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Nick Diaz and Carlos Condit promise a war at UFC 143

Interim welterweight championship belt at risk in main event

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Leila Navidi

Nick Diaz spars during open workouts for UFC 143 at Mandalay Bay Events Center in Las Vegas Wednesday, Feb. 1, 2012.

UFC 143 Workouts

Carlos Condit wraps his hands during open workouts for UFC 143 at Mandalay Bay Events Center in Las Vegas Wednesday, Feb. 1, 2012. Launch slideshow »

The posters lining the Mandalay Bay hallways to promote the annual UFC Super Bowl weekend card usually feature as many as six fighters to highlight three bouts.

Heading into UFC 143, the only faces gracing the advertisements belong to Nick Diaz and Carlos Condit. Other worthwhile fights will take place Saturday night at the Mandalay Bay Events Center, but none have close to the anticipation of the main event for the interim welterweight title.

“This card is more of a boxing card than the typical, normal UFC card,” said Roy Nelson, who faces Fabricio Werdum in the co-main event, of the focus on one fight.

The UFC is giving Diaz (26-7 MMA, 7-4 UFC) and Condit (27-5 MMA, 4-1 UFC) a marketing push typically reserved for the biggest stars in the promotion. Nelson, and everyone else, can understand why.

A matchup between Diaz and Condit promises pure action. Both fighters have a style that is among the most fan-friendly in mixed martial arts.

Diaz constantly comes forward and peppers opponents with hundreds of punches. Condit has knocked out three straight opponents and has more power in his striking than any other 170-pounder in the world.

“I like to keep things exciting,” Condit said. “Every minute of the fight, I’m trying to finish my opponent. I think this is a great fight for the fans, because Nick does the same thing. He’s always looking to finish as well.”

Diaz and Condit have gone a combined 17-1 over the past four years. They’ve finished their opponents in 14 of those bouts.

Condit has received an elusive seal of approval from Diaz heading into the bout. Diaz loathes opponents who fight to win rounds, but he doesn’t see that as Condit’s approach.

“I think the way I fight and the way my opponent fights, we are both guys who are top-level, top 10,” Diaz explained. “We’re both looking to get ahead on damage.”

The fighter Diaz has railed most against over the years is welterweight champion Georges St. Pierre, who has won by decision in each of his last four fights. St. Pierre was so insulted by Diaz last October that he demanded a fight against him.

It was slated to take place at UFC 143, but a torn ACL in training forced St. Pierre out and set up the Diaz vs. Condit matchup. St. Pierre is in town for the event and rooting hard for Diaz. That’s how badly one of the top pound-for-pound fighters in the world wants the long-delayed meeting with the former Strikeforce champion.

“I don’t know if he’s going to win the fight Saturday,” St. Pierre said of Diaz. “But I hope he does. I pray he does.”

Those are the kinds of statements that set Diaz off. Many labeled Diaz as crazy after he missed a press tour ahead of UFC 137 and went on several rants in a post-fight press conference.

But he said he was being “realistic.” Most other fighters like St. Pierre are less sane, according to Diaz.

“In my opinion, everyone else is crazy out of their minds,” Diaz said. “They are the ones who are putting on the act for you, doing what they are told in front of the camera. The camera gives them a line and they say it 10 times over again. And then whoever goes back into the back and picks that out, they turn these guys into robots. I’m just not going to be that guy. Don’t tell me I’m crazy. I’m natural.”

Diaz thinks Condit will present a tougher challenge than St. Pierre. Condit has trained for several fighters in the past five months.

Bouts with St. Pierre, B.J. Penn and Josh Koscheck were all scheduled and fell apart for Condit. But he said training for Diaz was more difficult than the other three.

“He’s probably the most dynamic of the guys I’ve been matched up against,” Condit said.

The intrigue surrounding Diaz vs. Condit is even pervading through the rest of the card. Four other UFC 143 fighters attended Wednesday’s open workouts and three of them spent time breaking down the main event.

They unanimously picked Diaz. St. Pierre hopes the popular choice proves correct, but the UFC’s top star sees it as more of an even fight.

“Standing up, I believe Carlos Condit has more power and more diversity in his striking,” St. Pierre said. “Nick, though, is more accurate. He’s the kind of guy who controls distance very well.”

Case Keefer can be reached at 948-2790 or [email protected]. Follow Case on Twitter at twitter.com/casekeefer.

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