Josh Koscheck said it best at the press conference yesterday. With Georges St. Pierre relegated to couch-potato-with-a-mending-ACL status, the welterweight division has gotten interesting again. Case in point: Saturday’s UFC 143, which will see as its main event Nick Diaz throwing leather at Carlos Condit for the interim strap, while earlier in the night Koscheck gets to either re-establish himself as a contender in the weight class or crumble under the might of Mike Pierce – someone who, a year ago, could never dream of upward mobility as long as GSP was champ. Yes, with the Canadian man-cuddler stuck on the sidelines, there are a slew of welterweights suddenly in play, each one capable of presenting a unique opportunity for soon-to-be interim champ Diaz to punch into oblivion (or, if the improbable happens, for Condit to outlast in a gutsy war). There are other bouts on the UFC 143 card, of course, including a heavyweight pairing between a TUF winner and a Brazilian who’s been shuffled around from the UFC to Strikeforce and back, plus a fascinating bantamweight tussle. But golly, the 170 pounders now have a reason to care, and so do we. Preview time!
-Nick Diaz vs. Carlos Condit – When he destroyed all comers in Strikeforce, you people hailed him as nothing more than a can-smasher. Then Diaz had his heralded return to the Octagon, and made BJ Penn look like Wesley “Cabbage” Correira when the giant human punching bag took on Tim Sylvia. Where you at, haters? The fact is, Diaz is the most skilled – and most exciting – welterweight out there, and if St. Pierre had never torn his ACL, GSP’s best hope at victory against the jiu-jitsu black belt with the never-ending supply of punches would be to lay on him and pray he never gets back up. Thankfully, that’s not what’s going to happen with Condit, who hasn’t had a boring fight in forever, and who tends to “go for it” in lieu of emulating a down comforter. The beauty of the Diaz/Condit fight, therefore, is not so much who will come out on top, but that it’s going to be a damn exciting ride for all watching. Diaz is winning this one via TKO. So what, though? It’s going to be fun!
-Roy Nelson vs. Fabricio Werdum – Nelson peaked when he won TUF, so what we have in him now is a heavyweight with ability and skill, a heavyweight who will never be the champ as long as studs like Junior dos Santos, Frank Mir and Cain Velasquez walk the Earth. Jiu-jitsu champ Werdum is credited with being the man who started Fedor Emelianenko on the road to vulnerability, and he certainly has got the grappling skills to give anyone a hard time. Unfortunately, his last outing (against Alistair Overeem) was so uninspired, it’s a wonder the UFC gave him this fight. Unless Nelson trips over his own mullet and falls into Werdum’s triangle choke, the TUF winner is going to press the Brazilian against the cage with his considerable girth and eke out a decision that no one will be proud of.
-Mike Pierce vs. Josh Koscheck – For scoring a split decision over Paul Bradley, Pierce gets to inch further on up the food chain and tangle with someone who went the distance with the champ. He’s going to die. In his last time at bat, Koscheck KO’d Matt Hughes and nearly retired him, and his list of wins reads like a “who’s who” of killer welterweights. Look, Koscheck isn’t the best, but what he brings to the table in terms of wrestling and striking makes Pierce’s skillset look like rubbish. Koscheck is either taking the dominant decision or earning the TKO.
-Renan Barao vs. Scott Jorgensen – If not for the frenetic footwork and fists of champ Dominick Cruz, Jorgensen would be the top dog in the bantamweight division. Yet here comes Barao, who’s riding a win streak filled with beatings and submissions like a pugilistic Bodhi from “Point Break”, astride a surfboard made of bones and skulls and looking down upon the world from the crest of a tidal wave. If this were happening in any other more-established division, this kind of matchup would generate a ton of hype. But alas, the 135-pound weight class is too new for that, so we’re going to have to enjoy this pairing for what it is, which is a clash between the number two man in the division against a dude rocketing to the top. If I had to guess, I’d say Jorgensen’s wrestling will make life too difficult for the Brazilian. Who knows, though. Maybe Barao will sub him.
-Ed Herman vs. Clifford Starks – TUF runner-up Herman never really managed to dig into the 185-pound weight class and make a name for himself, so now we get to see him in the occasional bout against fellow members of Team Irrelevant. Oh, hey, here’s Starks, a Division 1 wrestler with one win in the Octagon against no one you ever heard of. Unless Herman’s knee once against buckles under the stress of combat, he should have his way with Starks. Or not. It doesn’t matter.