MMA DieHards Counterpunch takes on UFC 143, which takes place Saturday at the Mandalay Bay Events Center.
UFC 143 features a welterweight interim championship bout between Nick Diaz and Carlos Condit in the main event. Heavyweights Roy Nelson and Fabricio Werdum do battle in the co-main event, and Josh Koscheck faces Mike Pierce.
MMADieHards.com put together a team of our finest writers to bring you Counterpunch for the event. The group independently makes its selections for each fight. Minority picks will be defended by one of the panelists making that selection.
Joining us this week will be Mark Hensch, Shawn Baran, Robert G. Reynolds, Joe Rizzo and Jason Kelly.
Matt Brown, Matt Riddle, Dustin Poirier and Scott Jorgensen are not covered below, as they were unanimously selected.
Below we list the match, the fighter being defended and the author of the defence.
Dan Stittgen vs. Stephen Thompson
Defending Stittgen: Joe Rizzo
Stittgen (7-1) and Thompson (5-0) make their respective UFC debuts on the undercard, and it’s a case of a couple of unfamiliar names looking to gain a win and some notice. Stittgen has the best chance of doing it in one writer’s opinion, despite his status as a solid betting underdog. Stittgen will have a huge advantage on the ground in this fight, but getting down the kickboxing champion without getting knocked out will be the trick. If it remains standing Thomson will have his way, but this prediction says the fight — and Thomson — are going down.
Michael Kuiper vs. Rafael Natal
Defending Kuiper: Robert G. Reynolds
Meeting Kuiper for his inaugural event with the UFC will be Brazilian, Rafael Natal. Making his third appearance with the organization, Natal earned his first win in his last outing at UFC 133 over Paul Bradley.
While Natal got the win, it was not in impressive fashion and in my opinion, has yet to standout within the UFC. With the UFC restocking their shelves with new product to replace the old, Kuiper brings a style of fighting favorable with fans- he finishes them. Expect Kuiper to stop Natal midway into the first round with strikes, extending his undefeated win streak to 12.
Alex Caceres vs. Edwin Figueroa
Defending Caceres: Jason Kelly
Picking Caceres may not have been the safest bet, but he showed maturity in his last bout that gives me hope.
Caceres was a spectacle on The Ultimate Fighter 12 that was more of a sideshow than a mixed martial artist. After a UFC start that found “Bruce Leroy” 0-2, he rebounded with a decision victory against Cole Escovedo. Caceres always had the skills competent enough to compete in the Octagon, but they didn’t shine through until his most recent outing. His improvement on the ground and in the striking department since dropping to bantamweight division proved Caceres is capable of using technique to defeat tough opponents. And we can’t forget the triangle-choke the TUF 14 cast member defeated Jeff Lentz with that he is so fond of.
Figueroa is Caceres’ toughest opponent to date, but if “Bruce Leroy” continues that style of fighting that helped him defeat Escovedo, he can most definitely win a unanimous decision at UFC 143.
Ed Herman vs. Clifford Starks
Defending Herman: Shawn Baran
After losing to Aaron Simpson back in 2009, Herman came back with a vengeance in 2011. With a TKO victory and a submission finish, both coming in round one and within a two month span, Herman seems to have found his form. To make things even more intriguing, the victories came against Tim Credeur and Kyle Noke, two of the tougher opponents in the middleweight division. Herman seems a little more focused now and may not be the “short fuse” that we are used to seeing. Herman’s clinch work has drastically improved, as has his ground and pound. If this fight gets to the ground, watch out.
Not taking anything away from Starks. Starks is a tough dude and he is undefeated at 8-0, but he has yet to face an opponent as dynamic as Herman. Starks is a fairly well rounded fighter, but we will have to see what he has when he is really put to the test. Starks has some good striking, but his wrestling could use some improvement. I am confident this fight will end up on the ground and Herman has the edge there. Starks will not have an answer for what Herman brings to the table. Time will tell and we will find out on Saturday night, but if I were a betting man, I would put a little money down on Herman in this one. I think Herman will be a little too much for Starks to handle.
Mike Pierce vs. Josh Koscheck
Defending Pierce: Joe Rizzo
Sleep on Pierce at your own peril. Pierce is trying to become what Koscheck already is, and this is the chance to vault into the top realm at welterweight in the UFC. Like Stittgen, Pierce is a solid underdog. When considering Koscheck’s record and reputation, the odds (Pierce is around plus-200) ought to be significantly more lopsided. Oftentimes that means Las Vegas has an inclination of something others are not seeing. Koscheck has fought higher profile names, but with the exception of his losses to Georges St-Pierre, the level of opponents is about equal. Koscheck rebounded from his injury to take on Matt Hughes on short notice and took care of the aging former champion in September, but you have to go back to the Paul Daley fight in May 2010 to find another win.
Pierce came up agonizingly short against Johny Hendricks and Jon Fitch, back when Fitch was virtually untouchable. He’ll get over the hump this time, as he is one of the few who have enough to hinder Koshcheck’s incredible wrestling.
Fabricio Werdum vs. Roy Nelson
Defending Werdum: Mark Hensch
This one will end closer that I probably expect, but I just don’t see Nelson negating the strengths Werdum brings to the Octagon. I love “Big Country” as much as the next guy, but Werdum is simply much more dangerous on the ground while still packing some serious striking power.
Nelson’s no slouch, but Werdum has convincingly beaten some bigger names too. At day’s end, not many can say they’ve defeated Alistair Overeem and both Emelianenko brothers. Once one remembers this match marks Werdum’s UFC re-debut, it seems likely he’ll win given he has something to prove.
Carlos Condit vs. Nick Diaz
Defending Condit: Joe Rizzo
It’s almost like there are three belts on the line here, as Condit is the WEC welterweight champion emeritus, Diaz forcibly walked away from the Strikeforce 170-pound gold and St-Pierre’s injury has left this a battle for the UFC interim welterweight title. Diaz comes in as the favorite, but has given Condit respect he does not often afford his opponents.
Anyone who thinks they know what is going to happen in this fight is misinformed. While both fighters figure to have some sort of game plan, they both have shown in their many fights that the pace will be very fast, there will be a lot of early action and neither fighter can tell you under oath whether that action will be standing or on the mat.
Perhaps Condit’s biggest strength is that he can get beaten to a pulp but goes harder and harder as fights linger on. He has enjoyed epic third-round rallies, most notably against Rory McDonald, and with this being a five-round main event, that might figure to be an advantage to the ridiculously conditioned Diaz. But it’s not just about how well you’re conditioned, it’s about how you perform in those later rounds. Both fighters have finishes littered all over their records, and this one is destined to end in one of the championship rounds, with Condit earning the belt.