For the Giants and Patriots, the journey to the Super Bowl began way back in July when the teams reported for abbreviated training camps. For Nick Diaz and Carlos Condit, the road to the main event on the UFC's traditional Super Bowl Eve fight card has been even longer, and with more twists and bumps than an NFL season.
Last April, Diaz was fresh off an eye-opening defense of his Strikeforce welterweight championship, a first-round knockout of KO artist Paul Daley, when he watched his training partner, Jake Shields, go five rounds in an unsuccessful challenge of UFC champ Georges St-Pierre. Talk quickly shifted to bringing the two organizations' belt holders together, and by the beginning of June the match was made: GSP and Diaz in the main event of UFC 137.
Within a few weeks, the match had fallen apart. Nick failed to show up for several promotional obligations, including a bizarre news conference where St-Pierre sat to one side of the podium, an empty chair sat to the other side, and Dana White stood in the middle, looking disgusted. When he wasn't taking a cell phone call from Nick's manager, the UFC president was announcing that Diaz was off the Oct. 29 card and GSP would instead defend against Carlos Condit, who'd originally been scheduled to fight B.J. Penn in the co-main event.
Then, a couple of days later, Diaz was brought back onto the card, slated to fight Penn. Then St-Pierre fell out of the Condit bout because of a knee injury, bumping Diaz-Penn to top billing. Then Diaz beat up Penn so convincingly that White opted to give him, not the patiently waiting Condit, the next shot at GSP. Then the UFC champ more seriously injured his knee, and the Super Bowl weekend main event became Diaz vs. Condit, with an interim title on the line.
Pending any last-minute changes in plans, that's what we'll have headlining UFC 143 Saturday night in Las Vegas (PPV, 10 p.m. ET).
It might be Plan B -- or, perhaps more accurately, Plan D as in detour -- but what we've ended up with should be a pretty scenic ride. Diaz (26-7, one no-contest) and Condit (27-5) are the rare mixed martial artists who appear equally comfortable in the ground game and throwing bombs. Being in the cage with either of them can feel like sudden death.
Diaz has knocked out 13 opponents and submitted eight. Condit has 13 KOs and the same number of submissions. The Nevada State Athletic Commission is obligated to have judges at cageside, but their scorecards likely will have as little bearing on this fight as they will on the next evening's football game.
11: Consecutive victories, with his last loss coming way back in 2007.
9: Fights during that winning streak that ended by KO (six) or submission (three).
0: No-shows or bizarre dramatics at news conferences and other promotional events to hype this fight (which must be a personal record).
9: Victories in his 10 UFC and WEC fights. All told, he's won 13 of his last 14 bouts, dating to 2006.
8: Finishes in those nine UFC/WEC wins (first, four submissions, then four KOs).
2: Streak of Knockout of the Night bonuses (vs. Don Hyun Kim in his last fight in July, vs. Dan Hardy in October 2010). But while Condit has had just two fights since October 2010, Diaz has had four.
What we should expect: Both Diaz and Condit have the physical tools to control this fight, either on the mat or while standing. But only one of them can be in control, so what gives? I think it comes down to willfulness. While Condit, like most athletes in all sports, seizes on an opponent's weaknesses, Diaz is more prone to testing himself against his foe's strengths. He'll stand with a standup fighter, roll with a ground guy. So what'll he do against the versatile Condit? I suspect he'll keep the fight standing until Carlos opts for the mat. And when will Condit try to change venues like that? It'll likely happen if he's taking more fistic damage than he's dishing out.
Why we should care: The winner gets to put on a shiny new belt, although it's not quite as sparkly -- if only metaphorically -- as the non-interim one owned by St-Pierre. But, the victor here gets the next shot at GSP. Also at stake is a little gym pride -- Diaz is coached by Cesar Gracie, who has said Condit's coach, Greg Jackson, gets more credit than he deserves for his fighters' success. We'll see.
"Where you at, Carlos?"-- Diaz, pacing menacingly the octagon after beating up B.J. Penn in October
"I've been wanting to step into the octagon with Nick Diaz for a really long time. Great fighter. Great skill set. I think that we're really going to put on a good show for the fans."-- Condit, in a video posted on his website after he received news that St-Pierre was injured and that he'd be fighting Diaz
"He kicks better, he throws better punches, he is taller. From a fan's perspective, and I am a fan myself, it's actually a more intriguing matchup ... I really think this is going to be a rock 'em sock 'em fight."-- Cesar Gracie, Diaz' coach, comparing Condit to GSP
"I feel like I'm a more technical fighter than Diaz. I have more weapons in my arsenal. I just bring some different stuff to the table ... He can take a good shot, but can he take knees? Is he going to be able to take elbows? It's a different when it's a shin across your face."-- Condit in a UFC-produced fight preview video
"That's a nice thought, right? Go out there and throw some kicks and some elbows, some knees, and win the fight. Can you get that stuff off when you're running backward?"--Diaz during that same fight preview video
St-Pierre, who once he's healed will face Saturday night's winner, offered up (via the UFC) some thoughts about the fight this week.
On his rooting interest: "I respect Carlos Condit, but I want Diaz to win. It will be a weird feeling, sitting at the Mandalay Bay wanting Nick Diaz to win. I want this fight with Diaz so badly, as badly as I wanted the title shot when I got down on my knees. I have never asked Dana White for anything, but I did ask to fight Nick Diaz."
On Condit: "I am very nervous that Carlos Condit will win on Saturday night, and that I won't be able to fight Nick Diaz this summer. Carlos Condit is a very good fighter -- he can strike, he is aggressive and he has submissions. He has been very impressive and is the type of fighter who gets better and better the more confident he gets.
"I am not personal friends with him, but I know him a little and he's a great person. I know a lot of people who know him well because we train with the same people, but I have only spoken with him a few times. He is a true mixed martial artist. I feel bad. It is weird that I want him to lose, but I have never wanted to fight anyone as much as I want to fight Diaz."
On Diaz: "I don't truly hate him as a person. I don't know that he is a bad guy. But I hate what he brings to the sport, with the disrespect and the unprofessional things he says and does. It is sort of a professional hatred. He has been nothing but disrespectful and arrogant toward me. During UFC 137 [week], I felt like I had to walk around Las Vegas with my fists ready [to punch Diaz], because every time I came across him, he wanted to fight there and then. Every time the elevator opened [in the hotel], I needed to be ready to fight in case he stepped in. I was on edge all week. This guy is crazy."
On the interim title: "The winner of this fight on Saturday will be more than just the new No. 1 contender, but he won't be the new champion, either. The winner of this fight will have to beat me to become the true world champion, and I will have to beat the winner of this fight in order to call myself the best in the world again."
Heavy duty: Junior dos Santos' crushing 64-second knockout of UFC champion Cain Velasquez back in November set the bar high, and Alistair Overeem leapt over it like Superman with his devastation of Brock Lesnar on New Year's weekend. Now Roy Nelson (loss to dos Santos in 2010) and Fabricio Werdum (loss to Overeem last June) have a chance to proclaim that the heavyweight division is not just a three-man competition. One of them is going to have to step forward and show something impressive if he wants there to be room for him in the picture.
A downer: Josh Koscheck was scheduled to fight Condit in the co-main event before Carlos was moved up. Now Kos gets Mike Pierce, a dangerous fighter in any circumstances, but especially in a situation ripe for a letdown. Josh has been in the game long enough to know that this fight -- even if it's lost some luster -- is the most important of his career ... or will be, at least, this weekend. On the other end of the psychological meter, Pierce knows what a win over Koscheck would mean for his career.
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