Georges St. Pierre has never lost on Canadian soil. | Photo: Anthony J. Causi/Icon SMI
The Bell Centre in Montreal on Saturday once again plays host to Canada’s most popular athlete, as Georges St. Pierre defends his welterweight title against Nick Diaz in the UFC 158 main event.
UFC 158 “St. Pierre vs. Diaz” showcases seven bouts at 170 pounds, and three of them, including the headliner, feature fighters ranked in the top 10. In the co-main event, Carlos Condit faces off with two-time NCAA wrestling champion Johny Hendricks in his first appearance since failing to unseat St. Pierre in November. Elsewhere, Reign MMA export Jake Ellenberger takes on former Strikeforce champion Nate Marquardt, as “The Great” returns to the Octagon for the first time in nearly two years.
How We Got Here: Well, Diaz can never complain about not getting enough second chances. The Cesar Gracie black belt originally scored the winning lotto ticket when he earned a title shot in a big-money bout against St. Pierre at UFC 137. No-shows at press events cost Diaz his spot in the welterweight pecking order, though, in wake of a GSP knee injury, he eventually faced Condit for the interim crown at UFC 143. Despite Diaz’s decision loss to Condit and subsequent failed drug test, UFC President Dana White announced he would still meet the Canadian champion for promotional gold ... While the 209 area code celebrated, Hendricks fumed. He knocked out perennial contenders Jon Fitch and Martin Kampmann in less than a minute combined and believes those performances warranted a crack at St. Pierre. Instead, he settled for Ellenberger. However, a neck injury forced GSP’s Tristar Gym teammate Rory MacDonald to withdraw from his rematch with Condit. Left without an opponent, Condit was instead paired with Hendricks in the co-headliner, leaving Ellenberger to lock horns with Marquardt.
Trending Topic: What do Diaz, Frankie Edgar and Chael Sonnen have in common? All received title shots after losses, all with varying degrees of irrationality ... The Ultimate Fighting Championship paired Edgar with featherweight boss Jose Aldo after he went 0-2 against reigning 155-pound titleholder Benson Henderson. Still, “The Answer” brought maximum name value and intrigue with his long-awaited drop in weight ... Sonnen moving up to face light heavyweight champion Jon Jones is just as ludicrous, no matter what standard one uses -- unless it is dealing with ratings and pay-per-view buys. As opposing coaches, they have delivered solid ratings for Season 17 of “The Ultimate Fighter.” How much of that success has to do with Jones and Sonnen and how much of it has to do with the level of talent on the show? That is a question for others to answer ... Meanwhile, St. Pierre-Diaz can be debated more subjectively. Diaz just lost, and despite the UFC’s recent trend, fighters who lose should not receive title shots. This bout was supposed to have happened already, and according to White, GSP demanded Diaz as an opponent. Stylistically, Diaz’s volume punching and savvy ground game pose realistic risks to the champion. It makes for a polarizing discussion.
Ramblin’ Man: Diaz is a rare example of a fighter’s star gaining traction outside the Octagon. After posting a 6-4 record in the UFC from 2003 to 2006, Diaz went on a remarkable stretch of 13 fights outside of the promotion, losing only once -- by technical knockout via cut against K.J. Noons in 2007. He avenged that defeat in 2010. Diaz’s campaign included trips to Pride Fighting Championships, Dream, EliteXC and Strikeforce, where he became the welterweight champion.
Another Chapter in History: St. Pierre has ruled the welterweight division with an iron fist since 2008, defending his undisputed title a staggering seven straight times. If it were not for Anderson Silva treating the Octagon like his own personal Matrix, the Canadian’s achievements would sparkle much brighter. “Rush” has already overshadowed history’s other dominant welterweight, Matt Hughes, and is now working on an all-time legacy regardless of weight class. He ranks second all-time in UFC title bouts with 12, trailing only Randy Couture, and second all-time in consecutive title defenses with seven, behind only Silva. GSP makes history every time he fights; that is reality. Regardless of your opinion of his fighting style, his lack of finishes or his Kermit the Frog accent, the man is flirting with legendary status.
Useless Fact: This will be St. Pierre’s fourth consecutive title defense on Canadian soil. Fifteen of his previous 16 UFC fights have taken place in the United States. You want a home-field advantage? Become a national sports icon and consistently break attendance records within your home borders.
Say What: Diaz spent the last year serving a suspension after testing positive for marijuana metabolites and seems to have spent that year stewing over every little thing that bothers him about the UFC, St. Pierre and a host of other random items. During a pre-fight media call, his built-up tension exploded into a verbal tirade. It was one for the ages. Here is one of the many gems he cranked out: “I don’t get a lot of recognition for what I’ve set out to do here. You look at a lot of these guys that are really important that have red carpet events, awards and magazines. Like I’m coming in here to whoop this guy’s ass, and then before you know it, this fight happens and nobody knows who I am. I mean I guess everybody does, but as far as like your mainstream magazines and your Nike, Adidas, all your good stuff, I’m left out of that.”
Awards Watch: GSP and Diaz stand atop the show, but give me Condit-Hendricks as the stylistic main event. Condit’s versatile striking game and savvy submissions battle Hendricks’ heavy punches and man strength that can only be acquired through a lifetime of grappling. Color that “Fight of the Night” … “Knockout of the Night” should fall into the hands of whoever lands the final strike when “The Ultimate Fighter” alum Daron Cruickshank squares off against John Makdessi … UFC on Fuel TV 8 went without a submission, and UFC 158 does not showcase a match with an obvious submission written on it, either. Diaz can tap anybody, but GSP is not just anybody. Colin Fletcher has the skills and long limbs to pull it off, but I am going with Quinn Mulhern tapping out Rick Story for “Submission of the Night.” I just cannot rid myself of the vision of Demian Maia turning Story’s head into a Gushers fruit candy with a neck crank at UFC 153.