It's been a tumultuous year for top contenders Nick Diaz, Carlos Condit, and UFC Welterweight Champion Georges St-Pierre. After many rounds of fight-booking musical chairs--filled with a missed press conference and injuries--the situation seems to have settled down; GSP will be out with an ACL injury for at least 10 months, and Diaz will be facing Condit for the interim belt on February 4th at UFC 143.
Will this fight be entertaining?
Diaz vs. Condit should be stylistically a much more interesting fight than either Diaz or Condit vs. GSP. Both Diaz and Condit prefer to keep the fight standing, while GSP prefers his well-tested "lay and pray" and--as I call it--the "jab and hop away" methods (Shields? Koscheck?). I hold nothing against the champion because I understand there is a lot of risk and stress involved in keeping the belt, especially for someone who's held it since early 2008. A loss would possibly mean losing endorsements, fans...etc. However, the bottom line is we are here to watch fights. If a fighter has developed his skill set with the goal of turning every fight into what is essentially a point-sparring match--either standing or on the ground--and has made it a habit of using the clock as a crutch, people will without a doubt start talking. So even though I am just trying to call it as I see it without putting down GSP's approach, I still think that more so than him, Condit and Diaz show up to fight--in every sense of the word.
Like Diaz, Condit is also a former WEC Welterweight Champion. He is not only an expert in Muay Thai--having showcased his devastating striking and use of knees and elbows in many fights--but is also a very skilled Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu practitioner. Having won his last three fights against top-level competition via two KO's and one TKO, Condit is a dangerous opponent for anyone, viciously capitalizing on the smallest openings for the finish. His masterful sweep of Dong Hyun Kim during his last fight at UFC 132 showed that his ground game is also constantly improving.
Diaz however, is no slouch himself. A fighter known to have some of the best endurance in MMA, he maintains a relentless pace in all his fights, often tiring out his opponents in the later rounds and finishing them with expert technique. Although Penn had some success in the first round with Diaz during UFC 137, Diaz dominated Penn in the second and third rounds with his seemingly limitless amount of energy and accurate combinations. Holding a black belt in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu under Cesar Gracie and training with the likes of Jake Shields, Gilbert Melendez, and his brother Nate, Nick Diaz is also extremely dangerous off his back.
With regards to striking, Condit should have the advantage in the first round or two of the fight; he is in general more explosive and possesses more tools in his kicks. Condit will be looking to finish Diaz early to avoid going into later rounds, as all main event fights are now five rounders. Diaz has a habit of feeling out his opponents for the first round or two before they begin to slow down, after which he finds a rhythm and starts barraging them with punches. This often comes at the cost of taking more than a few strikes. Although Diaz often seems to just walk through considerable damage, it should be noted that he was knocked down many times in his Strikeforce fight with Paul Daley before narrowly recovering and winning the fight. If Condit can capitalize during this feeling out period, he has the opportunity of coming out with a KO or TKO finish. However, if the fight does go into the later rounds, Diaz should be able to impose his will with his unorthodox, yet highly effective boxing.
It is unlikely this fight will be spent on the ground for long, as neither fighter is particularly adept at take downs, and would both be glad to stand and trade. However, if a scramble were to occur, I would give the edge to Diaz. For although Condit is a very proficient BJJ practitioner, he is still a purple belt, and would likely be bested by Diaz's high-level black belt ground game. This is not to say Diaz would definitely submit Condit, but that he would most likely come out in more favorable positions. For this reason, Condit will probably not try to take the fight to the ground, and he should be able to remain standing if he chooses, because Diaz is not known for his take downs.
Given that this will be a five rounder, Diaz should be able to win this fight provided that he does not take too much damage in the starting rounds. His durable chin should see him into the later rounds, during which he will have an advantage in striking given his relentless pace and endurance. If the fight does go to the ground, Diaz's superior ground game will give him the edge.