UFC 143: Carlos Condit sticks to game plan, beats Nick Diaz by unanimous decision

LAS VEGAS – Carlos Condit took a back seat for most of the promotion of UFC 143, quietly going about his work while everyone in the mixed martial arts fraternity fixated on a possible welterweight title fight between Nick Diaz and reigning UFC champion Georges St. Pierre.

A columnist in the Las Vegas Review-Journal went so far as to openly root for Condit to lose in order to ensure the St. Pierre-Diaz match.

Carlos Condit delivers a knee to Nick Diaz during their fight for the UFC interim welterweight title.
(AP Images)

Condit, though, scuttled those plans in front of a sellout crowd at the Mandalay Bay Events Center, defeating Diaz in the main event of UFC 143 by taking a closely contested unanimous decision.

Judges favored Condit, 49-46 twice and 48-47. Yahoo! Sports had Condit, 48-47, as well.

“It’s pretty surreal right now,” Condit said.

A former World Extreme Cagefighting champion, Condit didn’t call attention to himself until the bell rang. Then, in a classic battle Saturday in front of a celebrity-filled pre-Super Bowl crowd, he won the UFC interim welterweight belt that was created when St. Pierre got injured and underweight knee surgery. St. Pierre’s rehab may sideline him until November.

Condit used great movement and a series of kicks to hand Diaz, who was a minus-230 favorite, the defeat. Condit’s kicks began to take a toll on Diaz as the fight wore on and Diaz wasn’t as effective with his strikes as he was early.

Diaz was angry at the decision, and hinted that he might retire.

“I don’t need this [expletive],” Diaz said, complaining that he thought he won by walking Condit down.

For most of the last week, it seemed as if the UFC was promoting a St. Pierre-Diaz fight, as the feud between the world’s two welterweights stole the headlines from the actual fight that was about to take place.

[ Related: Condit faced with controversy after win over Diaz ]

Condit, though, insisted before the fight that he wouldn’t be bothered and he clearly was not. St. Pierre openly rooted for Diaz, whom he was slated to fight both at UFC 137 and then at UFC 143. When Diaz routed B.J. Penn on that night, it was supposed to set up a St. Pierre-Diaz fight Saturday, but St. Pierre suffered another, more serious knee injury that forced him to pull out.

The UFC replaced him with Condit, but St. Pierre was a familiar presence around the Mandalay Bay Events Center all week, doing a series of interviews discussing his distaste for Diaz.

But St. Pierre admitted he was concerned that Condit would win and upset his plans to meet his hated foe.

“I [was] very nervous that Carlos Condit [would] win” St. Pierre said.

Fabricio Werdum battered Roy Nelson with a series of knees and kicks in their heavyweight match, opening a bit cut on Nelson’s forehead and winning a unanimous decision. All three judges had it 30-27 for Werdum.

Josh Koscheck (R) punches Mike Pierce en route to a split decision victory at UFC 143.
(Getty Images)

[ Related: Nelson proves toughness in loss to Werdum ]

Werdum was in control except for a few moments in the third round, particularly when he was briefly caught in a guillotine choke. Despite the many quality strikes he landed, he couldn’t put Nelson out.

“Boy, is Roy a tough guy!” Werdum said in tribute.

Werdum was backpedaling much of the second half of the fight, but he still landed a series of great shots that won him the fight. Nelson had a diagonal cut on his forehead, above his nose.

Neither Josh Koscheck nor Mike Pierce did much to distinguish himself during their welterweight bout, but Koscheck was active enough that he pulled out a split decision.

The crowd roundly booed as Koscheck made an obscene gesture following the announcement.

“You know what? I’m the most hated man in MMA,” he said. “But I find a way to win. Deal with it.”

Pierce landed several solid right hands in the first round, but he was unable to mount much of an offense after that. Much of the bout was spent with both fighters grappling for position along the cage, without much happening.

Renan Barao won his 18th fight in a row and established himself as a legitimate contender in the bantamweight division with a one-sided victory over Scott Jorgensen. Barao dominated from start to finish and won 30-27 on all three judges’ cards.

Barao, who is now 30-1, showed great takedown defense and beat Jorgensen to the punch repeatedly.

“Barao’s a tough guy,” Jorgensen said. “He’s a very well-rounded fighter. I had no sense of urgency and I felt too comfortable in there. It’s a tough loss.”

In the main card opener, Ed Herman managed to survive a series of hard right hands from Clifford Starks in the first round to pull out a submission victory by rear naked choke at 1:43 of the second.

Alex Caceres had two points deducted for multiple low kicks, which cost him a victory over Edwin Figueroa.
(Getty Images)

Starks was very successful with the lead right in the first, landing it repeatedly.

“Thankfully, I have a good chin,” Herman said.

It changed quickly in the second round. As they were grappling along the cage, Herman tripped Starks and took him down. He quickly got his back and sunk in the rear naked choke, forcing the tap.

[ Related: Herman continues win streak ]

“Once I got on top I knew I was going to get the finish,” Herman said. “I’ve really matured a lot physically and mentally, and half the battle is mental, so I was more prepared than ever. This is just another step on the journey for me. I feel like I am getting closer to fighting some of the top guys. Stark is a very athletic guy and a good wrestler and brought a good striking game. It was nice to go in there and get the finish. I did take a beating, though. While I’m glad I got the win, I still have stuff to work on.”

Dustin Poirier won his fourth UFC fight without a loss, stamping himself as a top contender for the featherweight title after a brilliant submission of Max Holloway.

Poirier caught Holloway, who was impressive on his feet early in the fight, in an arm bar. Holloway rolled out, but Poirier transitioned to the triangle choke. As he put the triangle on, he gained the arm again and forced the tap.

“I never underestimated Max,” Poirier said of Holloway, who took the fight on three weeks’ notice. “I was in his shoes before. He’s a tough fighter and good kick boxer. He was quicker than I expected though and hit me with a few shots. I wanted to come out strong and mix it up with some kicks. I came here to get a win, and I got the finish. I’m one step closer to being a champion.”

Edwin Figueroa took two very hard low kicks from Alex Caceres in their bantamweight fight, but the second of those he took helped him to win a split decision. Referee Herb Dean took two points off Caceres’ after the second of the two low shots, and that was the difference in the fight.

Sal D’Amato and Glenn Trowbridge each had Figueroa winning, 28-27. Chris Lee favored Caceres, 28-27. Without the point-deduction for the kicks, Caceres would have won a unanimous decision.

“It was a hard-earned pay check,” Figueroa said. “He was a good fighter. I had to dig deep for this one. He came out and landed a few shots early. It was a tough fight, but I came out the winner.”

Caceres seemed to control the fight. He had several good submission attempts and landed a variety of strikes, which were harder and cleaner.

He was stunned by the result.

“I don’t know what happened,” he said. “I thought I had that one. I guess they took points away from the low blow I delivered. I didn’t take that much damage. I’m very disappointed.”

Matt Brown had gotten away from his game, which is firing powerful right hands, and the result was that he entered Saturday’s bout with Chris Cope having dropped four of his last five. But Brown kept his hands moving against Cope and wound up with a second-round technical knockout.

Brown drilled Cope with a right and followed up with a left hook that dumped Cope. Referee Kim Winslow jumped in and stopped it at 1:19 of the second of the welterweight match.

“I just did what I know I’m capable of doing,” Brown said. “I’m happy with the win, but there are always things I can improve. I don’t want guys to find holes in my game. This is a step in the right direction for me. My striking has improved and I’m going to keep on working on things. When the fight started, within three to four exchanges, I immediately saw weaknesses in his game and I was able to capitalize on it.

“I was shooting and throwing jabs to his body and head and trying to switch it up. That’s when I noticed he had a tendency to drop his hand, which was to my advantage.”

Henry Martinez gave up a ton of size to Matthew Riddle and, though Martinez was very game, it cost him a split decision in a welterweight fight. Cecil Peoples scored it 29-28 for Martinez, but he was overruled Junichiro Kamijo and Chris Lee, who, like Yahoo! Sports, each had it 29-28 for Riddle.

Martinez, who was six inches shorter than Riddle and is best suited to fight at lightweight, took the fight to Riddle in the first and landed several telling blows. He opened a cut over Riddle’s left eye.

Riddle picked up the pace in the second, landing several hard kicks, and probably stole the round with a flurry at the end. Riddle clearly took the third round and wound up getting a win which likely saved his job. Riddle entered the bout on a two-fight losing streak.

“This fight was a war, but it’s nice to be back on the winning end again,” Riddle said. “Henry hit hard and his hands were quick. I was impressed by him and that’s why I picked it up in the second and third rounds. Every time I go in there, I want to put on a show and fight as hard as I can.”

Martinez, who was making his UFC debut, had won four in a row before Saturday, but he wasn’t complaining afterward.

“I had fun out there,” he said. “It was a great fight and Matt is a tough guy. Even if you go in with the best plan in the world and study your opponent, they can change it up on you. We pushed each other hard, but I had a great time.”

Rafael Natal and Michael Kuiper put on a good show in their middleweight bout, but Natal’s takedowns were too much and he pulled out a unanimous decision victory. Judges had it 30-27 twice and 29-28. Yahoo! Sports also had it 29-28, giving Kuiper the third.

Kuiper spent much of the first round on his back, getting repeatedly taken down by Natal. The second was much more back and forth and Kuiper had his good moments, especially in the opening minutes of the second when he landed a number of good strikes.

Kuiper dropped Natal with a good shot along the cage early in the third and landed a number of hard shots from top position. Natal eventually got up and then took Kuiper down. He caught Kuiper in an arm triangle, but Kuiper managed to survive.

“Michael is a good fighter but I was better,” Natal said. “I am very happy to pick up this win and that my family was watching. My jiu-jitsu saved me again.”

[ Related: Thompson produces impressive KO in debut ]

The card opened in an electric manner, with fighting sensation Stephen “Wonder Boy” Thompson making his UFC debut in exceptional fashion, getting a first-round knockout of Dan Stittgen with a roundhouse kick to the head in a welterweight match.

Thompson, who entered the fight with a combined record of 62-0 in MMA, karate and kick boxing, landed a jab and followed it with a roundhouse kick to the face. The kick came over Stittgen’s shoulder and he never saw it.

He was out immediately and Rosenthal stopped it at 4:13 of the first.

“If you develop them, they can pack a lot of power and people don’t see them,” Thompson said of his kicks.

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Kevin Iole covers boxing and mixed martial arts for Yahoo! Sports. Follow him on Twitter. Send Kevin a question or comment for potential use in a future column or webcast.
Updated Sunday, Feb 5, 2012