An interim UFC welterweight champion will be crowned Saturday at UFC 143 as Nick Diaz and Carlos Condit face off in a stylistically salivating 170-pound showdown.
In other action, a Brazilian jiu-jitsu world champion finally returns to the UFC, while a former winner of "The Ultimate Fighter" tries to spoil the rise of an aspiring contender.
UFC 143 will emanate from the Mandalay Bay Events Center in Las Vegas with preliminary action set to air live on the FX network.
Here’s a breakdown of all the televised action:
Main card (on pay-per-view):
Nick Diaz (26-7) vs. Carlos Condit (27-5)
In what is shaping up to be one of the most exciting fights of the year, two top-ranked welterweight warriors will collide for the interim championship.
Diaz, 28, was expecting to fight undisputed champion Georges St. Pierre on multiple occasions, only to see the opportunity fall from his grasp twice. The Stockton, Calif., native made his UFC return this past October, winning an action-packed decision over Hawaiian legend B.J. Penn.
As the last reigning Strikeforce welterweight champion, Diaz was first offered a chance to challenge St. Pierre, but he was pulled out of the fight after no-showing a pre-fight press conference.
After his thrilling victory over Penn, Diaz called out St. Pierre and accused him of being scared of the potential challenge. The confident champion retaliated by requesting that his impending title defense against Condit be bypassed in favor of a fight with the brash Cesar Gracie-trained Brazilian jiu-jitsu black belt.
However, the fight would never materialize as the French-Canadian welterweight king re-aggravated his knee and had to undergo surgery as a result.
With nearly a full calendar year passing since St. Pierre last defended his title against Diaz’s teammate Jake Shields, the UFC has rightfully opted to crown a vacant champion with an electrifying matchup of former titleholders seeking UFC gold.
Diaz has been on a tear since his early UFC run that saw him finish Drew Fickett, Josh Neer and Gleison Tibau, while losing close decisions against the likes of Karo Parisyan, Diego Sanchez, Joe Riggs and Sean Sherk.
After submitting then-top lightweight Takanori Gomi with a gogoplata at Pride 33 and seeing his win overturned to a no contest for a positive marijuana test, Diaz has built a reputation for maintaining a frantic pace and utilizing an entertaining style to dazzle audiences.
Diaz would record wins over numerous foes in multiple weight classes, trouncing some recognizable names like Frank Shamrock, Scott Smith, Marius Zaromskis, Hayato Sakurai, K.J. Noons, Evangelista Santos and Paul Daley.
The often misunderstood southpaw has always been known as a master of submissions, but an aggressive style of boxing has become his most feared trait. Under the watchful eye of boxing coach Richard Perez, Diaz has developed tremendous speed and deceptively strong hands.
An unsurpassed conditioning regimen makes his fast-paced style particularly dangerous. When he’s not training alongside his brother Nate and teammates Shields and Gilbert Melendez, Diaz competes in triathlons.
Wrestling has been Diaz’s only notable weakness in the past, but to the benefit of both him and the viewers, his opponent is not one to lay-and-pray or wall-and-stall.
Condit, 27, a Brazilian jiu-jitsu purple belt, earned his nickname "The Natural Born Killer" with a high ratio of finishes. Before taking over the WEC’s welterweight division in 2007, Condit competed all over the world against names like Shields and Frank Trigg.
Following a 5-0 run in the WEC that saw him finish every opponent who crossed his path, Condit made his long awaited UFC debut in April 2009, dropping a disappointing razor-thin split decision to Martin Kampmann.
Condit has since rattled off four consecutive wins, including a decision over emerging contender Jake Ellenberger and a series of spectacular knockouts over highly touted prospect Rory MacDonald, former title challenger Dan Hardy and previously unbeaten South Korean sensation Dong Hyun Kim.
A proud native of Albuquerque, N.M., Condit bases his camp at Greg Jackson’s acclaimed academy. His training partners include Jon Jones, Nate Marquardt and Clay Guida.
Condit is a hard-hitting kickboxer with a slick ground game, but he needs to be prepared to take Diaz down if the Californian’s pace begins to take its toll.
Jackson’s camp is renowned for its wrestlers and Condit should benefit from his surroundings. However, his striking is certainly dangerous and dynamic enough to pose some serious threats.
Diaz gets his share of criticism and media attention for reasons that have nothing to do with his mixed martial arts game, but he’s an absolute destroyer in the Octagon.
Diaz possesses a granite chin and an ability to scramble out of bad positions. His punch output and incessant tempo are truly remarkable.
Condit may need to resort to some takedowns and clinches if Diaz’s unremitting offense wears his down. However, Diaz has been dropped before and Condit is one of the division’s true knockout specialists.
Diaz relies mostly on his punching, while Condit is a far more versatile striker who utilizes kicks and knees effectively. He may find success battering the legs of Diaz with low kicks and a high kick or flying knee landing on the button could lead to the finish.
This is indeed an evenly matched clash of determined and seasoned competitors, one that warrants the crowning of an interim champion while St. Pierre prepares for his return.
Diaz and St. Pierre already have a rivalry brewing, but Condit is looking to spoil the party. In fact, UFC president Dana White, matchmaker Joe Silva, the champ St. Pierre and many fans may be hoping for a Diaz win. Condit is unfazed, however, and remains focused on his eagerly awaited shot at a UFC championship.
Condit should look for heavy combinations to put Diaz out early as the aggressive Californian will begin to find his groove as the fight progresses. Diaz isn’t one to falter from blows or stay down. A steady onslaught of accurate punches should score big points with the judges and if it goes the distance, Diaz could realize what many thought could never happen as a UFC belt is wrapped around his waist.