Nick Diaz vs. Carlos Condit and the Top 10 Can't-Miss Fights in February
After a busy month for the UFC, it will only get crazier in February with two pay-per-view events and the first UFC on Fuel TV show.
Two titles will be on the line in bouts at UFC 143 and 144, and both fights promise to be fight of the year contenders.
While the welterweight title fight has been hyped with the Primetime series leading into the event, the other will highlight the UFC's first return to Japan since 2000.
To make things better, there will also be top contender matchups that will likely determine who will be next in line to fight for those belts.
These are the top 10 can't-miss UFC fights in February.
Notable Mention: Hatsu Hioki vs. Bart Palaszewski
The UFC's featherweight division might see a new title challenger emerge when Hatsu Hioki (25-4-2) and Bart Palaszewski (36-14) fight on the UFC 144 prelims in Japan.
Hioki made his UFC debut in 2011 when he defeated George Roop by split-decision. His past victories also include those over Mark Hominick, Jeff Curran and Marlon Sandro.
Palaszewski recently knocked out Tyson Griffin in the first round, which also came in his UFC debut.
Both Hioki and Palaszewski have been fighting since 2002, and this fight is easily their most important fight in their careers.
No. 10: Jake Shields vs. Yoshihiro Akiyama
In a must-win fight for both fighters, Jake Shields (26-6-1) and Yoshihiro Akiyama (13-4) must do everything they can to show they can still hang with the best in the UFC.
Akiyama dropped three fights in a row at middleweight, and his recent move to the 170-pound division will give him a chance to reestablish his career, but in a much more stacked division.
Shields was last seen losing to Georges St-Pierre and Jake Ellenberger. Before that, he had been on a 15-fight win streak with wins over Dan Henderson, Martin Kampmann, Jason Miller, Yushin Okami, Paul Daley and Carlos Condit. It had made him one of the best pound-for-pound fighters in the world.
It will be interesting to see how each fighter approaches this fight, but neither one can afford to walk away with a loss.
No. 9: Cheick Kongo vs. Mark Hunt
Heavyweight strikers Cheick Kongo (17-6) and Mark Hunt (7-7) plan on throwing some heavy leather at UFC 144, and it could result in fireworks if it plays out the way many fans are anticipating.
Both are former kickboxers, but it's Kongo who has sometimes opted to show his improving ground skills by taking down other good strikers, and he may just try that here.
Kongo will try to add his name to that list come February 25.
No. 8: Roy Nelson vs. Fabricio Werdum
Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu ace Fabricio Werdum (14-5-1) will get a formidable test when he returns to the UFC, and it will come against Roy "Big Country" Nelson (16-6) in the co-main event at UFC 143.
Werdum might never be able to accomplish anything as great as becoming the first man to legitimately defeat Fedor Emelianenko, but gaining the UFC championship is something that might not be too far away if he makes it past Nelson.
Nelson, who is also a standout grappler in his own right, recently defeated Mirko "Cro Cop" Filipovic to break a two-fight losing streak against elite opposition.
This is an interesting style clash that could showcase the skills of two of the best grapplers in the division.
No. 7: Quinton Jackson vs. Ryan Bader
Former UFC light heavyweight champion Quinton "Rampage" Jackson (32-9) will look to give the Japanese fans a knockout to remember when he takes on Ultimate Fighter winner Ryan Bader (13-2) at UFC 144.
It will be similar to a homecoming event for Jackson, who established himself as one of the leading figures in MMA when he was showcasing his knockout ability in front of as many as 60,000 fans in Pride.
Bader was able to break a two-fight losing streak when he stopped Jason Brilz at UFC 139. It was his sixth UFC victory overall.
Expect to see the most motivated Rampage in quite some time. He is definitely pumped up for this fight.
No. 6: Renan Barao vs. Scott Jorgensen
Bantamweight contender Renan Barao (27-1) will take on former title challenger Scott Jorgensen (13-4) at UFC 143 in what should be a critical fight in the 135-pound division.
Barao's 26-fight win streak saw him make his UFC debut earlier in 2011 when he defeated Cole Escovedo. He followed up on that with a submission win over Brad Pickett at UFC 138.
Jorgensen's only loss in his last eight bouts has come against UFC bantamweight champion Dominick Cruz. He rebounded from that loss to knock out Ken Stone and defeat Jeff Curran by decision.
Will Jorgensen continue his road back to the title, or will Barao, a Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu black belt, continue to extend one of the longest win streaks in recent memory?
No. 5: Stefan Struve vs. Dave Herman
Heavyweights Dave "Pee Wee" Herman (21-2) and Stefan "Skyscraper" Struve (22-5) are two of the most exciting fighters on the UFC roster, and they are also two of the more dangerous finishers as well.
With 50 total matches between them, only two have gone the distance. Their records are reversed in terms of their stoppages. Herman holds 15 knockout victories and five submission wins, while Struve has 15 submissions and five knockouts to his credit.
The intriguing style matchup can only be met with a guaranteed fight bonus when everything is said and done at UFC on Fuel TV 1.
No. 4: Anthony Pettis vs. Joe Lauzon
Former WEC lightweight champion Anthony "Showtime" Pettis (14-2) and Joe Lauzon (21-6) might just steal the show at UFC 144, and a No. 1 contender's matchup could be in play.
Pettis rebounded from his UFC debut loss to Clay Guida when he defeated Jeremy Stephens at UFC 136.
On the same night, Lauzon showcased his finishing ability when he stopped Melvin Guillard just 47 seconds into the first round. All of his wins have come by either submission or knockout. His last six fights all earned him one of the three fight-night bonuses.
The UFC's lightweight division is full of contenders, but Lauzon and Pettis both have the type of styles that help them stand out from the rest.
No. 3: Diego Sanchez vs. Jake Ellenberger
Welterweight contender Jake Ellenberger (26-5) has walked through his last two opponents, but he will have more than enough to handle when he faces Diego Sanchez (23-4) at the first UFC on Fuel TV card.
Ellenberger's five-fight win streak has made him a top contender in the division, and his 53-second knockout of Jake Shields in September put him in line for a title shot.
He will have to take on the very determined Sanchez, who is a hardened UFC veteran and has defeated some of the very best since winning the inaugural Ultimate Fighter middleweight tournament in 2005.
Sanchez has never been stopped (by strikes or submission), and the majority of Ellenberger's victories have come by knockout.
Will "The Juggernaut" be able to withstand the pressure Sanchez puts on him both mentally and physically, or will Sanchez's chin finally be broken?
No. 2: Frankie Edgar vs. Benson Henderson
Reigning UFC lightweight champion Frankie Edgar (14-1-1) has spent the better part of the last two years fighting in rematches and rubber matches, and he will finally get a new challenge in former WEC lightweight champion Benson Henderson (15-2) at UFC 144 in Japan.
After defeating Gray Maynard for the first time in three bouts, Edgar finally avenged his only career loss and did so in brutal fashion.
Henderson has been dominant against tough opposition like Clay Guida and Jim Miller, taking both the distance and winning clear unanimous decisions.
Even with three title defenses, many are still calling Edgar to drop to 145 for a megafight with Jose Aldo.
Will this be the fight where he finally meets his match opposite a massive opponent in Henderson, or will he continue to reign supreme in the division where he has already made the claim to being the best in UFC history?
No. 1: Nick Diaz vs. Carlos Condit
The UFC interim welterweight title is on the line at UFC 143, and both Carlos Condit (27-5) and Nick Diaz (26-7) want their shot at undisputed champ Georges St-Pierre.
They will have to go through each other first, and it's guaranteed to be an exciting fight from start to finish. Both have excellent cardio, battle-tested chins and finishing ability. Not only do they have the ability to finish, but they want to, and that's what may be most important.
Condit is called "The Natural Born Killer" for a reason, and his record shows how he approaches every fight. Of his 25 wins, only one has been by decision. His four-fight win streak includes knockout victories over Dong Hyun Kim, Dan Hardy and Rory MacDonald.
Diaz's 11-fight win streak also includes victories over standout fighters like B.J. Penn, Paul Daley, KJ Noons and Frank Shamrock.
This is one where everyone watching will be on the edge of their seat from start to finish.