Thursday, March 31, 2011

Who Will Step Up to the Prodigy?

An injured knee will keep the 23-3-1 Jon Fitch out of the Octagon for UFC 132, but it is unlikely to disappoint fans, many of whom consider Fitch’s conservative wrestling style boring. The February 27th draw with BJ Penn was the ninth straight Fitch fight to go to a decision.

There are several top 10 welterweights eager to replace Fitch and move closer to a shot at the title currently held by George St. Pierre. Based on and USA Today/SB Nation rankings, the four most deserving candidates are Thiago Alves (18-7), Josh Koscheck (15-5), Carlos Condit (26-5) and Diego Sanchez (23-4).

Alves, ranked #3/4 respectively, is 10-4 in the UFC with wins over Chris Lytle, Karo Parisyan, Matt Hughes and Josh Koscheck. “The Pitbull” is a 3x Brazilian State Champion in Muay Thai, where he started training at 15-years old, and a brown belt in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu.

Alves is a fighter that will pose problems for Penn with his powerful striking and huge weight advantage. Alves has been unable to make the 170 LB weight limit twice in his UFC career and has been suspended for the use of a banned diuretic in another. Penn, the former lightweight and welterweight champion, weighed in at just 169 pounds for his fight with Fitch and his latest battle with Matt Hughes.

Since Alves’ latest weight cutting failure at UFC 117, he has turned nutritional duties over to MMA fighter and nutritionist Mike Dolce.

"The Dolce Diet helped me out a lot," Alves told after UFC 124. "It's not just a diet. It's a life choice. Everything that he tells you, you've got to surround yourself with healthy people that are going to help take you to where you want to get. I always train hard. I've got a great camp with me, but it's pretty much the diet and the life choice that made a huge difference in this fight.”

Although Alves is undoubtedly a bona fide contender at 170, he is just 1-1 since his title fight with George St. Pierre with a loss to Jon Fitch and a victory over John “Doomsday” Howard. Alves is currently scheduled to face Rick Story on the prelims of UFC 130.
When asked about this potential fight in 2009, GSP told, "If you put Thiago Alves and BJ Penn in a fight, I would bet all my money on Thiago Alves. No doubt about it."

Josh Koscheck, ranked #5 by both Sherdog and USAToday, is 13-5 in the UFC and a member of the original cast of The Ultimate Fighter. He has big wins over Paul Daley, Anthony “Rumble” Johnson and Diego Sanchez.

Koscheck was a standout wrestler at Edinboro University, where he was a 4-time All-American and won a National Championship at 174 pounds. Koscheck has been accused of abandoning his wrestling background in favor of a more exciting sprawl-and-brawl style in many of his fights, but has begun to use more of his wrestling in recent fights.

His unanimous decision victory over Daley gave Koscheck an opportunity to face GSP at UFC 124 in Montreal, but Koscheck left the Bell Centre with a loss and a broken orbital bone as souvenirs.

Because of the injury, Koscheck has been unable to train and is unlikely to be ready for a July fight. He told Dana White on a UFC 127 Vlog in February that, “This [right] side of my face has been numb the whole time and my teeth still are numb from the nerve damage. I’ve got like five months probably. So, it kind of sucks, but I’ll be back. I’m going to start riding the bike. I can’t do any running because of the bouncing.”

Carlos "The Natural Born Killer" Condit, #7 on both rankings, is the least known of the four fighters with just four fights in the UFC. Condit was the last welterweight champion of the WEC and holds victories over Rory MacDonald and Dan Hardy. The later of which earned him KO of the Night when Hardy and Condit threw simultaneous left hooks. Condit's was harder and more accurate.

The MacDonald fight also earned Condit Fight of the Night honors. Condit battered MacDonald throughout the third round, but he was on the verge of losing a decision.
During the fight commentary, Joe Rogan said, “If I was in Condit’s corner rather, I’d be telling him ‘You gotta get on top of this kid… You’ve got to try and stop this fight. It’s in his home town and he won the first two rounds.’” Condit finished the fight with ground and pound just ten seconds from the finish.

After hearing about the injury to Fitch, @CarlosCondit tweeted, “It would be an honor to fight a legend like BJ Penn, one of my favorite fighters ever. If the call comes, I would take the fight in a second.”

The final UFC welterweight with a chance to replace Fitch in a title eliminator is the newly renamed Diego “The Dream” Sanchez. He is 12-4 in the UFC, the middleweight winner of the first season of The Ultimate Fighter and ranked #10/9 in the two rankings.

Sanchez holds wins over Kenny Florian, Paulo Thiago, Martin Kampmann and Strikeforce welterweight champion Nick Diaz. He was a New Mexico state wrestling champion in high school, made his MMA debut at the age of 20 and won his first 17 fights.

Sanchez is one of the more eccentric fighters in the UFC, known for screaming yes as he walks to the ring, or does cartwheels, and doing yoga in thunderstorms to harness its energy.
Of the four fighters, Sanchez is the only one who has previously fought Penn. In their LW title fight at UFC 107, Sanchez offered little resistance to Penn and was finished with a head kick that caused a cut stoppage. After the loss, Sanchez returned to welterweight and defeated contenders Paulo Thiago and Martin Kampmann.

With three months remaining until UFC 132, it would appear that Condit is the fan favorite to take over the spot. Condit is an exciting, well-rounded fighter, who would likely make for a more exciting matchup with Penn than Jon Fitch. The other three fighters have less than two wins since their last chance at a title. But the argument can be made that Condit has faced the easiest competition of the four and holds no wins over a current top 10 welterweight.