Rivalry headlines UFC 158 in Montreal

March 13, 2013, 10:30 pm
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Nitesh Dutt

The conference calls, press conferences, interviews and other media responsibilities are almost over and the most-awaited fight in recent mixed martial arts history is set to take place in Montreal this Saturday night.

A night filled with welterweight action is highlighted by one of the biggest rivalries in the sport today. UFC Welterweight Champion and Quebec native Georges St. Pierre defends his title against former Strikeforce Welterweight Champion and Stockton native Nick Diaz.

For GSP it is an opportunity to release “his dark place” and silence Diaz. For Nick, the opportunity means something different. It is an opportunity to prove he belongs atop the UFC and should be considered a pound-for-pound contender. A victory for Nick will bring the respect and admiration he has longed for, albeit just in the octagon.

Diaz has used every ploy in the book to rile up St. Pierre and get this fight. During the March 7 conference call Nick continuously called GSP “pampered” or any curse word imaginable to man. The two verbally attacked each other for how they spoke, how they acted and what their backgrounds were. For many, it was the best way to sell this fight and event.

While the MMA community is entrenched in the main event title fight, there are four other bouts on the main card worthy of fans’ attention.

Mike Ricci vs. Colin Fletcher: On a fight night full of welterweights it will be two lightweights kicking off the pay-per-view card as former TUF finalists Mike Ricci (TUFC 16) and Colin Fletcher (TUF Smashes) make their official octagon debuts. Ricci, who trains at Tristar Gym with St. Pierre, has seven professional wins in his career with four coming via KO/TKO. On the other hand, seven of Fletcher’s eight pro wins have come via submission. This is a classic striker versus grappler battle, but the more intriguing battle is their nicknames. “The Martian” Ricci will have his hands full with “Freakshow” Fletcher who will likely use his slight size advantage to control the bout. PICK: Fletcher.

Chris Camozzi vs. Nick Ring: In a suddenly stacked middleweight division, this means little with Anderson Silva leading the pack, every win counts. For Camozzi and Ring, a victory in Montreal could be the difference in appearing in the octagon again. The BJJ Purple Belt Camozzi won all three of his bouts in 2012 and is looking to continue his run in 2013. The Canadian Ring, a BJJ Brown Belt and Black Belt in Muay Thai, is still rebounding from his lone career loss vs. Tim Boetsch. He defeated Court McGee last July after the loss and is positioned to go back-to-back in his home country. Both fighters BJJ skills should be on display in this middleweight battle, but Nick “The Promise” Ring should ride the wave of Canadian support to a decision victory. PICK: Ring.

Jake Ellenberger vs. Nate Marquardt: This bout is a tale of two vastly different fighters. Ellenberger, 7-2 in the UFC, is on the verge of title contention and was supposed to fight top-3 WW Johny Hendricks. More on that in a bit. Instead, Ellenberger will face-off against a fighter making his return to the octagon. Marquardt is a late replacement for Hendricks, who is now facing Carlos Condit, and is making his octagon return after a two-year absence. In those two years away from the UFC, Nate won and lost the Strikeforce welterweight title. The welterweight division is continuously changing and top contenders seem to be plentiful. This bout can clear the pile just a bit. PICK: Marquardt.

Carlos Condit vs. Johny Hendricks: St. Pierre vs. Diaz might be the main event, but there’s a consensus in the MMA community that Condit vs. Hendricks could steal the show. These two brawlers are just as popular for their finishing ability (35 between the two of them) as they are for their nicknames. Condit (“The Natural Born Killer”) is rebounding after a unanimous decision loss to Georges St. Pierre while Hendricks (“Bigg Rigg”) is riding a five-fight win streak. Condit and Hendricks are considered top-5 welterweights and some would say Hendricks makes a stronger case to be in the main event then Diaz, but that’s beside the point.

Plenty of fans, and media alike, do not expect this bout to go a full three rounds. The two have gone to the judges a combined 11 times in their careers. Hendricks’ left hand is quickly becoming the most dangerous strike at 170 pounds, if not the whole UFC. Condit, on the other hand, is as capable of landing a knockout blow as he is at submitting his opponent. This bout may not be for the title, but both fighters are likely to give fans a show that’ll make it feel like a title bout. PICK: Hendricks.

UFC Welterweight Champion Georges St. Pierre vs. Nick Diaz: Stop me if you’ve heard this storyline before. Clean-cut hero returns to his hometown to take on the evil, disrespectful anti-hero. Ladies and gentlemen, I give you the selling point of UFC 158. At least, that’s what the UFC and fans would like to believe. The truth is, this is a bout that’s been years in the making. Ever since GSP first got his hands on the welterweight title, Diaz has been hot on his trail. The two were originally scheduled to fight at UFC 143 on February 4, 2012. But, GSP sustained a knee injury in December of 2011 and the bout was off. Diaz went on to lose the interim title bout to Condit and was subsequently suspended for testing positive for marijuana metabolites in a post-fight drug test.

After GSP came back and defeated Condit in a title unification bout, he personally asked UFC President Dana White for Diaz. The champ was granted his wish and the bout that many wanted to see was set to finally take place. Arguably the top-2 welterweights in the world are going to step inside the octagon this Saturday, and the winner will not only have the title but have bragging rights as well.

Diaz, a Gracie Jiu Jitsu Black Belt, is more than willing to grapple with St. Pierre who has a strong ground game. But, don’t be surprised if Nick does all he can to keep this bout standing. Diaz would seem to have a stronger chance at victory if he trades punches with GSP, who has trained with world class boxing trainer Freddy Roach. St. Pierre is riding a 10-fight win streak (nine title defenses) and put on a dominating performance in his return against Condit. Georges keeps saying Nick doesn’t know how dark the thoughts in his head gets and that Diaz “deserves to get beat down”. Whether or not that happens will be seen on Saturday, but it is reasonable to expect a GSP that has not yet been witnessed in the UFC.

Being from Northern California it will be great to see Nick win the title; if that happens it will be great for the sport in this region. However, until someone shows a solid game plan to defeat GSP, it is difficult to imagine it happening. PICK: St. Pierre.

Nitesh Dutt is a Productions Assistant at Comcast SportsNet Bay Area. Follow him on Twitter @NiteshDutt.