The Bigger They Are

If anything in this life is certain, if history has taught us anything…it’s that you can kill anybody.

It was billed as one of the most intriguing title contests in recent memory and to say that Chris Weidman/Anderson Silva lived up to the hype would be an understatement.  That is not to say it was a great fight, it was a rather bizarre affair and an inarguably disappointing performance from Silva.  I give all the credit in the world to Weidman who I see as someone who will have several successful title defenses, but to say that Silva’s behaviour had nothing to do with the title changing hands would make me look more foolish than the man himself.  I’d even go as far to say that a Silva in his prime might have actually been able to get away with that kind of chicanery.

As I stressed in my main card preview, there were just too many factors working against Silva and in Weidman’s favour to view this as another routine defense for Silva.  So much of what I was reading and hearing revolved around Weidman’s virtues, with the arguments for Silva mostly comprised of He’s Anderson Silva!  Two or three years ago, that argument might have held weight.  In the here and now, we’re reminded of the harsh reality of professional sports.

If Silva, arguably the greatest mixed martial artist of all time, can lose…then who might be next?

*****

The UFC has taken a lot of deserved criticism for their recent handling of title matches.  Jon Jones has had to defend his belt against two middleweights.  Georges St-Pierre talked the matchmakers into granting him his (highly profitable) grudge match with Nick Diaz, who was coming off a loss and a year-long drug suspension.  José Aldo faced Frankie Edgar, who was 1-3-1 in his last 5 fights.  There were perfectly valid reasons (injuries, intrigue, incompetence) for making those match-ups, but none of them involved the challenger legitimately earning their spot.

With all that nonsense out of the way, there is now at least some semblance of a meritocracy.  Antonio Silva was granted a second shot at Cain Velasquez based on the fact that he knocked out Alistair Overeem, the presumed number one contender.  It didn’t go well for Big Foot, but the logic was sound.  The UFC wanted to set up a rematch between Miesha Tate and Ronda Rousey, but Cat Zingano ruined their plans with a 3rd round comeback finish (due to a Zingano injury, Tate would later get the title shot anyway along with a juicy TUF coaching spot opposite Rousey).  Those are a couple of minor examples where the UFC did right by its winners.  Four more upcoming match-ups not only feature the worthiest of challengers but the possibility that a group of nigh invincible champions will fall.

In order of least likely to most likely to see a title change:

Light Heavyweight Title Bout: Alexander Gustafsson (7-1 UFC, 15-1) v. Jon Jones (Jon Jones (12-1 UFC, 18-1)

September 21, 2013 – UFC 165

How Gustafsson got here:

…by growing up.  Gustafsson’s only career loss came against Phil Davis in a fight that he was winning until he decided to take it to the ground.  Davis, a stronger grappler, was able to reverse the situation and sink in a match ending anaconda choke.  Since then, Gustafsson has fought a lot smarter, dominating when he’s supposed to and playing to his strengths to overcome the likes of Thiago Silva and Shogun Rua.  The victory over Shogun was a signature win and enough to cement Gustafsson as the number one contender, something many fans and critics had been clamoring for.

The match-up will also do wonders for dispelling the notion that Jones is only getting by on his physical gifts and that he is only capable of beating fighters who are past their prime.  Neither criticism is particularly valid, but a win over Gustafsson should be hater-proof.

Why Gustafsson could win:

I’m honestly not sure he can.  The only reason I added this match is because my uncle was working hard to convince me that the Swede is a live underdog.  I’m not seeing it.

If I had to make an argument for Gustafsson, it would go beyond just the fact that he can match the champ’s reach.  With every fight, Gustafsson gets better and better at using his range to score points and keep his opponents off balance.  When you can sweep the scorecards against Shogun, the most aggressive light heavyweight around, you have to be doing something right.

Another department that Gustafsson has improved in is his takedown defence and controlling scrambles.  They will have to stress this in his training as Jones has a good shot and an array of throws with which to set up his merciless ground and pound.  His best chance remains on the feet.

Let’s not forget that Jones had trouble with Lyoto Machida in the first round of their match.  If Gustafsson can do a reasonable job of emulating Machida’s tactics, an upset could be in order.

Why Gustafsson could lose:

As much as people talk about Jones never facing someone built like him, the same could be said for Gustafsson.  Does anyone think Gustafsson would have been able to pick apart Thiago Silva and Shogun so efficiently without those freakish limbs?  If all things are equal body-wise, I’m not sure there’s any area skill-wise that Gustafsson can claim an advantage.  Jones is faster, more explosive, more creative with his strikes and a monster on the ground.  Gustafsson should be able to go the distance, but expect Jones to take all five rounds.

Featherweight Title Bout: Chan Sung Jung (3-0 UFC, 0-2 WEC, 13-3) v. José Aldo (4-0 UFC, 8-0 WEC, 22-1)

August 3, 2013 – UFC 163

How Zombie got here:

…as much as anything, we’re the ones who have put Jung in this spot.  The Korean Zombie became an instant sensation in his WEC debut against Leonard Garcia.  I remember showing that fight to everyone I knew, not caring if this was a legit new star or an oddity.  Thankfully, he’s turned out to be the former and his distinct, exciting style carried over to the UFC where he found the wins to match the adulation.  A submission win in a rematch with Garcia removed any doubt that he was the better fighter.  He followed that up with an astonishing 7 second knockout of Mark Hominick (who had previously fought Aldo) and by coming out on top in another fight of the year candidate against Dustin Poirier.

When Anthony Pettis suffered an injury, there were two possible replacements for UFC 163: Ricardo Lamas and Zombie.  Despite his last three wins all coming against top ranked featherweights, Lamas remains relatively unknown.  The UFC sees dollar signs with the Jung-Aldo match so the Zombie gets to feast.

Why Zombie could win:

If he lives up to his moniker, there’s a chance he could outpace Aldo.  People often point to a difficult weight cut as to why Aldo faded in the Hominick fight.  What they forget is how Hominick stayed aggressive and even though he lost the majority of the rounds, it wasn’t as one-sided as the scores suggested.  Zombie doesn’t have Hominick’s consistency; rather, I expect his scrappy and unpredictable nature to work to his advantage.

There’s also the issue of Jung’s resiliency.  He’s only been finished once in his career (a picture perfect head shot courtesy of George Roop).  That stat is made even more incredible by the fact that he regularly engages in all-out wars that are undoubtedly shortening his lifespan.  Aldo is no stranger to decisions, having gone the full five rounds with Hominick, Kenny Florian and Frankie Edgar.  Neither Florian nor Edgar known for their risk-taking, so it should be interesting to see how Aldo reacts to an opponent who has no regard for his own well-being.

Why Zombie could lose:

As mentioned above, the UFC couldn’t wait for an excuse to put Zombie in the cage with Aldo.  He’s an international property and he’s got a cool gimmick that has caught on like wildfire in North America.  You could easily make an argument that his popularity exceeds his credentials.

It’s always fun to look at results and say that one guy is finishing his opponents while the other guy is winning by decision, but that doesn’t tell the story of Aldo’s dominance at 145.  Facing a murderer’s row of opponents (Urijah Faber, Hominick, Florian, Chad Mendes, Edgar), Aldo has rarely been in danger.  A lack of finishes speaks to how high the level of competition is when you reach Aldo’s level.  He’s soundly beaten elite strikers, elite jiu-jitsu practitioners and elite wrestlers.  That’s not a good sign for Zombie, who is more of a jack of all trades.

Welterweight Title Bout: Johny Hendricks (10-1 UFC, 15-1) v. Georges St-Pierre (18-2 UFC, 24-2)

November 16, 2013 – UFC 167

How Hendricks got here:

…by smashing just about everyone who got in his way.  Nobody on this list has been waiting longer or had a stronger claim to a title shot than Hendricks, who was egregiously passed over as a challenger in favour of Nick Diaz.  While the Stockton bad boy was losing to Carlos Condit and getting lifted, Hendricks was tearing through the division.  From March 2011 to March 2013, Hendricks had one of the most impressive runs in welterweight history.  A riveting win over Condit capped off a six-fight streak that displayed Hendricks’ guts (close split decision wins against Mike Pierce and Josh Koscheck) and sheer supremacy (finishing Jon Fitch and Martin Kampmann in less than one total minute).  Bigg Rigg might not have the name recognition or a squeaky clean look, but the UFC couldn’t ignore his results any longer.

Why Hendricks could win:

Anyone who has seen a St-Pierre title fight is familiar with the image of the champ scoring a takedown, establishing top position and neutralizing his victim for 25 minutes.  That’s how you defend your title in the toughest division in the UFC.

It’s hard to imagine Hendricks suffering the same treatment.  He’s lived up to the hype of being a 2-time national champion wrestling for Oklahoma State University.  That background has forged him into a mini-Iceman, able to control where the fight goes and set his opponents up for his infamous left hand.  A dream scenario sees GSP relying on a takedown heavy gameplan that Hendricks is able to stifle until the champ makes a rare mistake that leads to him getting laid out.

It’s somewhat unfair to bring it up, but St-Pierre’s ability to take a punch has been in question since his last loss to Matt Serra.  Since then, you can count on one hand the number of times he’s actually been rocked but people still insist that he’s always one solid punch away from losing the strap.  If there’s any credence to that theory, Hendricks is surely the one to prove it.

Why Hendricks could lose:

Hendricks’ only career loss was to Rick Story and surprisingly it was a match in which he was out-grappled.  While that loss clearly made him a better fighter, it’s worth noting that he is not unfamiliar with being put in bad positions.

On paper, Hendricks presents a lot of the same problems as Josh Koscheck, who boasted that he had the advantage as long as he could keep the fight standing against St-Pierre in their rematch.  St-Pierre was able to pick Koscheck apart with stiff jabs and was never in any real danger for the duration of their bout.  There is no evidence that Hendricks is uniquely equipped to deal with the latter.  Against a similarly gifted striker in Condit, Hendricks relied on his chin to absorb damage so he could get in close and attack.  He didn’t shut Condit down, he was able to land more consistently and land harder.  Getting St-Pierre to engage in a firefight like that is a near-impossibility.  Even with 25 minutes to work with, Hendricks will have to avoid getting desperate and focus on winning rounds if he cannot finish St-Pierre.

Lightweight Title Bout: TJ Grant (8-3 UFC, 21-5) v. Ben Henderson (7-0 UFC, 5-1 WEC, 18-2)

August 31, 2013 – UFC 164

How Grant got here:

…he went on a diet.  Fighting at 170, Grant had a respectable 3-3 record in the UFC, but there was no indication that he’d be challenging GSP anytime soon.  Changing weight classes is a popular move for fighters who appear to be stuck in a rut and it’s hard to name anyone who has made it work out better than Grant.  This wasn’t a big name moving down in the hopes of getting an immediate title shot.  No, Grant made the decision to jump into the increasingly deep lightweight waters.  The results speak for themselves: Five straight wins including a first round TKO of Gray Maynard, the only person to ever dispatch him that early.  He’s an exciting fighter and a proven finisher, leaving fans starving to see him test Henderson who has been criticized for being too safe.

Why Grant could win:

To understand why Henderson always seems to go to decisions, you have to look at his last few fights.  As great as Clay Guida, Edgar and Gilbert Melendez are, none of them are known for their finishing prowess (there was also Nate Diaz, but Henderson had an overwhelming physical advantage that he won’t have with the sizeable Grant).  If you know that your opponent doesn’t have the tools with which to put you away, it affords you certain luxuries.  Luxuries that Henderson won’t have against Grant.

This is not to say that Grant is necessarily better than the aforementioned names, only more likely to look for a finish.  The Maynard fight stands as proof.  Canadian MMA aficionado “Showdown” Joe Ferraro expressed his dismay at seeing his friend Grant willingly trade punches with Maynard.  One mistake and the fight easily could have gone the other way, but it is Grant’s temerity that has got him this far.  Don’t expect him to change his approach now that he’s this close to being the best in the world.

Why Grant could lose:

It’s a hard thing to quantify, but Henderson definitely seems to have the same gift as St-Pierre for attacking an opponent’s weaknesses.  This is likely why both men are maligned as “point fighters”.  I’ve never been a fan of using that term in a derogatory fashion because the last time I checked scoring points was how you won games.  Henderson wins games.

To draw another St-Pierre comparison, Henderson is unparalleled as an athlete in the lightweight division.  He’s incredibly strong and agile and he has an unlimited gas tank.  Grant has assured everyone that he normally trains for five round fights, but it’s an entirely different beast once you actually reach those championship periods.  Fighting Henderson can be a frustrating experience and Grant’s mental strength is going to be as important as his physical ones.  The last thing Grant wants is to go to the scorecards with Henderson, who has shown a knack for pulling out close decisions.

*****

As fun as it is to say, upsets are not contagious and the fall of Silva has no metaphysical impact on the rest of the title holders.  However, for the first time in a while you get the feeling that it wouldn’t be a surprise if the titles did change hands.  It remains to be seen if MMA will be like every other sport, with competitors being inextricably attached to each other in their respective eras: Spouting off names like Liddell-Ortiz-Couture or Minotauro-Cro Cop-Fedor or Silva-St-Pierre-Jones can conjure up unmistakeable images and provide timestamps for the most important events in this young sport.  Perhaps one of Gustafsson, Zombie, Hendricks or Grant will be the first to take their place in the world that’s coming.

Justice Is Served – UFC 158 Recap

Nick Diaz didn’t deserve a title shot.  Johny Hendricks is running a gauntlet.  And what the heck could Jake Ellenberger have to gain by fighting Nate Marquardt?  A bad break here or there could have left the welterweight division in disarray, but lo and behold, the MMA Gods chose to shine on the matchmakers on Saturday and the landscape could not be clearer.  Hendricks affirmed his status as the true number one contender; Ellenberger contributed the highlight of the night; and Diaz was pushed to the back of the line where he belongs.

I don’t like Diaz.  He’s a hell of a fighter, but as a human being I don’t like him and I don’t respect him.  I’m all for individuality and bucking the system, but not when so many people are supporting you and you still act like the world is against you.  Diaz has used martial arts and athletics to improve his life, but rather than speak on that, he chooses to dwell on every little negative aspect that bothers him.  In doing so, he fosters a culture of entitlement and self pity that has never done anybody any good.  You don’t need to act like a role model, but you also shouldn’t talk so much when you don’t have anything of value to say.

GSP might come off as awkward, unfunny and even pompous at times (in other words: French), but he backs up everything he says and doesn’t make excuses for his shortcomings.  After his last loss, he spoke of some personal problems that might have distracted him, but later apologized to Matt Serra and ever since he’s acknowledged that Serra was the better man that day.  His admission made him stronger (safer too, much to the chagrin of the bloodthirsty public).  St-Pierre didn’t come close to damaging Diaz as badly as the prefight hype warranted, but he took care of business like the professional he is.  It was a relief to see these two actually lock horns after years of speculation as to who was the true welterweight champion.  No more talking, no more analysis, no more excuses: The octagon never lies.*

*(unless there’s a bad stoppage, incompetent judging, failed drug test, eye poke, ruptured scrotum…)

Undercard Notes

    • George Roop ruined my near perfect fight picks by using his ridiculous height advantage to win a decision against Reuben Duran.  Roop had unsuccessfully attempted a drop down to 135 back in 2010, but the cut was hard on him and he was easy pickings for Eddie Wineland.  Reports from the weigh-ins said he didn’t look much better this time around so I figured Duran would outlast him.  If Roop can manage his weight properly, he’ll do just fine at bantamweight.  Especially if he never runs into his training partner Ed West:

  • Another bantamweight making headlines last night was TUF 14 finalist T.J. Dillashaw, who defeated Issei Tamura by KO.  Dillashaw is rapidly improving and has looked dominant in winning his last three fights.  He was pegged as a legitimate prospect coming out of the show and he hasn’t disappointed.
  • A quick shout-out to Jordan Mein who at age 23 already has 35 fights under his belt, including his UFC debut last night.  He had some troubles early on, but he managed to use ground and pound to become the first person to finish UFC veteran Dan Miller.  Mein headlined the first MMA show in Ontario (also the first MMA show I ever attended) and I remember him standing out in a win against Josh Burkman.  Nice to see that presence carry over to the big show.
  • Darren Elkins might not be throwing ninja kicks, but he’s making a name for himself the old-fashioned way: winning.  Since dropping down to featherweight, the native of Hobart, Indiana has gone undefeated at 5-0.  The first four wins in this streak came against solid competition (information relative to the time of the fight):
  • Michihiro Omigawa (ranked in the top 10)
  • Zhang Tie Quan (15-1)
  • Diego Brandao (Brandao’s first fight after winning TUF 14)
  • Steven Siler (3-0 in the UFC)

On Saturday, Elkins took out Antonio Carvalho in the first round.  Carvalho is arguably the least impressive name on the list (though he has a 2007 win over Hatsu Hioki to his credit), but with the TKO Elkins finally got the elusive finish he was looking for to make a statement for an improved spot on the card.  While the stoppage may have been a touch early, there was no question that he had the fight all but wrapped up and he’s set himself up for a top 10 opponent.

(And…just as I was finishing up this article, he gets Chad Mendes next month.  Mendes is the undisputed no. 2 featherweight, so while taking on an opponent of his calibre on short notice is borderline insane, it’s also the fastest path to the title.  I applaud Elkins for embracing this challenge.)

  • I’ve learned to like Patrick Côté ever since he busted his ass to make it back to the big show…and also because he came out to “Too Legit To Quit” that one time.  It’s a shame that his last two victories have come in controversial fashion.  A wrongful DQ win of Alessio Sakara gave The Predator his first UFC win since 2008 and many felt he actually lost Saturday’s fight against Bobby Voelker.  Côté is getting a fresh start at welterweight, but these odd blemishes might hurt his job security if he suffers a loss in the near future.

The Main Card

Lightweight Bout: Mike Ricci d. Colin Fletcher via Unanimous Decision (30-27 x3)

What you need to know: Ricci stormed through TUF 16 before coming up short against Colton Smith, while Fletcher’s experience and sharp kickboxing earned him a spot in the TUF: Smashes finale, where the strength of Norman Parke proved to be too much to overcome.  This was a second chance for two TUF runner-ups to lock up a spot on the roster.

How it went down: I’m not sure who thought it would be a good idea to put two unknown properties in the show opener.  I like both these guys and they’re both good strikers, but neither is anywhere near the level yet where they should be opening a PPV.  Their performances in their respective finales should have made that clear.  Fletcher showed some flashes, but Ricci is more balanced and he mixed up strikes and takedowns to comfortably sweep the scorecards.

What’s next for Fletcher: (0-2 UFC, Lost last 2) The Freakshow has a ton of charisma, but he has to step up his intensity if he wants to compete at the highest level.  He’ll go back home for seasoning and if he gets himself back in the winner’s circle, he can expect a call from the UFC the next time they’re in the UK.

What’s next for Ricci: (1-1 UFC, Won last 1) Over his last 7 fights, Ricci has alternated wins and losses and he’s yet to live up to the buzz he’s generated up north.  With his less than sparkling personality (he was the resident “stick in the mud” on TUF), there are no guarantees that the UFC will wait for him to develop.  Matches with Rafaello Oliveira (currently recovering from a broken hand), TUF 15 competitor James Vick or fellow Canuck John Makdessi could be valuable learning experiences.

Middleweight Bout: Chris Camozzi d. Nick Ring via Split Decision (29-28 x2, 28-29)

What you need to know: Despite Camozzi having to leave TUF 11 with a jaw injury, he and Ring struck up a friendship making this contest strictly business.  This was an important bout for both guys as they jockey for position in an increasingly lucid middleweight division.

How it went down: I don’t know what it is, but I seem to enjoy the prospect of a Nick Ring fight more than the fight itself.  Ring decided to challenge Camozzi with a wild, “loosey-goosey” stance that was akin to something Anderson Silva might pull off, except Ring is no Silva.  He did a good job of constantly coming forward, but he allowed Camozzi to score a lot of points and Ring couldn’t put together anything substantial for himself.  It was close, but I had it for Camozzi and so did 2 of the 3 judges.

What’s next for Ring: (3-2 UFC, L1) After squeaking out a win over Court McGee in his last fight, Ring feels the sting of a disappointing decision.  He’s a game competitor and a good guy so I would expect the UFC to take it easy on him for his next booking.  Then again, there are no easy fights in the UFC.  Some logical opponents are Ed Herman, Stanislav Nedkov or maybe a healthy Sakara.

What’s next for Camozzi: (6-2 UFC, W4) Camozzi’s streak continues and like Elkins, he’s due for a higher ranked opponent; unfortunately, a lot of those names are already booked or are coming off losses.  If the UFC wants to stick to booking winners against winners, Brad Tavares (another TUF 11 contestant) makes a lot of sense, but if they are feeling froggy they could throw him into deep waters with *gulp* Yushin Okami.

Welterweight Bout: Jake Ellenberger d. Nate Marquardt via KO (3:00, R1)

What you need to know: Other than a loss to fellow contender Martin Kampmann, Ellenberger has been a force in the welterweight division with wins over Mike Pyle, Jake Shields and Diego Sanchez.  He has hellacious punching power that has kept him in the mix for a title shot over the last couple of years.

Nate Marquardt made his return to the UFC after a bizarre journey that…well, let’s recap it step by step:

  • June 2011, Marquardt is not cleared to compete after testing positive for elevated testosterone levels.  This occurred the day before an event he was supposed to headline, sending the UFC scrambling for a replacement.  Dana White cans him
  • Marquardt signs with BAMMA (British Association of Mixed Martial Arts), but ends up sitting out over a year without ever competing for them
  • Zuffa brings him back to fight for Strikeforce and he’s given a shot at the vacant welterweight title in his first career fight at 170.  He looks fantastic and knocks out previously unbeaten Tyron Woodley
  • in his next appearance at Strikeforce’s final event, a heavily-favoured Marquardt drops a lopsided decision to talented karateka Tarec Saffiedine
  • Marquardt rejoins the UFC roster after Strikeforce dissolves

How it went down: Ellenberger was just on against Marquardt, connecting with ease and backing Marquardt up the whole time.  A heavy fist smashed against the bridge of Marquardt’s nose and Ellenberger finished with heavy punches to the side of the head for a clear-cut KO.  Marquardt protested afterwards, but at one point his arms went completely limp and he was face-down on the ground with his ass up in the air.

In lieu of a decent photograph, here’s a screenshot from “Art Of Fighting 2”.

What’s next for Marquardt: (10-5 UFC, L2) Despite his recent checkered history, Marquardt is a well respected fighter; more importantly, he did the UFC a solid by stepping in on short notice to replace Hendricks (who himself moved up on the card to replace an injured Rory MacDonald).  He’ll likely get some time off to retool then look for him to be matched up with other fighters coming off of long layoffs like Mike Swick, Yoshihiro Akiyama or Brian Ebersole.  I like the Ebersole match-up the best as the two have over 100 combined fights between them.

What’s next for Ellenberger: (8-2 UFC, W2) The great news for Ellenberger is that he’s on the short list for a title shot now and if Hendricks should get injured, he’s the first choice to step in.  However, it’s more likely that he’ll have to continue to pad his resume.  A resurgent Robbie Lawler is waiting in the wings, but I’d like to see him paired up with Demian Maia in what could act as another potential title eliminator.

Welterweight Bout: Johny Hendricks d. Carlos Condit via Unanimous Decision (29-28 x3)

What you need to know: Hendricks got screwed.  After demolishing Jon Fitch and Kampmann, two huge names at 170, Hendricks should have been given a title shot immediately.  Regardless of what GSP or anybody else wanted, he’d earned the right to prove that he’s the best welterweight in the world.  Instead, he was told he has to do more to earn his shot, which apparently involved getting past Condit, one of the most successful welterweights of the past half-decade.

How it went down: I picked Hendricks to win, but I hated the match-up for him because Condit is so technical and so skilled at fighting off of his back.  If Hendricks chose to swing wildly and force takedowns, I was certain Condit would be able to counter.  The crazy thing is that Hendricks did choose to swing wildly and force takedowns and it actually worked!  Bigg Rigg’s plan couldn’t have been simpler: push forward with heavy hands and when Condit is backed up against the fence, get low, pick him up and dump him to the mat.  This exact sequence occurred several times and while Condit has an effective guard, he ate way too many big shots and gave up the takedowns too easily.

The fight was a thriller, with Hendricks looking like Bizarro Hendo at times, loading up his big left hand and blasting away without even pretending he was going to do anything else.

Me not want to hurt you!  Goodbye!

Condit was somehow able to absorb the same shots that had put Fitch and Kampmann down for the count.  His counter of choice was a straight knee up the middle, but Hendricks picked up on that quickly and it only made it easier to get the action down to the floor.  Hendricks himself took those knees to the face like a champion or at least his beard did.  I feel like that kind of facial hair growth should be classified as “performance enhancing” at this point.  With the win, Hendricks became the undisputed number one contender (as if he wasn’t already).

What’s next for Condit: (5-3 UFC, L2) You won’t find a hotter fighter on a two fight losing streak.  The Natural Born Killer was originally set to face MacDonald in a rematch, but that fight doesn’t make sense for young Rory anymore.  I appear to be one of the only people who’d actually look forward to a Condit-GSP rematch, so I don’t want to see him stray too far from the top of the rankings.  There’s a chance he could face Josh Koscheck (which almost happened last February) or look for redemption against Kampmann, who welcomed him to the UFC with a razor-thin split decision loss.

What’s next for Hendricks: (10-1 UFC, W6) Now that it’s official, Hendricks presents the most dangerous threat to St-Pierre’s belt since…well, Condit.  Unlike Condit (and Nick Diaz for that matter), Hendricks’ wrestling background should help him control where the action goes and he has the kind of power that should evoke warm and fuzzy Matt Serra flashbacks.

Welterweight Championship Bout: Georges St-Pierre d. Nick Diaz via Unanimous Decision (50-45 x3)

What you need to know: Diaz has been calling out GSP for years, but doing absolutely nothing to actually earn a shot.  It started when he was in Strikeforce, but rather than jump ship to the UFC to face St-Pierre, he chose to stay where he was.  In 2011, when he did decide to return to the UFC, he was granted an immediate title shot but lost it when he couldn’t be bothered to take care of his media responsibilities.  When GSP himself got injured, Diaz had the gall to say that the champ was ducking him.  A thorough beating of BJ Penn put Diaz back near the top, but with GSP out with another injury the Stockton bad boy was awarded with an interim title match against Condit.  He lost.

Unfortunately, the storyline would not die and as White tells it, GSP wanted to teach Diaz a lesson.  Thus, we were served this long delayed title fight that both men did their best to sell despite the stench of inevitability.

How it went down: St-Pierre is known for his powerful takedowns.  Diaz is known for having terrible takedown defence.  How do you think it went down?

When he had time to work, Diaz actually got the better of some exchanges…too bad for him those exchanges accounted for about 2 minutes of a 25 minute fight.  The strange thing is that even when he wasn’t planted on his butt, Diaz spent a lot of time taunting and not executing strikes.  The threat of being taken down obviously slowed his usual attack, but was still far more hesitant than we’re used to seeing.  This also affected over to his guard work.  Diaz was more focused on getting up than attacking with submissions, so he simply tried to power out rather than use his technique.  This made it easy for St-Pierre to drag him down over and over again.

Afterwards, Diaz did his usual song and dance about how he doesn’t like fights like these and how he might retire.  I say “good riddance”.  This baby needs to take his ball and go home.

What’s next for Diaz: (7-6 UFC, L2) Putting aside my personal disdain for the man, it would be asinine to suggest that he isn’t a legitimate talent.  I doubt anything will come of his retirement talk, but I expect it to be a while before we see him again.  Fights with Kampmann, Koscheck or Marquardt could be fun and *sigh* would likely get the controversial Diaz back on track.

What’s next for St-Pierre: (18-2 UFC, W11) Hendricks.  I hate to accuse fighters of ducking anybody, but it’s not much of a stretch to think that St-Pierre’s request to face Diaz had as much to do with the threat of Hendricks as it did with settling a grudge or selling PPVs.  If tonight’s theme of justice carries on throughout the year then we might just see the hard-charging Hendricks take his place among the immortals.

Champion God Flow: The Return of Georges St-Pierre

The evening was not going well. My boy Chad Griggs had been choked out by a kickboxing specialist. Mark Hominick might have fought his last fight in the UFC. And Tom Lawlor was robbed of a decision against a listless Francis Carmont.

Then the champ showed up.

Montreal’s boisterous reaction to hometown hero Georges St-Pierre was entirely predictable and utterly delightful. Even after nineteen months, they remembered who the true pound for pound greatest is. The respectful reception for the challenger, interim welterweight champion Carlos Condit, showed that the crowd was ready to appreciate a good fight. Condit is no push-over; this was going to be a true test for St-Pierre and his fans that had been with him through all the highs and lows were ready for the last leg of this trying journey.

Up that point, the card had been lacklustre. Johny Hendricks had briefly sparked the crowd with his one punch knockout of Martin Kampmann, but that was more shocking than inspiring. Afterwards, there was the sense that someone could get seriously hurt in that cage…and with the main event coming up there was no shortage of anxiety. I, for one, couldn’t remember the last time I was so nervous about a GSP fight. Condit might not have the cachet of a Matt Hughes or BJ Penn, but I would argue that he’s the toughest, most well-rounded opponent St-Pierre has ever faced outside of Penn in his prime.

The ensuing contest was everything mixed martial arts is supposed to be. The final judgment had two 50-45 scores (a common sight in a St-Pierre victory), but anyone who watched the fight will tell you that those don’t reflect the closeness of the action. The dynamic kickboxing of St-Pierre, rarely used in lieu of his wrestling expertise, was as evident as ever and it had to be to survive the unpredictable Condit. As Condit threw spinning backfists and snapping hook kicks, St-Pierre darted in and out connecting with leg kicks and his new favourite weapon, the jab. It is a weapon that he’s become even more proficient with since using it to fracture Josh Koscheck’s face.

Of course, the strikes were simply a precursor to the takedowns that have become his trademark. When he finally landed one in the middle of the first round (nineteen months!), the roar from the crowd travelled all the way from the Bell Centre in la belle province to the Boston Pizza in Markham where I was watching the event. Just like all the others, Condit soon found himself weathering some severe ground and pound. The round ended with his head cut open, blood covering the right side of his body. Some people think GSP isn’t active enough from top control, but I guarantee you Condit wasn’t thinking that after five minutes.

What made the fight truly special is how Condit reacted. He didn’t wilt or look even slightly discouraged: he came back harder in the second and third round. In the third, he landed a kick that only the most gifted martial artists could dream of connecting with: after winging a left and a right harmlessly in front of the champ, Condit somehow contorted his body into a position to execute a picture perfect high kick that caught St-Pierre cleanly. St-Pierre goes down! St-Pierre goes down!!!

Even the stoutest GSP fan was having Matt Serra flashbacks and Condit, dead set on living up to the moniker of “The Natural Born Killer”, pounced without a second thought. He was hitting big shots from St-Pierre’s guard, totally locked in as St-Pierre did everything in his power to survive. Relief and euphoria swept the arena as he was able to scramble back to top control. Nobody wants to see their favourite fighter in danger, but his resilience in this fight will only add to his legend. Even though it seemed increasingly clear he wouldn’t be able to finish Condit, it was also clear that we were all witnessing a classic.

The phrase “championship rounds” has never been more fitting as both men cemented their argument for being the two best men at one-seventy. There was no “laying and praying” here; in fact, if St-Pierre had tried to utilize that tactic we’d have a new undisputed champion right now. It took every ounce of strength, technique and pure willpower to keep Condit from getting back up or sweeping or landing one of several submissions from his back. Condit never stopped moving and St-Pierre was forced to follow suit or die. One thrilling sequence in the fifth round saw St-Pierre nearly take Condit’s back only to have Condit scramble out of it, which lead to St-Pierre countering and Condit somehow forcing St-Pierre back into his guard again. It was a breathtaking exchange and even though it ended up in a familiar position, there was nothing comfortable about it for either fighter. Other than Koscheck, who stuffed his takedowns in the first place, St-Pierre had never faced someone so difficult to hold down.

There was a vast difference in quality between the main event and the majority of the card. Carmont and Lawlor seemed like it was from some minor league show; hell, it seemed like it didn’t belong on the same planet as St-Pierre/Condit. These are two champions who have had nothing handed to them. The soft spoken Condit earned his spot based solely on his undeniable performances; St-Pierre has had to rebuild himself after his ACL tear, an injury that usually signals the downward slope of an athlete’s career. On this night, both men were at the peak of their powers.

This was St-Pierre’s Michael Jordan moment; that occasion where despite enormous adversity and great stakes, your fans expect you to deliver. Some of the most dominant athletes of all time fell short in this situation. St-Pierre didn’t just live up to the hype, he excelled. He rewarded his fans, while simultaneously silencing his critics. There was nobody that could accuse him of fighting a safe fight tonight. Nobody in their right mind, anyway. And Condit more than carried his end, proving that self promotion and controversy will never be a proper substitute for hard work and dedication. Both men deserve all the accolades that are soon to be coming their way as word of the fight spreads, but only one man can claim to be the champion now. Georges St-Pierre is the clear cut best welterweight fighter in mixed martial arts history and I look forward to removing that divisional designation one day.