Nick Diaz will carry an 11-fight winning streak into UFC 143. | Photo: Sherdog.com
The Ultimate Fighting Championship’s traditional Super Bowl weekend card almost always manages to provide mixed martial arts fans with a reason to ignore chores and family-related functions for two days instead of one. Last year gave us Anderson Silva’s front kick knockout on Vitor Belfort, as well as the opening chapter in The Year of Jon Jones. This year promises to deliver the goods, as well, as Carlos Condit and Nick Diaz figure to be a tough act for the Giants and Patriots to follow.
With Georges St. Pierre sidelined after knee surgery, an interim welterweight champion must be crowned in his absence. So before Tom Brady or Eli Manning gets to hoist the Lombardi Trophy on Sunday in Indianapolis, Condit or Diaz will have his first taste of UFC gold.
Just do not expect either man to announce post-fight Disney World plans in the aftermath.
Going down from the Mandalay Bay Events Center in Las Vegas, UFC 143 on Saturday also features a key heavyweight clash between Fabricio Werdum and Roy Nelson, as well as the return of exciting up-and-coming bantamweight Renan “Barao” Pegado. Here is a closer look at the main draw, with analysis and picks.
UFC Interim Welterweight Championship
Nick Diaz (26-7, 7-4 UFC) vs. Carlos Condit (27-5, 4-1 UFC)
The Matchup: Over the past few months, Condit has been hypothetically matched against B.J. Penn, Georges St. Pierre and Josh Koscheck without ever stepping into the Octagon against any of the three. Finally, the “Natural Born Killer” will get his moment in the sun in the form of an interim UFC title bout against former Strikeforce welterweight king Diaz.
It is as attractive a fight as one could hope for, with both Condit’s and Diaz’s intensity and aggression bound to generate fireworks come fight night. Fight card shuffling has kept Condit out of action since July, but his performance at UFC 132 should not be overlooked. Faced with a physical judoka in Dong Hyun Kim, many expected that the lanky Jackson’s Mixed Martial Arts product would have to figure out a way to score points and win the fight from his back. Instead, the New Mexican swept Kim and got to his feet after being taken down. He then knocked out the Korean with a spectacular flying knee. It was yet another example of Condit’s extraordinary finishing instinct, as 26 of the former WEC champion’s 27 career victories have come by way of knockout, technical knockout or submission.
That sense of urgency should serve him well against Diaz, whose volume punching style first mesmerizes -- then breaks -- lesser opponents. Diaz was at the height of his powers in 2011, landing nearly 11 strikes per minute, according to FightMetric.com. In his return to the Octagon, he overwhelmed Penn by pummeling the Hawaiian with a then-record 178 significant strikes over the course of three rounds; his brother, Nate Diaz, has since surpassed that mark.
The Stockton, Calif., native has improved by leaps and bounds since his first UFC stint, when wrestlers would plant Diaz on his back with little fear of repercussion. Now Diaz’s jiu-jitsu game is so advanced that most fighters would rather stand and trade in the pocket, a decision that suits the 28-year-old just fine. While certainly not the most technical, Diaz is nonetheless one of the best boxers in the sport today, and his great gas tank allows him to apply unyielding pressure as his foes begin to wilt. Diaz is known for his great chin, and he is often willing to absorb a shot or two for the opportunity to land multiple combinations of his own. Diaz works the body better than anyone in MMA, and his long frame usually allows him to throw punches at difficult angles while avoiding significant punishment in return.
Condit’s versatile kickboxing game gives him the tools he needs to disrupt Diaz. Consistent kicks to the lead leg of the former EliteXC competitor will slow his pace and allow Condit the space he needs to unleash a varied attack that includes high kicks, knees and punches.
Exchanging in the pocket will be a losing battle for Condit, who struggled to defend himself there against the likes of Jake Ellenberger and Martin Kampmann earlier in his career. Rather than risk death by a thousand cuts, Condit needs to force tie-ups when Diaz presses forward; there, he is good at landing strikes, as well as takedowns. Condit’s ground-and-pound can be lethally effective -- witness his late rally against Rory MacDonald at UFC 115 -- but he will need to temper his all-offense approach if he finds himself in guard, because Diaz will work constantly and is capable of turning the tide at a moment’s notice.
The Pick: Condit has a better gas tank than Penn, greater versatility than Paul Daley and a more measured approach than Evangelista “Cyborg” Santos. In short, he can test Diaz in ways recent foes have not. Much of the challenge in facing Diaz is mental, and Condit must not let the inevitable barrage put him in an early hole. This is the type of fight where both men are capable of attacking from any position, and both have shown remarkable composure in fighting out of tight spots. Condit is intelligent enough to not allow Diaz to get too comfortable, and the well-rounded skills of the “Natural Born Killer” will allow him to hang on for a wildly entertaining -- and sometimes harrowing -- decision victory.
Continue Reading » Next Fight: Roy Nelson vs. Fabricio Werdum