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UFC 143 'Prelims' preview and predictions for 'Diaz vs Condit' event (Part 1)

Prepare your meanest mugs, Maniacs, because it's about to get real street up in here.

Returning the Mandalay Bay Events Center in Las Vegas, Nevada, which has served Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) so well over the years, the mixed martial arts (MMA) promotion is poised to deliver another pay-per-view (PPV) event after two free weeks of combat sports action.

With 170-pound champion Georges St. Pierre on the sidelines recovering from major surgery to repair a torn ACL, former Strikeforce champion Nick Diaz and former World Extreme Cagefighting (WEC) champion Carlos Condit will go toe-to-toe for the interim welterweight title in the UFC 143 main event.

It's teed up to be a fantastic scrap.

In addition, Roy Nelson will welcome Fabricio Werdum back to the Octagon in a clash of two of the best grapplers in the heavyweight division, while Scott Jorgensen will look to quell the rise of the man with the longest unbeaten streak in MMA, Renan Barao.

Before all that, however, we have a solid set of "Prelims" bouts on the under card, which is filled to the brim with entertaining prospects and hard-hitting veterans.

Join us after the jump for part one of our UFC 143 "Prelims" breakdown, including the two fights that will be shown on Facebook -- Daniel Stittgen vs. Stephen Thompson and Rafael Natal vs. Michael Kuiper -- and the one the will start the FX portion of the telecast (Chris Cope vs. Matt Brown)

170 lbs.: Chris Cope vs. Matt Brown

An amateur kickboxing veteran, Chris Cope (5-2) was selected as the fifth member of Team dos Santos on The Ultimate Fighter (TUF) 13. He went on to score two impressive upset victories before being knocked out by eventual finalist Ramsey Nijem. Undeterred, he was paired up against Chuck O’Neil on the show’s Finale, scoring a dominant decision in an all-stand up affair. Unfortunately, Che Mills refused to let his long-sought UFC opportunity slip through his fingers, and he absolutely dusted Cope in 40 seconds.

With his back against the wall, "C-Murder" will need to get his C-Murdering on in short order if he wants to remain a member of the stacked UFC welterweight division.

Muay Thai menace Matt Brown (12-11) looked to be doing alright against TUF alum Seth Baczynski back at UFC 139, going blow-for-blow with the well-rounded vet all through round one. An ill-advised takedown attempt in the early going of the second, however, left "Immortal" caught in a guillotine, forcing him to tap four the fourth time in five fights, all in the second round. While Dana White has expressed an immense liking for the hard-hitting striker, there’s only so far an exciting style can take you, and at 1-4 with four submission losses in five fights, this could be "The Immortal’s" last stand in the UFC if he can’t put away Cope.

I don’t know if he doesn’t train it enough or if it’s just something he’s not good at, but Brown’s submission defense is absolutely atrocious. He’s been submitted a whopping nine times, and while he’s certainly effective on his feet, that effectiveness pretty much ensures nobody’s going to play that game with him.

Luckily, Cope will, because it’s the only one he knows how to play.

While he definitely shouldn’t be falling by submission this often, the people who make Brown tap are at least legitimate submission threats, which Cope isn’t. He can strike and has the takedown defense to make people strike with him, but he doesn’t have a Plan B for someone capable of thrashing him in the stand up department. Mills did it and Brown is going to do it, too. "The Immortal" will live to fight another day, crushing Cope in the early going with punches.

Prediction: Brown by first round technical knockout

170 lbs.: Dan Stittgen vs. Stephen Thompson

Submissions expert Dan Stittgen (7-1) is not one to waste time. His recent victory over Mark Stoddard was not only the first bout in his brief career to go the distance, but the first one to go past the first round. The grappling prowess of "The Anvil" has been instrumental in all seven of his wins, which include five subs and a technical knockout stoppage from ground-and-pound. Replacing Justin Edwards against the kickboxing prodigy Thompson, Stittgen has a tall task ahead of him, but could send one hell of a message to the rest of the division by pulling off another quick submission.

Stephen Thompson (5-0) has been kickboxing since he was three, and his resume in the sport reads like the biography of a Jean-Claude Van Damme character. A champion in an obscene amount of stand up organizations, "Wonderboy" switched to MMA in 2010 and has gone unbeaten in the sport. Thompson replaces Mike Stumpf and -- as one of the most decorated kickboxers to ever enter the UFC -- has some high expectations to fulfill against fellow late replacement Stittgen.

There’s always a question with high-level kickboxers of not only their ability to stay on their feet, but their ability to maintain an effective offense despite the threat of a takedown. Cosmo Alexandre, one of the top 155-pound kickboxers in the world, was outstruck in his MMA debut by an opponent who kept him stifled with the threat of a takedown.

Judging by his credentials, though, "Wonderboy" has that covered. He’s a black belt in Brazilian jiu-jitsu under Carlos Machado, his brother-in-law, and has proven himself more than competent on the ground. Neither he nor Stittgen have faced high-quality MMA competition (aside from Stittgen’s guillotine loss to Justin Edwards), so there’s no telling how that black belt will hold up against top-tier grapplers, but it should be enough here. Stittgen has solid submissions, but Thompson has experience in deeper waters and a striking game the likes of which you’re not likely to find anywhere outside the elite of the division. He’ll catch Stittgen with something nasty after shutting down the latter’s grappling offense.

Prediction: Thompson via third round knockout

185 lbs.: Rafael Natal vs. Michael Kuiper

A grappling specialist out of Gracie Fusion, Rafael Natal (13-3-1) finally notched his first UFC victory at UFC 133, defeating wrestling specialist Paul Bradley by decision. "Sapo," now 1-1-1, had previously fallen to Rich Attonito and drawn with Jesse Bongfelt under the ZUFFA banner, and owns victories over Danilo Villefort and Travis Lutter in other organizations. Against Kuiper -- one of the most lauded European prospects on the map -- he’ll be out to prove he’s more than just a barometer for new talent.

A black belt in his eponymous martial art, "Judo" Michael Kuiper (11-0) has been carving a path of destruction through the European circuit, finishing all but one of his foes in the first or second round. In addition to his excellent grappling pedigree, Kuiper has displayed some serious pop in his hands, knocking out five of his last six opponents with punches. He’ll need to utilize his entire game to make a dent in the vicious middleweight division, starting with the experienced "Sapo."

I’m always skeptical about undefeated prospects, especially ones who, like Kuiper, have primarily fed on inferior competition. What makes me lean toward him anyway in this case is twofold: He actually has experience fighting in a cage and Natal isn’t all that great. Kuiper’s striking isn’t the cleanest, but he has legitimate power in his hands and, by the looks of things, the takedown defense necessary to use them. He could be in trouble if Natal drags him into deep water with a wrestling attack, but if Kuiper can stay on his feet, he’ll put away Natal. It is my firm belief that he can do so in the early going.

Prediction: Kuiper via first round technical knockout

That's it for now. Stop by tomorrow for a look at the remaining bouts comprising the remaining FX "Prelims," featuring the likes of Dustin Poirier, Matt Riddle and Alex Caceres, among others.

See you then!

Remember, too, that will provide LIVE blow-by-blow, round-by-round coverage of UFC 143, beginning with the "Prelims" bouts on Facebook scheduled for around 7 p.m. ET. In addition, we will also provide LIVE, real-time results of the main card action as it happens throughout the evening this upcoming weekend.

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