avoid that specific punch if he is to have a chance in this one. He has a very strong chin, but I’m not sure even he can take a couple of Koscheck’s best shots and keep coming back for more. Pierce is also a strong wrestler who has excellent takedown defense. Koscheck will try taking the bout to the mat if things don’t go his way, so Pierce will need to sprawl effectively to keep the fight standing. That’s his best chance to pull off the upset. GSP laid out the game plan to beat Koscheck. Avoid the power punch by simply jabbing Koscheck to death, a strong jab was able to disrupt Koscheck’s entire striking offense and I think Pierce can implement a game plan similar enough to GSP’s to get results. Either way this bout is likely going to be close and I wouldn’t be surprised to see a Split Decision here, but as it is, I’ll roll with an upset special. Mike Pierce via Split Decision
Main Card (PPV): Heavyweight Bout: Roy Nelson vs. Fabricio Werdum
Roy “Big Country” Nelson is a 35-year-old from Las Vegas, Nevada. He is a black belt in Brazilian Jiu Jitsu who has fought for a number of big name MMA promotions. He is a former IFL Heavyweight Champion and was also the winner of the Heavyweights only season of The Ultimate Fighter. Best known to most fans for his rotund stature he actually possesses surprising skills for a guy who looks like he should work at a comic book store. Nelson is one of the best Heavyweight grapplers in MMA today, who does his best work from top control where he can use his girth and strength to pin his opponents. One of his favorite positions is the top control crucifix, a position that he showed off on TUF versus fan favorite Kimbo Slice as he was able to pin Slice and deliver a number of uninterrupted blows. Standing Nelson has decent hands with big power in his overhand right. Nelson also has an extremely durable chin and can take a wealth of punishment as shown by him being able to survive an absolute beating from current Heavyweight Champion Junior dos Santos. Nelson owns a professional record of 16-6 with 14 career stoppage victories.
Fabricio “Vai Cavalo” Werdum is a 34-year-old Brazilian fighter from Port Alegre, Brazil. He is making his return to the UFC after a stint in Strikeforce and a long social-media campaign to get back into the UFC. He is best known to fans as the first man to ever decisively defeat Fedor Emelianenko in an MMA bout, defeating the Russian star via Triangle Choke in the first round. Werdum is an elite level grappler, with a black belt in BJJ and a number of wins on the Brazilian Mundials and ADCC Submission Grappling circuit. Werdum is also a black belt in Judo and a black belt in Muay Thai kickboxing, although he often overly relies on his grappling skills, which causes his striking to be overshadowed. Werdum owns a pro record of 14-5-1.
Analysis and Prediction: Both of these guys are elite grapplers of the Heavyweight division. The most likely result on the mat is that both men’s skills cancels the other’s out, leading to mostly a stalemate. Werdum is the quicker fighter, but Nelson undoubtedly hits harder. Werdum has also shown himself to have somewhat suspect striking defense as he was hit repeatedly in his last bout by Alistair Overeem, was rocked by Fedor before grabbing onto the Triangle choke and has also been absolutely demolished by Junior dos Santos.
Werdum’s odd strategy against Overeem in his last bout proved to be his undoing. He constantly tried to pull guard instead of pressing forward on Overeem who clearly wanted no part of a grappling contest against Werdum. Nelson won’t be intimidated on the mat, but it’s likely that whoever is in top control will be considered winning, while the fighter on the bottom is unlikely to create a whole lot of room to manoeuvre. I expect speed to be the difference for Werdum. I think he can move in and out of the pocket against Nelson when he’s striking and from there win rounds on the judge’s scorecards. JDS couldn’t stop Nelson and I highly doubt Werdum will either, the most likely result is that he takes home a Unanimous Decision victory. Fabricio Werdum via Unanimous Decision
Main Event (PPV): Interim Welterweight Championship Bout: Nick Diaz vs. Carlos Condit
Nick Diaz is the man that every UFC fan loves to hate right now. The brash brawler from Stockton, California has come a long way since his first run in the UFC. Previously he was a decent fighter with strong grappling, but who was able to be controlled by the wrestlers who populate the Welterweight division. He hasn’t fought many elite wrestlers since his last stint in the UFC, but he has made vast improvements in his overall MMA game. Diaz is one of the most unorthodox but most effective strikers in the Welterweight division. Diaz is sometimes criticized for his pitter-patter boxing skills, but the results speak for themselves. Despite a relatively slow start in his last bout against BJ Penn, he came alive in the second and third rounds, setting a then record for most strikes landed in a round (a record that baby brother Nate has since broken.) Diaz is also an amazing BJJ player with an incredibly active submission game from the bottom. He has made vast improvements in this area of his game, as it is no longer safe to simply take Diaz down and ride out top control. Diaz is constantly searching for submissions from the bottom, trying to create sweeps and creating room to work his submission expertise. Diaz has one of the best chins in MMA, being stopped by strikes only once in his entire 34-fight career. Diaz is a member of the Cesar Gracie Fight Team and trains BJJ under Gracie himself, and is also training boxing under highly respected boxer Andre Ward. Diaz owns a professional record of 26-7 with 1 No Contest and hasn’t been defeated since 2007.
Carlos “The Natural Born Killer” Condit is a 27-year-old fighter training out of Greg Jackson’s Camp in Albuquerque, New Mexico. Condit is the former and final WEC Welterweight Champion, before the division was dissolved into the UFC. Condit is a strong all around fighter with strong technical Muay Thai skills, a great gas tank, extensive grappling skills and a vicious killer instinct. All of these factors combine to make him a very fan friendly and highlight reel-friendly fighter. Condit was originally scheduled to replace Diaz at UFC 137 to battle GSP for the Welterweight title, but an injury forced the champion from the card. With the champions knee-injury putting him out of action until at least September, Condit found himself thrown in with Diaz for a shot at an interim title.
Analysis and Prediction: I anticipate that this bout is going to be the leading contender for Fight of the Night when everything is said and done. Both fighters are extremely aggressive strikers who are constantly moving forward. Both of them have cardio for days and are extremely durable so expect multiple rounds of combat from these two. Condit is a pretty good striker, who is able to mix it up well and has an amazing finishing instinct, while Diaz is perhaps the best boxer in the sport.
The first two or three minutes will likely be the only tentative minutes of this bout as the two feel each other out and test their range. Condit will have the edge in ranged striking as he is more effective at using a Muay Thai approach to MMA striking with a solid balance between leg kicks, high kicks and knee attacks from inside the clinch. Diaz on the other hand prefers more of a straight boxing style, instead relying on his legs simply for footwork, creating angles to effectively employ his volume punching style. Diaz also relies on his chin heavily, as he is often more than willing to take a shot or two in order to get off a few combinations of his own from in the pocket. It also needs to be said that Diaz is the best current MMA striking for attacking the body of his opponents. Often used in boxing to accumulate damage and slow the pace of their opponents, the body punch has lost it’s way in MMA, but Diaz is on a one-man mission to bring it back.
On the ground, this bout is fairly even as well. Diaz has been controlled in the past by stifling wrestlers, but that isn’t exactly the mould that Condit fits into. Condit can wrestle well and has a fairly strong takedown as well as nasty ground and pound from top control. Diaz has spectacular takedown defense and has improved his overall BJJ game to the point where he is a threat from the bottom, constantly rotating his hips to create space for sweeps as well as submission opportunities.
Condit is a solid grappler in his own right, and it’s unlikely that Diaz will catch him in any straight forward submission holds, if he wants to win this bout by Submission, he’ll likely need to catch Condit in something coming out of a sweep or a scramble on the mat. Diaz does need to be wary of the ground game though, because even though he is extremely aggressive from his back, Condit is effective from top control and NSAC judge’s notoriously ignore the work of the fighter on the bottom, believing that the fighter on top must be “winning” the fight.
It’ll be interesting to see what kind of game plan Condit chooses to employ here. We all know that Diaz is coming to bang and it’s unlikely that he’s going to deviate from that style and even if he wanted to, he doesn’t have the offensive wrestling capabilities to take down a solid grappler like Condit. It’s likely going to be up to the Team Jackson fighter to pick his poison as they say. The dangerous guard of Diaz or the stand up realm where Diaz is able to employ his volume boxing style. It’s likely that Greg Jackson will have a game plan to handle Diaz, it’s one of his best traits as a coach, as his fighters are often composed and prepared.
Both of these guys have amazing cardio so this one isn’t going to slow down and they both are too tough to be finished by anything but this biggest punches or nastiest submissions, so I do expect this one to go to the judge’s scorecards a fair amount of the time. I think Condit will look to keep the striking at range, using kicks to Diaz’s lead leg to slow the Stockton slugger down and then switching it up to attack the body and head with kicks while staying outside of the lanky arms of Diaz. Diaz is going to need to close the distance and get inside with Condit. In the pocket Condit is significantly outgunned by Diaz who just throws too much leather for nearly anyone to handle. The key will be controlling the cage for both men, because once Diaz gets into a groove, he is so relentless it’s nearly impossible for his opponents to escape and they often begin to wilt under the pressure of his attack. Condit should also be looking to land a few well-timed takedowns near the ends of rounds. It’s dangerous to just sit on the mat with Diaz, but it’s hard to argue that a late result could swing a close round into his favor.
Condit is likely going to be the stiffest test that Diaz has fought in a long time. He has better cardio than BJ Penn does, albeit with slightly sloppier boxing. He has a more well-rounded fight game than Paul Daley and Mariusz Zaromskis and he is a more composed fighter than some of the berserkers like Evangelista Santos and Scott Smith that have taken on Diaz recently. He’s going to need to make Diaz uncomfortable in the cage for five rounds, because once Diaz gets into a groove, he’s tough to stop. I’m not sure he can do it though. He’s not measured to try and lay and pray a decision, instead I think he eventually gets frustrated and begins going toe-to-toe with Diaz which in the end will be a losing battle for him. Diaz will be able to take a close but ultimately Unanimous Decision victory. Nick Diaz via Unanimous Decision
Lee McGregor is the owner and editor-in-chief of Source4MMA.com which will be launching in early 2012.
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