03 February 2012

UFC 143

This show is light on star power but heavy on fights that look decent on paper and that are tough to predict.

Ed Herman vs. Clifford Starks - Herman is on a two fight win streak following a terrible knee injury. As a TUF finalist all the way back in season three, he's always been a guy that could never really take things to the next level. He's an appropriate gatekeeper for Clifford Starks, an undefeated prospect known for his wrestling. I literally have no opinion on this fight as I never saw Starks fight before, but I'm going to root for him because I don't particularly like Ed Herman and what's a fight card without me going out on a limb with a long shot? And when we don't know enough, we always go with a decision, so Clifford Starks will win by decision.

Renan Barao vs. Scott Jorgensen - A few years ago, I went to watch UFC 79 at my wife's cousin's place with a large crowd of casual fans. Crowds like this are sometimes problematic for me because I tend to get a little nuts when I really focus on a fight, and it results in some weird looks thrown my way, not unlike when I attempt "humor" in any of my classes. During the course of the fight between Melvin Guillard and Rich Clementi, Clementi performed a picture perfect sweep, transitioning himself from the guard position on his back to full mount on his opponent. The fighters in the UFC are so well-rounded now that it's rare to see something like that performed with such ease at such a high level, and I deeply appreciated it the same way someone could appreciate a double play or complex lay up (Those are sports things, right?). I expressed as much in front of this crowd by saying, "Beautiful!" Cue the weird looks and comments, but, for reals, it was beautiful.

And you know what else was beautiful? Renan Barao fought Brad Pickett back in November and took his back after knocking him silly, sinking in both hooks, in such a fluid, quick motion that you'd think this guy has super powers. It was amazing and showed that Barao is for real since Pickett is no slouch. Jorgensen is a guy that is in the upper echelon of the bantamweight division, but lost recently enough to the champ that he's needing to build himself back up. Unfortunately, fighting Barao is not the way to do it because he's also riding a 27 fight win streak.  Barao has the potential to be the Jose Aldo of the bantamweight division, which is not good for Urijah Faber or Dominick Cruz, and especially terrible for Scott Jorgensen since he'll be losing to Renan Barao by submission in the second.

Josh Koscheck vs. Mike Pierce - Back in November, I explained at length why I don't like Rick Story (and, by extension, Jake Ellenberger) because he's just a guy that is completely interchangeable with any other guy. Add Mike Pierce into that same equation. All three are welterweights, too, which really doesn't help. None of them have had a fight I remember well. Granted, I watch a ton of fights, but I do so in the hopes of recognizing enjoyable fighters. Of the three, Ellenberger has been the most impressive, but none of them have shown a hint of personality. This is not to say that Pierce (or Ellenberger or Story) are not good fighters, but they're just so stereotypical in the their attitude and style that I get bored writing about them, let alone watching them in action. So whatever. Josh Koscheck will either attempt to knock him out or get knocked out, and I'll bet on the former over the latter because it's the safe way to go. Josh Koscheck wins by grinding out a decision.

Roy Nelson vs. Fabricio Werdum - As claims to fame go, being the first guy in a decade to beat and submit Fedor Emelianenko is pretty great for Fabricio Werdum despite the fact that he lost the follow up match to Alistair Overeem. Werdum will be able to hang his hat on that accomplishment for at least another two years, and it goes to show how dangerous he is on the ground. But Roy Nelson has his belly on his side, along with a better stand up game, devastating knock out power, and a black belt in jiu-jitsu. His portly appearance makes people underestimate his ability. Nelson is talented and smart enough to know how to neutralize any submission attempts by Werdum and vice versa. The same cannot be said for Werdum's rudimentary and pedestrian striking. The X factor in this fight is Nelson's wrestling: he's good enough to keep the fight wherever he wants to take it. Werdum is a guy I'd pick against a lot of people in the heavyweight division, but Roy Nelson has all the tools to get the job done here. I expect Nelson takes the fight by TKO in the second round.

Nick Diaz vs. Carlos Condit for the UFC Interim Welterweight Championship - With Georges St. Pierre injured and out until late 2012, the UFC has decided to create an interim championship between its top two contenders. It's appropriate that said contenders are the final Strikeforce and WEC welterweight champions, respectively.

Carlos Condit is a finisher who always has exciting fights. All but one of his wins have come by way of KO or submission. He effectively uses kicks, punches, and knees, all to devastating effect and has a solid ground game to match. His only UFC loss is a split decision to Martin Kampmann that easily could have gone Condit's way.

Nick Diaz is similar in that he always has exciting fights. He doesn't utilize kicks in the same way as Condit, but he more than makes up for that in his volume of punches that have pinpoint accuracy. They don't look like they pack much power, but he's the only guy to make BJ Penn's face look like it went through a meat grinder after three rounds of fighting. For fun, Diaz competes in triathlons (which really speaks to his wacky personality...more on that in a second), so his gas tank is one of the best in the entire sport. It also accounts for his standard game plan, which is to push forward and overwhelm his opponent with more punches than they can handle. He eats far too many shots in the process, but each of his punches finds the mark so well that he almost always comes out the victor in those exchanges.

The difference between these two guys outside of the cage is where the real story lies. Carlos Condit, for all the accolades someone can heap upon him as a fighter, is still just a guy and does nothing to set himself apart from any other MMA fighter out there. Unlike most sports where a team mentality often overwhelms the individual stars that exist, MMA and UFC specifically is completely star-driven. Carlos Condit is a very good fighter. He's not a star.

UFC 143 is the Nick Diaz show. He is compelling, partially because he's so good but also because he's pretty nuts. He's not Chael Sonnen nuts either, where it's clear that he's pandering to the audience to garner more attention. He just doesn't want to play the game that everyone expects him to play in how someone is "supposed" to act. In an age where everyone appears media savvy to some extent, Diaz refuses to join in. He won't be friends with other fighters he might face, he'll complain about the fact that he wants to get paid more, and he'll call out the fact that he thinks GSP is faking his injury because the latter is too scared to fight the former.

Because of that GSP dust up, Carlos Condit has almost become an afterthought in the build up to his own fight. GSP, Nick Diaz and the UFC fanbase want to see those two fight so bad that it almost feels like a foregone conclusion the fight between them will be the next one that takes place. Condit can spoil those plans. His knee strikes have knocked out guys with better chins than Nick Diaz and a well-timed one can counter a body shot pretty well. But that's just me hedging my bets because Nick Diaz will fight his Nick Diaz fight, Carlos' weakness, his cardio, will be the deciding factor. Nick will earn a TKO in the fourth round to set up the biggest PPV fight of 2012.

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