Duane Finley’s musings from Saturday’s pay-per-view
LAS VEGAS – I typically don't write these sorts of columns because the majority of my time is invested in doing fighter features and pre-fight interviews. Well it just so happened, yesterday on Super Bowl Sunday, my flight out of Las Vegas got the classic “switcheroo itinerary” trick and yours truly was stuck hopping from winged craft to winged craft all across the country. Therefore, not only did I miss what I’ve been told was an amazing game that went down to the wire, but all of this terminal sitting forced me to think about the card for UFC 143. (*Author’s note: I also want to go on record and blame Rick Lee and R.J. Clifford for being miserable human beings.)
Carlos Condit: While we didn’t get the “dog fight” we were sold in the pre-event build-up, Condit executed a well-designed game plan nearly to perfection. For a fighter who comes forward with everything he has, looking to use elbows, knees and fists to rob you of your consciousness, it showed the mental toughness and discipline of Condit to not get baited into a fist fight. Rarely have we seen a Nick Diaz opponent come out on the better side of a Fight Metric spreadsheet, but Condit was able to accomplish such a feat. Even with that being the case, fighters who back up, get on their bikes or base a game plan off of counterstriking rarely come out victorious. Ask Martin Kampmann how he feels about this – I can assure you the conversation is worth listening to.
The official judges weren’t the only ones all over the map. The media sitting on press row was constantly looking to one another debating whether or not a round went to Diaz or Condit. In fact, the decision has been disputed all across the board in MMA from fighters to fans, but the one thing we know will stand is Condit is now the interim champion in the UFC welterweight division.
The biggest question I have in regard to Condit is his notorious killer instinct. In every professional bout we have seen Condit enter, he comes out looking to seek and destroy. Did he not believe he could put Diaz away? Was his title ambition so great that he had based his game plan on point fighting? As I referenced above, his approach to the fight was brilliant, but even after he landed shots which clearly hurt Diaz, Condit continued to shuffle away and reset. To make a long story short – the plan worked. Condit scored points, Diaz became frustrated, and the judges saw the five-round affair in Condit’s favor. Unfortunately for Condit, defeating Diaz means he will have to fight Georges St-Pierre, and there isn’t a fighter out there who is better at strategizing and sticking to the blueprint than GSP.
Nick Diaz: There is no doubt this kid comes to fight. Sadly enough for the Stockton, Calif., native, he never found the toe-to-toe brawl he was looking for. Diaz’s methods are basic in nature. He is going to walk you down and take a few shots to get your back against the cage, but once you are trapped, he’s ripping away at your internal organs and thought factory with the worst of intentions. While the first two rounds were filled with the typical Diaz verbal sparring, it was obvious by the third he was becoming frustrated by Condit’s approach. I’m sure the repeated leg kicks added to the situation at hand, but it was his inability to adjust that caused the biggest problem for him. There is no doubt Diaz was the aggressor in the fight, but it was Condit who landed the bigger power shots and into the later rounds, Condit found a rhythm. Diaz did make a strong case by taking Condit’s back for the final half of the fifth round, but it was too little too late in the eyes of the judges.
Diaz post-fight: Nick is an emotional guy who says exactly what is on his mind – no filter, no BS. After the decision was announced, Diaz told Joe Rogan he was done with MMA. Is this really going to happen, or did we see Nick being Nick? In all likelihood, it is the latter. Diaz is on the cusp of becoming one of the sport’s biggest stars, and while a loss on the cards wasn’t ideal for him, his stock won’t decline because of it.
Fabricio Werdum: The Brazilian heavyweight looked better than ever on Saturday night against Roy Nelson. Werdum’s striking has improved immensely since his last stint in the UFC, and what is perhaps more impressive was him being visibly rocked on a handful of exchanges and not folding. Werdum’s continued improvement makes him a legitimate top 5 fighter in the UFC's heavyweight division and it will be interesting to see who the UFC matches him up with next. If the rumored bout between Cain Velasquez and Frank Mir doesn’t get made, Werdum vs. former two-time champion would be a solid fight to put together.
Roy Nelson: Losses are never easy to take in MMA, but Nelson is a warrior through and through. Coming off his victory over Mirko "Cro Cop” Filipovic, Nelson was poised to put himself back in the hunt with a win over Werdum. Unfortunately for Nelson, he couldn’t find an immediate answer for Werdum’s length and size as the Brazilian was able to lock in a deep clinch and land several devastating knees to Nelson’s forehead. “Big Country” seemed to be in trouble on several occasions throughout the first round, but after getting to the bell, he settled down and was able to land a few big shots of his own.
What impressed me the most about Nelson was not his chin, but once again proving his jiu-jitsu skills and defense are legit against an opponent who doesn’t allow fighters out of bad positions. In the first, Werdum had Nelson’s back looking for the choke, but Nelson stayed calm and worked himself back to his feet. The next close call came when Nelson caught Werdum’s kick and used a big right to put Fabricio on his back. Werdum is notorious for playing possum, getting his opponents to become overeager and dive into his guard. Nelson showed patience in this position, and when Werdum attempted to lock on an armbar, Nelson once again defended it perfectly.
The biggest question for Nelson comes in the form of what will be next. While the media on hand at the post-fight presser seemed to be prying UFC President Dana White about Nelson being cut from the organization, White defended the former TUF winner. While he said the future was uncertain, he did say Nelson comes to fight each and every time out and is possibly the toughest guy White has ever seen. Nelson wants to be a champion in the sport, and while he is in this current phase of physical transition, defeating a top-10 ranked opponent is a must. Despite the issues Nelson and White have had in the past, White loves to see guys who walk out into the cage and put it all on the line. Nelson brings it every time out, but it is not his ambition to be a gatekeeper. He wants to become the UFC heavyweight champion and in order to do that, he’s going to have to return to settling fools in the cage.
Renan Barao: Not only is this kid amazing, but one gets the impression when watching him the best is yet to come. On Saturday night, he faced a game Scott Jorgensen and lit him up from bell to bell. Jorgensen has never been afraid to let his hands loose, but when it became clear he was losing on his feet, he attempted to revert to his biggest strength of wrestling. Unfortunately for Jorgensen, he was never able to put Barao on the canvas, which only prolonged the striking clinic Barao was dishing out.
In a division that is becoming increasingly competitive, Barao’s victory over Jorgensen had to jump him to the very top of the list. Granted, there are fighters such as Michael McDonald and Miguel Torres who are also looking to make title runs, but Barao’s style is the perfect display of chaos to create genuine problems for the division’s top two fighters, Dominick Cruz and Urijah Faber.
Dustin Poirier: Just as 135 is heating up, so goes the division due north. Champion Jose Aldo has dominated every opponent he’s faced, and while the weight class isn’t jam-packed with contenders, several young fighters on the rise could pose a solid threat to his title. Poirier wrecked shop against newcomer Max Holloway on Saturday night, and while the win won’t help shoot him up in the rankings, it makes a clear case for Poirier to fight other rising stars. At the post-fight press conference, several names were thrown out – such as the "Korean Zombie" and Erik Koch, and while Koch is still on the mend, a fight between Koch and Poirier is a lock for “Fight of the Night” whenever their paths cross.
Josh Koscheck: Love him or hate him, Koscheck is going to tell you exactly how he feels. Following the victory over Mike Pierce, the Season One TUF alum confessed he had zero motivation to fight Pierce, and it was a lose/lose situation. Koscheck cited issues in his camp that caused difficulty in his training and preparation. As a matter of fact, Koscheck went as far as to avoid mentioning his longtime training team directly and announced he would be doing his own thing from here on out. Koscheck has been a staple at the American Kickboxing Academy for years and whatever reason he had to leave is definitely something personal. While the MMA community is dying to know the reason, Koscheck has never been one to air personal matters in public forums (unless you count the drunken goading of Chris Leben during the first season of TUF), and rather than focus on the problems he’s having in San Jose, Koscheck immediately put his name on the boards as a potential fight for interim champion Carlos Condit.