At UFC 143: Carlos Condit vs. Nick Diaz, more is on the line than a simple interim UFC welterweight title. Each fighter is at a different place in a different moment in their career. What's at stake for each surpasses a simple win or loss on their respective records. Each fight in the UFC is chance to write the future. Let's take a closer look at the match-ups to see the specific predicament tomorrow's competitors find themselves in - and where they hope to go.
Walkout Shirts: Nick Diaz | Carlos Condit | Roy Nelson
It's obvious what's at stake here from a superficial level: an interim title and a chance to face reigning UFC welterweight champion Georges St. Pierre (GSP). But that's hardly the end of it. That's particularly true in the case of Condit. For all the well-deserved praise and accolades of 'The Natural Born Killer', he's yet to earn a true signature win in his MMA career. Diaz is, incontestably, the best and highest-ranked fighter he's faced to date. A win over Diaz gives Condit the type of legitimacy that none of his previous victories could hope to offer.
For Diaz, a win over Condit would mark the second time in as many fights he's bested a former champion of a Zuffa-owned organization. Should he defeat Condit and eventually GSP (a monumentally difficult task), that would make it three former champions from Zuffa organizations in three fights.
Diaz vs. GSP is also the fight fans prefer to see. It's the fight that's better for UFC's bottom line and would likely rally more casual fan interest. Perhaps most importantly, a win over Condit and eventual bout with GSP would be the defining, culminating moment of Diaz's undulating MMA journey. While not exactly nomadic, he's historically bounced around organizations, never quite on the linear path a typical, blue chip contender takes. With a win over Penn, Diaz set his career in motion to finally achieve the ultimate prize. Losing to Condit derails that in the most profound and devastating way. In a division as thick as welterweight, title opportunities are fleeting. If Diaz wants to make good on the promise of his career, a loss to Condit at this moment is simply not an option.
This is one of those bouts where there's as much to lose as there is to gain. Nelson enters this bout having lost two of his last three. He most recently bested Mirko Filipovic at UFC 137, but he's thus far come up short in his Zuffa career to establish himself as a true heavyweight contender. In fact, each time he's faced a top ten UFC heavyweight, he's failed. He typically makes a strong account of himself even in losing efforts, but if he really wants to run with the front of the division, a win over Werdum is frankly a must. Werdum is currently ranked fifth is the MMA Nation/USA TODAY Consensus Rankings. A win over the Brazilian could finally position Nelson in the top 10 and back on track as a true heavyweight contender.
Werdum is similarly looking to stay relevant, but has much more to lose. Werdum jumped to the top of the heavyweight division by submitting Fedor Emelianenko in June of 2010. He's only fought once since then, a loss to now number-one heavyweight contender Alistair Overeem. A loss to Roy Nelson (currently ranked #14) could very well bump Werdum out of the top 10. By contrast, a win over Nelson likely keeps Werdum where he's at and sets up a potential showdown with former UFC heavyweight champion Frank Mir (he's ranked only one spot above Werdum at #4). The winner of that eventual bout would have a legitimate claim to face the winner of Junior dos Santos vs. Alistair Overeem. If not them, then who?
Perennial welterweight contender Josh Koscheck is in an unenviable position. Like Jon Fitch (before being billy clubbed by Johny Hendricks at UFC 141), Koscheck is talented enough to beat most top welterweight contenders, but a fairly clear step below GSP. And having lost to St. Pierre twice, few wish to see a third dance between the two. Koscheck is in divisional limbo. He's got to beat Pierce to stay where he is, but where he is isn't exactly going anywhere (for the moment, anyway). The true litmus test will be to see if Koscheck can stay motivated for a predicament so suffocating and an opponent that doesn't truly move him from his Sisyphean position. That isn't to say Pierce isn't a challenge. He assuredly is. The question is whether Koscheck cares enough to continue marking time.
For Pierce, the bounty is easy to see. It's not the toughest test of his career (that distinction belongs to Jon Fitch), but it is the most high profile. He's on the main card of a pay-per-view and in the featured bout of the evening. He's never before received this kind of UFC push, this kind of media attention or this kind of opportunity to create visibility for himself (Pierce is not even ranked in the top 25 of all welterweights). Koscheck represents a huge scalp. If Pierce can collect it, he can begin to do wonders for his career.
UFC bantamweight champion Dominick Cruz is tied up with Urijah Faber for the immediate future, but it's not as if he's got a ton of contenders lined up should he get past The California Kid. Barao isn't exactly a well-known commodity to the larger public, but what he lacks in popularity he more than makes up for in fighting acumen. Barao is undefeated in his four-fight Zuffa run, dating all the way back to June of 2010. Jorgensen is most certainly his toughest opponent (and is ranked higher), but Barao is riding a huge wave of fan interest and career momentum with the shellacking of Brad Pickett at UFC 138.
Jorgensen simply wants another crack at the champ. He lost handily to Cruz at WEC 53, but is on a two-fight win streak and most recently defeated Jeff Curran at UFC 137. This bout with the highly-regarded Barao - at a time when the division is short on contenders - is arguably about setting up a number-one contender to Cruz's (or perhaps soon Faber's) title. Jorgensen is 29, so even if he's derailed here he probably has time to put together another title run. But each time a fighter is stopped short on a title shot path, it's increasingly difficult to start all over again. Jorgensen has a serious opportunity in front of him and needs to strike while the iron is hot.
Herman wants to prove he belongs and can still compete within the UFC middleweight division. A win over the talented if unheralded Starks proves he at least deserves to continue his last-chance ascension. Whether Herman can compete with the upper echelon of middleweights remains to be seen (and he had trouble doing so before his two-year hiatus), but a win over Starks at least affords the chance to try his hand at it one more time.
Starks, the wrestling standout from Arizona State University, faces a great moment to kick start his UFC career. Starks holds a win over Dustin Jacoby, one he earned at UFC 137. But Herman is more of a known commodity, a respected grappler and a good test for this juncture of Starks' career. Starks beating Herman fits the model of how prospects become contenders and eventually, how contenders become stars. The unknowns beat the knowns and the knowns beat the greats. Who knows what lies ahead for Starks? I'm not suggesting any future is predetermined. But if he wants to set out on that established journey, a win over Herman is a perfectly good way to start.
From the preliminary card:
- Alex Caceres has the opportunity to build on his drop to bantamweight by besting Edwin Figueroa. After a rough start in the UFC featherweight division, Caceres looked improved at 135 pounds when he topped Cole Escovedo at UFC on Fox 1.
- Dustin Poirier has got to be on the short list of rising contenders in the UFC featherweight division. A win over Max Holloway won't earn him a title shot against champion Jose Aldo, but it will likely get him the chance to face a marquee name.