Esther Lin, MMA Fighting
UFC 143 was supposed to clear up a few things in the welterweight division. Define a No. 1 contender. Move another name forward. Chart the course towards Georges St-Pierre.
Instead, we're left with chaos after a unanimous but controversial decision win by Condit which left many clamoring for a rematch, Diaz saying he was ready to hang up his gloves, and the UFC unsure of what will come next. Nowhere near as bad but also troubling: Josh Koscheck barely squeaked by Mike Pierce in a decision that also had many observers voicing objection.
So there's plenty to think about, and plenty to project in this edition of The Forward Roll.
It was bad enough that both Diaz and Georges St-Pierre significantly overshadowed Condit on the way to UFC 143, but even after Condit won and snapped Diaz's lengthy 11-fight win streak, he was almost immediately cast aside for criticisms of his performance, claims of a judging robbery, and Diaz's retirement talk. Let's get one thing straight: Condit didn't run from Diaz; he moved to the center of the cage and re-set. He engaged Diaz many times, as Diaz didn't get the marks on his face by accident. It may not have been a typical Condit performance, but neither is it worthy of the scorn he's received from many. This is a fighter who has only two decision wins in 28 career victories. You may find fault with the judges' decision, but Condit came in with a plan and executed it, choosing to live with the results. Now the question is whether or not he'll defend the interim belt or wait for St-Pierre.
Prediction: Condit faces St-Pierre in the late fall.
Diaz said he'd walk away from the sport after feeling robbed by the judges yet again. It had to be frustration talking, but who knows how long the sentiment will continue. Diaz is still just 28 years old, near his athletic and earnings prime, and unlikely to drop very far in the rankings as the result of a contested loss. After fighting seven times in the last 24 months -- including five scheduled five-round bouts -- perhaps he simply hit a breaking point. Either way, he's due some time off. Diaz should take a couple of months to indulge his non-MMA interests, from triathlons to sport jiu-jitsu, and make his decision with a clear head. But the smart money expects to see him back at some point this year.
Prediction: Jon Fitch and Diaz were both top five ranked for the last couple of years. Both are coming off losses. That sounds good.
Werdum's striking game looked excellent in his three-round destruction of Roy Nelson, with major advancements to his Muay Thai clinch and kicking. Add those new tools to his brilliant jiu-jitsu and the 34-year-old has to be considered near the top of the division.
Prediction: He faces Frank Mir
Nelson continues to reshape his body, weighing just 246 for the fight against Werdum. Now it will be interesting to see if he drops more weight, in which case he can probably drop to 205, or stays in the same ballpark. Regardless, losses to Werdum, Mir and Junior dos Santos put into question his ability to rise to the upper echelon of the division.
Prediction: He faces the Mark Hunt-Cheick Kongo loser
It's hard to raise Koscheck's stock after escaping with a razor close win, even if Pierce is a solid opponent. But afterward, Koscheck explained that he had issues with his training camp, and is leaving his longtime home at American Kickboxing Academy. That would certainly affect his preparation, so we'll have to give him a pass on a mediocre performance.
Prediction: He faces the Jake Ellenberger vs. Diego Sanchez winner
Prior to the bout, I thought Pierce had a legitimate chance to beat Koscheck, and I feel that Pierce won the bout. According to FightMetric, he landed more strikes in both the first and second rounds. But it was not to be, as Koscheck's takedowns and takedown defense might have swayed the judges. The loss shouldn't affect Pierce's standing much in the organization, as even company president Dana White said he scored the fight for Pierce.
Prediction: He faces Brian Ebersole
Another impressive win from Barao, who swept the judges' scorecards against top 10 featherweight Scott Jorgensen. The victory puts Barao in good position, as the only top featherweight who has yet to face current champ Dominick Cruz. Cruz, however, is locked in to fight Urijah Faber around summertime, so Barao will have to fight and win at least once more before challenging for the belt.
Prediction: He faces the winner of Michael McDonald vs. Miguel Torres
The 23-year-old easily handled a low-reward matchup with the debuting Max Holloway, winning by first-round submission. Poirier remains one of the featherweight division's best young talents, and prior to the Holloway bout, had been scheduled to face Erik Koch. That's still a fight worth making.
Prediction: He faces Koch
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