The Fight Horizon – UFC 158 and the Welterweight Landscape
UFC 158 is a welterweight affair showcasing six of the top 15 welterweights in the world, matched up against each other in the final three fights of the card. The long awaited and eagerly anticipated showdown between UFC Welterweight king Georges St. Pierre and former Strikeforce champion Nick Diaz headlines as the main event. The Fight Horizon presents a look at how the results could alter the landscape of the division down the road.
Jake Ellenberger vs. Nate Marquardt (title hopeful vs. former Strikeforce champion)
Jake Ellenberger: The Juggernaut was headed for a title eliminator himself the way things were going – until he got sniped by the Hitman. He rebounded with a strong victory over Jay Hieron and looks to right the ship again and work towards a title shot.
Nate Marquardt: Marquardt returns to the UFC after losing the Strikeforce championship to Tarec Saffiedine earlier this year. He is serving as a replacement for Johny Hendricks, who is serving as a replacement himself.
Carlos Condit vs. Johny Hendricks (possible title eliminator…)
Johny Hendricks: Self-proclaimed #1 contender. UFC ranked #1 contender. Reward? Take a back seat to Nick Diaz and get left off of the co-main event as well until Rory MacDonald gets injured. Welcome to the big leagues Johny.
Carlos Condit: The last person to knock down GSP since…who was the last guy to do that? Condit took a four and a half round beating from the champ, but was a hair away from becoming the champ himself. Still one of the most dangerous guys in the division, kook for him to stay relevant with a win.
Georges St. Pierre vs. Nick Diaz (Welterweight Title fight)
Nick Diaz (challenger): The often misunderstood and always polarizing Stockton Bad Boy finally gets to face the reigning UFC champion. Diaz has wanted a crack at GSP well before he left Strikeforce, and we were a few missed pressers away from seeing it happen. This Saturday, it’s going down.
Georges St. Pierre (champion): His victory over Condit was a statement. He displayed the ever-present athleticism and explosiveness that we’ve come to take for granted, and completely answered any questions about his overall health and ability. He personally called for Diaz and faces yet another legitimate threat to his crown.
The Date: March 16, UFC 158
Weight Class: Welterweight
What led to it:
Ellenberger vs. Marquardt
Ellenberger needed a top guy after rebounding from his stunner to Kampmann with a win over Hieron. He was set to square off with Bigg Rigg before Rory MacDonald pulled out with an injury and Hendricks was moved to the co-main against Condit. Who better than Nate the Great? Marquardt is the consummate veteran who makes for a very good test to see where Ellenberger stacks up against well-rounded fighters. This is also a great fight for Marquardt to get his feet wet again in the UFC.
Condit vs. Hendricks
Rory MAC called out Carlos Condit for a rematch, then injured himself during training (again). So naturally, the UFC pulled Hendricks from fight #3 and tossed him in the co-main with the Natural Born Killer.
GSP vs. Diaz
This fight has been in the making ever since the UFC bought out Strikeforce. Injuries, suspensions and a controversial loss have all delayed it, but inevitably it has arrived. Diaz has been out of the Octagon for a year thanks to his herbal tendencies, during which time GSP returned from knee surgery to put down a very capable challenger in Carlos Condit. Hendricks hasn’t been shy about asking for a title shot and deservedly so, but there is unfinished business between St. Pierre and Diaz. This may be the first time GSP has gone out of his way to ask for a fight and now, a year and a half after the fight was originally supposed to happen, here we are.
Why it matters:
The implications from this card will be numerous, to say the least.
Ellenberger has a chance to move even higher up the rankings, where another win or two might put him in a title fight. He must get through Marquardt before that, but if he does, there aren’t many guys ahead of him in line. A loss would drop him a few steps down the ladder, but not so far that jumping back into title contention would be out of the question. A victory here and it’s possible that his very next fight could be a title eliminator. Marquardt needs this victory more than Ellenberger, who is coming off of a win. Nate lost his last fight, albeit a title fight where he was the champion, but still a bad loss. A two fight losing streak and even his name may not be enough to keep him relevant. Big name + elite skills + subpar performances is not a formula for success. The recent UFC roster trimming proves that.
While Ellenberger and Marquardt aren’t yet in the title contender stratosphere, Johny Hendricks is. Hendricks wins this fight and he’s fighting for the title next, no matter what. Anything less would be highway robbery. That’s pretty cut-and-dried, but a Hendricks loss and Condit win is where things get interesting. It’s probably not a place he wants to go, but if Hendricks loses he won’t drop too far down the ladder. He’s beaten too many elite fighters to drop out of the top 5. It would be a conundrum for Condit though, because he took a beating from St. Pierre and wouldn’t sniff a rematch again so soon.
The Return of the Mac would solve (or possibly complicate) the problem, as the rematch with Condit could take place as scheduled. MacDonald is an elite fighter who would match up well with any of the top welterweights and would be ready as soon as he returns. Pit him against any of the top guys in the division and it would make for a great matchup that makes sense.
The biggest question here is: what happens if Georges St. Pierre wins this fight? Hendricks has said and done everything he can to get a title shot, whether it’s GSP or someone else. Some claim that GSP is afraid of Hendricks, but I can remember another strong wrestler with rocket hands that St. Pierre faced (and beat decisively). From the champ’s perspective, Hendricks is not a money fight. GSP isn’t fighting Diaz just because he doesn’t like him, he’s a savvy businessman and he knows which fight to take right now.
The Silva/GSP superfight talk has been around for some time and is almost stale bread at this point. But where else would GSP go after beating a guy like Diaz, who is a big-time fighter and former champion? Fighting a guy like Hendricks would almost seem like a step down, and he’s beaten near everyone else worthy of a shot. Hendricks absolutely deserves a shot at the title, but maybe not in a fight against GSP. And let’s not forget how Rory and GSP refuse to fight each other, further limiting the potential matchups. If both GSP and Hendricks win on Saturday, the question may be moot, but St. Pierre defeating Diaz (not a sure thing in itself) and then agreeing to fight Hendricks is far from guaranteed.
While GSP is not looking past Nick Diaz, Diaz already stated he’s looking past every fighter in that soon-to-become legendary conference call. Many are already writing Diaz off as a loss, which I can guarantee GSP and his camp are certainly not doing. If Diaz wins this fight, it will be ultimate vindication. He will have beaten the greatest welterweight fighter of all time, a guy who he feels gets more attention and respect than he does himself. Diaz will have to be considered a top 10 pound for pound fighter and all of his “becoming a p4p great” talk may all of a sudden become a very real possibility. Who wouldn’t be interested in seeing him challenge Anderson Silva as the Welterweight Champion?
This fight will also be a chance for a Cesar Gracie fighter to wear UFC gold. Jake Shields and Nate Diaz both had their chances and failed, while Gilbert Melendez has his shot against Benson Henderson in April. But Nick Diaz has been regarded as possibly the best of the bunch and will have his moment come Saturday.
A Diaz win here, more than any other fight, would drastically reshape the Welterweight division. An immediate rematch would in all likelihood be granted to St. Pierre, unless he chose to change divisions and try his luck at Middleweight. The Welterweight division (along with FW, MW, and LHW) has been like death and taxes: GSP wins, wins and wins some more. Diaz could foil so many plots with a win on Saturday, the MMA world would be in an uproar.
There’s a lot riding on every championship fight, but this one has special significance because of the story lines all jumbled together. GSP and Anderson Silva are getting older, Rory and Hendricks are getting better and Nick Diaz and GSP are both pissed off – we’re in for a hell of a night.