On the heels of a somewhat underwhelming UFC on FOX 2 card, the Ultimate Fighting Championship will be hoping to recapture the momentum that saw them produce a string of crowd-pleasing main events in the past few months. Originally scheduled to be headlined by a blockbuster Georges St. Pierre vs. Nick Diaz bout, UFC 143 now has to settle for an incomparably less marketable — but far more intriguing, and potentially enthralling — interim title fight pitting Diaz against Carlos Condit. The card also features a battle of perennial heavyweight Top 10’ers between Fabricio Werdum and Roy Nelson, while a tricky test awaits longtime welterweight contender Josh Koscheck in the form of Mike Pierce.

Preliminary Predictions

* Rafael Natal to defeat Michael Kuiper by Decision
* Stephen Thompson to defeat Daniel Stittgen by Decision
* Matt Brown to defeat Chris Cope by TKO in Round 2
* Edwin Figueroa to defeat Alex Caceres by TKO in Round 3
* Matt Riddle to defeat Henry Martinez by Decision
* Dustin Poirier to defeat Max Holloway by Submission in Round 2

Main Card Predcitions

Heavyweight Fight: Ed Herman vs. Clifford Starks

The talented but inconsistent Herman returns to the Octagon for the first time since his submission of Kyle Noke last August. At this stage in his career, Herman is pretty much what he is: well-rounded enough to dispose of many mid-level middleweights, but unlikely to ever manage to get over that ceiling. Throughout his career, Herman has out-grappled inferior grapplers, and out-struck inferior strikers. He is able to achieve the latter by mixing up just enough takedowns with his stand-up to keep his opponent guessing. In particular, Herman closes the distance well, where he is far more comfortable boxing from close-quarters and working in the clinch. That approach allows the Team Quest veteran to mask some flagrant flaws in his striking game, both offensively and defensively.

Starks’ striking isn’t much to write home about, but he does possesses a solid counter left hand that could prove very useful if Herman is his usual aggressive self, and is as persistent in his efforts to close the distance. Conversely, Starks is unlikely to have too much joy with his bread-and-butter single leg takedown, as Herman is a superior wrestler, and possesses solid enough takedown defense to stay vertical. If Starks wants to take the fight to the ground, he would be better served to use his single leg attempts to initiate scrambles, as clean takedowns will be hard to come by. This however, is a two-fold problem, as Starks’ grappling isn’t dynamic enough to take advantage of those scrambling opportunities and get dominant positions on someone as seasoned as Herman.

The match-up favors Herman, who shouldn’t have a difficult time clinching up, dirty-boxing, and putting Starks on his back, before polishing him off with a late submission or some ground-and-pound.

Official Prediction: Ed Herman to defeat Clifford Starks by TKO in Round 3.

Bantamweight Fight: Renan Barao vs. Scott Jorgensen

In a bout that could well determine who will earn a crack at the Urijah Faber/Dominick Cruz victor, Barao and Jorgensen square off in a rare showcase for the bantamweights on a UFC main card.

Barao is very single-minded in his approach: He will move forward, throw a lot of one-two’s, land an occasional leg kick, and aggressively pursue the takedown. The fact that he lacks a good shot from the outside forces him to be even more determined — and at times desperate — in his attempts to close the distance, as most of his takedowns come from the clinch. Once in that position, Barao will work for the double underhooks and look to land his favorite trip takedown. To his credit, in his last bout with Brad Pickett, Barao showed surprising versatility in his game, as he nailed the Brit with a step-in knee to the jaw before putting him away with a rear-naked choke.

If nothing else, Jorgensen will stay in Barao’s face the entire time, as “Young Guns” is relentless moving forward. However, as aggressive as he is, Jorgensen’s wrestling and takedown proficiency aren’t exactly unstoppable. He is often successful due to his ability to keep his opponent on his toes by having him worry about his monster of a right hand, but from a purely technical perspective, Jorgensen’s wrestling could still use some polishing. In his defense, his takedowns are far more effective once he actually closes the distance. If he is to put Barao on his back, this would be the path to do it, as Jorgensen is far more effective from up close than he is when in pure power double mode.

From the top, Jorgensen rarely looks to pass guard, and instead relies on his ability to generate an incredible amount of power with his ground-and-pound. However, his bout with Jeff Curran showed that Jorgensen’s top game can be neutralized with a solid active guard — something that Barao undoubtedly possesses. Furthermore, Barao will be able to threaten with sweeps and create scrambles frequently enough to regain his feet. Jorgensen needs to be particularly wary of his opponent’s ability to get the back in scrambles, as Barao shows no mercy once he is on his opponent’s back.

If the apparent improvement that Barao displayed in his striking against Pickett is indeed here to stay, the dynamics of this fight will shift to his favor, as Jorgensen’s wrestling isn’t nearly as effective when he isn’t controlling the striking portion of the fight. Nevertheless, Jorgensen’s right hand is a difference-maker in any contest, and should it connect, Barao may well find himself staring at the ceiling. In a real toss-up, expect Barao to edge out a tightly contested decision victory.

Official Prediction: Renan Barao to defeat Scott Jorgensen by Decision

Welterweight Fight: Josh Koscheck vs. Mike Pierce

While some have described the situation Koscheck finds himself in as “no-win”, the fact is, the American Kickboxing Academy standout could well find himself in title contention with a victory, especially should the winner of the evening’s main event fight one more time before squaring off with St. Pierre.

In Pierce, Koscheck faces a legitimately tough individual who never fails to make a fight out of any contest that he’s in. Despite a somewhat deserved reputation of an unspectacular grinder, Pierce is far more well-rounded than given credit for. His boxing is crisp, he knows how to sit on his punches, and can produce serious power with short, tight punches on the inside. This could spell trouble for Koscheck, who has displayed some lazy defensive tendencies in the past.

Conversely, Koscheck’s game negates what Pierce does best, as the Oregon native likes to get in close, get double underhooks and work for takedowns — a tough feat against a wrestler of Koscheck’s caliber. Koscheck’s double leg is good enough to drive through most fighters in the division. In fact, even in his one-sided beat-down at the hands of GSP, Koscheck was still able to take the best wrestler in the division down. However, while he is more than capable of putting Pierce on his back, Koscheck will likely choose to keep the fight standing, as he has done so many times before.

Koscheck sets up his overhand right with a jab that he throws with no real conviction, and the rest of his striking game consists of the occasional high kick. What he lacks in technique and diversity however, Koscheck makes up for with speed and power, and Pierce wouldn’t want to experience the sensation of an overhand right to the chin.

Despite the unlikelihood of a clean takedown for Pierce, he would be smart to force his opponent into a clinch battle where he could push him against the fence and land some dirty-boxing. This may well take Koscheck out of his element, as he has always preferred working from distance, both when striking and shooting in.

Nevertheless, the match-up favors Koscheck who is a vastly superior wrestler and will be the faster and more powerful striker. Pierce is good enough to hold his own in both departments, but not to the point of actually besting Koscheck in either.

Official Prediction: Josh Koscheck to defeat Mike Pierce by Decision

Heavyweight Fight: Fabricio Werdum vs. Roy Nelson

In a rare piece of legitimately interesting heavyweight action, grappling ace Fabricio Werdum looks to make the most out of a ticket back inside the Octagon when he takes on “Big Country” Roy Nelson. Despite a sorry performance against Alistair Overeem in June, there can be no doubt as to whether or not Werdum belongs in the UFC heavyweight division. Nelson however, provides the Brazilian with a stern welcome back test.

On the feet, Nelson will hold the edge as long as the fight is not contested in close-quarters. Werdum’s most efficient offense comes when he can close the distance on his opponent, land some short — albeit sloppy — punches, and work him over in the clinch where he possesses some underrated knees from the Thai plum. “Big Country” would not want to experience a repeat of  his bout with Frank Mir, and will therefore be looking to maintain his distance, where his superior boxing and power come into play. He will move forward, double up on the jab, and follow up with his bread-and-butter overhand right.

Normally, Nelson uses that pattern to close the distance and secure the clinch, where he will look for trip takedowns and get his top game working. Against Werdum however, he might choose to do away with that approach, as he risks playing right into the Brazilian’s hands. If a battle of underhooks ensues, and Werdum is able to turn the tables on his opponent, put his back against the fence, and get the takedown, Nelson’s strategy would have backfired in a major way. Even if Nelson is successful in putting his opponent on his back, Werdum’s guard is simply too good to get stuck helplessly on the bottom. In particular, Werdum’s ability to sweep will be troublesome for even someone with Nelson’s top game. At worst, Werdum is going to completely neutralize his opponent’s work from the top, and “Big Country” is not going to have success passing guard and looking for his trademark mounted Crucifix.

As such, Nelson would be wise to stay on the outside and look to fire his menacing right hand. However, unless he catches Werdum clean on the chin and puts him away, “Vai Cavalo” is going to be able to close the distance, get the clinch, land some knees and look for the takedown. Nelson has a solid enough base to avoid being planted on his back in the early going, but if his habit of fading away late in the fight persists, “Big Country” could well spend the third round fighting from the bottom.

This could turn into a more competitive version of Nelson’s bout with Mir, this time with “Big Country” having some success early, only for Werdum to rally back and get the nod on the judges’ scorecards.

Official Prediction: Fabricio Werdum to defeat Roy Nelson by Decision