Single sentence summary:
Pure, unadulterated (if very slightly aged) Muai Thai violence.
Two aging stereotypes of samurai spirit collide in what is hopefully a stereotype of a samurai showdown.
Carlos "The Natural Born Killer" Condit
Thiago "Pitbull" Alves
History lesson / introduction to the fighters
Phil: Carlos Condit has been one of the UFC's most reliable action fighters ever since he arrived in the division, but even before that he was a firebrand of violence. He won the interim WW belt in an uncharacteristically tepid fight with Nick Diaz, and lost to GSP in the Canadian's return, coming within inches of finishing the welterweight legend. Since then he's struggled a little against the very elite of the division, including an ACL injury against Tyron Woodley which has kept him on the shelf for over a year.
David: Condit is in a fairly interesting place. His style makes him the kind of fighter who has a limited window, and right now he needs at least two wins and more to be back into a title picture. By that time he's looking to be in his mid 30's, so the injury hurts him in a way that goes beyond simply "time on the shelf".
Phil: Thiago Alves hasn't had a bad career by any means- he beat the second-best welterweight of all time, and lost to the greatest. Still, it's difficult to look back at it and not feel a bit saddened, because there's always been something keeping him back from his potential. The weight-cut issues of his earlier career bled seamlessly into the injury woes of his late career. He's only fought four times since losing to Rick Story, and now it feels like he's on the wane without ever having showed what he was really capable of.
David: I don't know that Alves is really a story of "lost potential". More like simply 'lost experience'. I've always felt like we've known who Alves is for awhile going back to his struggles with Derrick Noble (who hurt him in the rematch Thiago would eventually win, a lot like his win over Jordan Mein), and Spencer Fisher. He's always been inconsistent. But he's also always been very dangerous.
What are the stakes?
Phil: A loss probably puts paid to either man's hopes at ever making a title run in the increasingly stacked welterweight division, but a convincing or exciting win could see them thrown in there with upper-level competition. The Brown-Means winner and Neil Magny have both been tossed around as potential opponents, and I like either of those fights. Someone higher up would be acceptable, too.
David: A Condit win definitely has title shot implications. Welterweight is in a strange spot. Lawler is great, and I've enjoyed his story but it seems like only a matter of time before some young buck dethrones him. I don't think it's Rory, and I think Lawler is in a unique position to actually defend his belt for awhile (hard to believe he's 33), but an up and comer would also feel confident in this landscape. So the idea that Condit could come in and win the belt doesn't seem outlandish. Same with Alves for that matter. He matches up well with the current crop of contenders from a stylistic perspective.
Where do they want it?
Phil: Condit is all about range and volume. He throws arcing round kicks, a front kick, and the Winkeljohn oblique kick to the thigh. His boxing is less polished, but given space to work he gets nice punch combinations rolling, and has a sharp counter hook and an OK one-two. He's the epitome of all offense and no defense: the Natural Born Killer is fairly hittable and has woeful defensive wrestling (exacerbated by the high number of flying knees he throws), but he'll just keep kicking and punching and sweeping and getting back to his feet and kicking and punching until the opponent is worn down. His chin is one of the most adamantine we've ever seen in the sport. Together with his endless gas tank, it makes him one of the scariest propositions around. Sure, you can wrestle him, but it'll tire you. You can hit him, but he'll hit you back. People often said that Nick Diaz would be the king of unlimited rounds in MMA, but they were, of course, wrong. NBK all day.
David: The best example of what you're talking about is his Shields fight. It was a rare case of Shields being involved in an entertaining fight, as well as a great example of how to be effective on the bottom without putting yourselff in danger. You're right about his boxing though. It's always been kind of subpar, natural power, and sheer output mask his technical shortcomings. Hiromitsu Miura (the WEC is great for "remember when" stories) absolutely belted him. A lot. His legs fuel his pugilism velocity. But his greatest asset has always been the ability to make what is otherwise a major flaw (his anti wrestling) into a modest flaw. His arsenal of sweeps and sustained offense with that supernatural stamina of his make him a threat anywhere while keeping his opponents on tilt.
Phil: Alves is a different and more measured beast than he was in his his early career, which was all about a few technical tools fuelled by uncontrolled physical explosiveness and power. Those tools are still there -leg kick, left hook, straight right hand- but he's a much cleverer, more subtle striker than he was. He's learned how to weight his strikes far more carefully, particularly his leg kicks, where he'll mix up between a light pat and the kind of whipcrack power which only Tarec Saffiedine can really match. He's more of a combination boxer as well, and has the kind of comfort in the pocket which comes with years of striking. He'll roll and deflect shots, but he's fine with taking light punches for a positional advantage or to deliver a harder shot in return. His jiu jitsu and offensive wrestling improved greatly since his loss to Jon Fitch- he cut Kampmann's guard up, and that's not easy.
All these technical improvements have come with a severe price: Pitbull is visibly slower. Given how short he is for the division, speed is at an absolute premium for Alves, who will almost always be contesting range differentials.
David: That's always been the root of Alves' problem; he's the total package on paper, but it's taken awhile to write that book. And now it's just a little too late. I know talking in the abstract is always a potential waste of time, but his 'instincts' have always seemed off. If there's such a thing as clutch, surely there is "not clutch", and Alves has always been the latter. His skills seem so less apparent when he's fighting elite competition. Some of that is by design; the better your opponent, the more likely you'll generate less of what you're good at, but some of it seems self induced. If chance favors the prepared, then the unprepared can expect unexpected misery. That was certainly the case in his loss to Martin Kampmann.
However, he's obviously a very good fighter. His leg kicks used to be his best weapon in my opinion, but lately he's fallen away from excessive leg kicking, and performs in much more calculated ways.
Insight from past fights?
Phil: Alves's recent fights have been an indication of just how the dynamics of the division have changed around him. Against a long, not particularly technical striker in Baczynski, he struggled to close the distance. Against a long, technical boxer like Mein, he got torn up before he exploded Mein's diaphragm with a single kick to the gut. Condit is long, and fights long.
David: Of course, I like to go back to the Miura fight not just because WEC NEVER DIE but because it emphasizes Condit's lack of defense. He's gotten a lot better, but it stems primarily from his increased, and polished footwork. Alves will absolutely land enough strikes to catch Condit's attention, which leads me to the next point...
Phil: I think we're used to the slightly reduced Alves, but how well Condit has come back from the knee surgery is a big one, particularly given Pitbull's predilection for leg kicks.
David: Not only that but Condit's chin can only be a component of durability for so long. It's too early to start worrying about whether or not he can take a shot, and Alves has never had that one hitter quitter talent, but he's not pillow fisted either.
Phil: I've heard a lot of "if they're 100% then Condit all day" but I'm less sure. I actually think Pitbull at his best is the more technical and efficient striker. However, this slower incarnation of Alves is far more likely to get worn down, particularly over the course of five rounds. Carlos Condit by TKO, round 4.
David: Five rounds is the kicker here, but I don't think it's a great deal either. He's been five rounds before, and never lost much of a beat against GSP. Personally I think this will be a closely contested bout with Alves making life hell early for Condit, with Condit pulling off the Rory like victory because that's just how Condit rolls. Carlos Condit by Decision.