Mixed Martial Arts: Carlos Condit
If we learned anything about Nick Diaz from the epic oratory performance he put on at UFC 158, it’s that he’s not going to lie to us.
Diaz can be called a lot of things, but "liar" certainly isn’t one of them. If anything, the American ambassador to the 209 was painstakingly honest last week before, during and after his lopsided loss to Georges St-Pierre on Saturday night.
As things progressed he was lobbed numerous queries -- about steroids or marijuana or whether he thought the UFC wanted him to lose -- which probably would’ve best been handled with a simple “no comment.” Diaz, the guy who theoretically hates doing media so much he sometimes doesn’t bother to show up, never once demurred. By the end, one thing was clear: Ask him a question and you will absolutely not get a straight answer, but the extended jumble-jamble of words that tumble out of his mouth won’t be sugarcoated or politically correct or -- for that matter -- filtered in any way.
So, if the question we’re asking ourselves on Monday morning is whether to believe Diaz when he tells us he’s retired from MMA, the simple answer is “yes." Yes, we can believe he was telling us the truth about that ... at the very moment the words left his lips.
Thing is, Diaz has a more complicated relationship with the truth than most people. He’s what literature buffs might call an unreliable narrator. That is, a guy who can’t be trusted to see the world the same way the rest of us do.
Keep in mind that this is a fighter who on Saturday night announced his retirement for the second time amid a fairly rambling response that also intimated he thinks the rules of MMA are set up for him to fail and stopped just barely short of blaming his loss to St-Pierre on some kind of spygate conspiracy within his own camp.
“To be honest, I don’t know if I really got it anymore," he said, during one of his more self-reflective moments. "I don’t make excuses. I think I’m done with mixed martial arts. I’m tired of getting banged up like this. ... Hopefully I made enough money to invest in something.”
At that second, it was the truth according to Nick Diaz, and we couldn’t help but notice it sounded eerily similar to a truth he voiced 13 months ago, on the heels of an only slightly less definitive loss to Carlos Condit: "I think I'm done with this MMA stuff,” Diaz said at the time. “I don't think they can pay me enough to do this again.”
We all know that particular truth changed a few months later, when rumors first circulated that Diaz would consider coming out of “retirement” for a superfight against middleweight king Anderson Silva. By November, he’d somehow talked his way into a shot at St-Pierre’s welterweight crown. Now that fight has (finally) come and gone and Diaz is retired anew, though this truth, too, had begun to morph into something different by the time he wandered into the postfight news conference some 30 minutes late.
"I just feel like I fought everybody that I set out to fight ...,” he said, taking the stage at the event only after UFC president Dana White announced Diaz wouldn’t be there at all. “But I want a rematch. I think I could beat [St-Pierre]. I think I may be a better matchup for Anderson Silva, as well, but we'll see what happens.”
So there you have it. Diaz wants to retire. Or he wants a rematch. Or he wants to fight Silva. Or something. He wants them all simultaneously and at once manages to give the impression he wants none of them at all.
If he does walk away from MMA forever, seemingly in his prime at the age of 29, it’ll be far from the strangest thing he’s done in his career. Or even last week.
For now the truth is, Diaz is retired, until he decides he’s not.
As always, the truth will continue to be whatever he wants it to be.
His supreme class was on display Saturday in Montreal during yet another shutout of an experienced fighter inside the Octagon. And so it has reached the point with St-Pierre and the welterweights that clean-slate title defenses are expected, and therefore dismissed as if they aren't incredibly impressive. Thus the division itself, long residing beside light heavyweight as the UFC's money class, is perceived to be less than interesting because no one can seem to touch the man at the top.
Well, stop all that.
Welterweight has never been better, and St-Pierre is lined up to face the most difficult challenges of his career. An emerging contingent of contenders appear capable of beating the French-Canadian fighter. And not just in the maybe-he'll-win-a-round-or-make-it-competitive sort of of way. Like actually stopping St-Pierre from doing what he wants, and maybe, just maybe, stopping him outright.
There are, in my estimation, three fighters at 170 right now that can do this: Johny Hendricks, Demian Maia, and Jake Ellenberger. And others appear to be legitimate threats. Carlos Condit is young enough and dangerous enough to pull something off if he gets another shot.
Tyron Woodley looks specially built to test GSP. You’d be a fool to sleep on Tarec Saffiedine, even if wrestling isn’t in his blood.
First up, according to UFC president Dana White, comes a deserving Hendricks, whose fight of the night brawl with Condit stacks up just fine against anything 2013 has produced thus far.
Hendricks comes off like a smaller, left-handed version of Dan Henderson. He believes he's the best. He simply has no fear. He can punch with anyone. And if a fighter is going to wrestle with St-Pierre, the physical two-time national champion wrestler from Oklahoma State would be the guy.
Hendricks is so dangerous that St-Pierre could come to the conclusion it's finally time to fight Anderson Silva. Don’t be surprised if that's how it went down, presuming Silva handles Chris Weidman in July. Both bouts provide the UFC and its fans everything they could ever want, though at this stage, crazy as it sounds, I'd rather see St-Pierre against Hendricks. To me it’s the best intra-divisional fight the UFC can make.
Ellenberger's first-round destruction of Nathan Marquardt signaled that "The Juggernaut" won't go away before all the hard work he's put in over the years pays off in a title shot. Should it come against St-Pierre, the champ will have to contend with a heavy hitter who can wrestle and scramble and do so for a high pace over a long stretch. Bottom line: No one wants to be hit by Ellenberger.
Then there's Maia, the Brazilian grappling master who made it look too easy against Fitch in February. Maia's entry into the class has been a delight. If he can own Dong Hyun Kim, Rick Story and Fitch on the canvas, doesn't he at least seem like a fighter who can hang with St-Pierre? Sure does to me. At a minimum, he's not a contender the current champion will want to spend much time on the floor with, because Maia is that good at jiu-jitsu.
Since regaining the belt in 2007, St-Pierre has lost only seven of the 43 rounds he's fought in the Octagon -- that includes duplicates based on three judges scoring a contest. He's essentially been perfect. But what's done is done. There are new threats on the horizon, a beckoning group eager for a chance.
As that gets sorted out, UFC welterweights will jockey for their spot. UFC 158, which featured 12 170-pounders, offered a revealing showcase for what's to come. A warhorse like Rick Story looked great. A kid like Jordan Mein made a statement in his UFC debut. A veteran seeking new life like Patrick Cote squeezed by, while his opponent, Bobby Voelker, looked good too. Rory MacDonald, who was originally scheduled to fight on Saturday but fell off the card with an injury, has all the tools. And on and on.
The division that produced Pat Miletich and Matt Hughes has never been better, and that seems indisputable.
MONTREAL -- For everything the Georges St-Pierre-Nick Diaz bout wasn’t -- enthralling, competitive, an out-and-out war -- Georges St-Pierre versus Johny Hendricks just might be. And that’s the silver lining after UFC 158, where wolf tickets and dark places finally converged.
Hendricks was victorious over former No. 1 contender Carlos Condit on Saturday in Montreal, and made his case (yet again) for a fight with St-Pierre. Unlike when he defeated Josh Koscheck and Martin Kampmann, this time everybody -- including UFC president Dana White -- seems to be on board with the idea.
“There’s no doubt, as far as the welterweight division is concerned, Johny Hendricks is next in line,” White told ESPN.com moments after UFC 158 wrapped up. “As for a superfight with Anderson Silva, that’s up to Georges St-Pierre. If Georges came out today and said he wanted to fight Anderson Silva, I won’t be upset about it.”
With Silva booked to fight Chris Weidman in July at UFC 161, Hendricks is finally the guy. He and Condit went toe-to-toe for three back and forth rounds, with Hendricks using his All-American wrestling in spots throughout to control the action. Other times he pursued Condit across the cage winging huge left hands, some of which found their mark. Each time Condit truly pressed the action, he was dumped on his back. When they stood, the exchanges were fierce.
It was good enough for "fight of the night" honors. More important, it really pushed Hendricks (15-1) over the edge as a legitimate contender for St-Pierre.
Suddenly, Hendricks’ punching power, combined with his ability to dictate the fight, looks very interesting against the champion. It feels like a battle of strong nullifying wrestlers who can throw hands. Hendricks feels like an actual threat to the throne.
“I think [Hendricks] is fantastic, and he’s a great athlete and he deserves a shot,” said St-Pierre’s coach Firas Zahabi. “I don’t make those decisions, though -- it’s the UFC, it’s the management. I’m pretty confident it’s going to happen. I think it’s going to be a great fight.”
“He’s a great wrestler, good power,” added St-Pierre, who was eating a slice of pizza and feeling good after so many weeks of animosity toward Diaz. “We’ll see what’s going to happen. Obviously I want to fight the best.”
After his eighth title defense (50-45 on all scorecards over Diaz), St-Pierre is finding himself almost too far ahead of the competition. Carlos Condit was hoping for a rematch with St-Pierre, but it never felt like the UFC was behind the idea 100 percent, even if Condit had won. Diaz, who has been the bane of St-Pierre’s existence for the last year-and-a-half, promptly ended his retirement talk by telling MMA Fighting’s Ariel Helwani, “I want a rematch!”
That’s also highly unlikely to happen anytime soon. If ever.
The problem is, St-Pierre has handled everybody he’s faced over the last few years to the point that no rematch is ever truly coveted. Not a rematch with Condit, not with Diaz, not with anybody. St-Pierre wins too convincingly. These days you get one shot, and you had better make the most of it.
“If you look, he’s fighting all the best welterweights in the world, and continues to win,” White said. “I think Georges had a really great game plan. He went in there, and he stood up [with Diaz]. He went to the ground. The fight went everywhere, and he won again. I don’t know what else to say. It was a great fight.”
One might say, too great. So great that it looked lopsided. Did it feel that way to St-Pierre?
“Yeah, but he was dangerous the whole time,” he said. “It was one-sided but he put me in danger sometimes. So I always had to be aware of the danger.”
It didn’t appear that way. It was the same old dominant Georges St-Pierre. It turns out he fights the same when somebody is in his head as he does when they’re not.
“It was huge because it was such an emotional thing,” Zahabi said. “I’ve never seen Georges so emotional. He really wanted this fight. He wanted to fight Diaz before anybody else does, and I think he got his fill tonight. I don’t think he’s going to want to fight Diaz again. It’s over.”
It’s over for Diaz. It’s on for Hendricks.
MONTREAL -- The big news was that Nick Diaz showed up. Believe it or not, this was a concern after the challenger skipped Wednesday’s open workouts in Montreal. And after, you know, his history of sort of not showing up.
“Well it was either I miss that, or I miss this, but I was going to have to catch up on some sleep,” he explained right off the bat at the press conference to promote his title fight against Georges St-Pierre. His flight from Northern California touched down in Quebec at midnight Tuesday evening. Wednesday was no good for him, but by Thursday, he was at last refreshed and ready to talk.
And talk he did. Diaz careened off into subject matter that ranged from sweating out toxic water, to his outdated likeness on the UFC 158 promo posters, to point deductions being handed out for stalling and holding guys down (some psychology aimed at St-Pierre), to the UFC selling wolf tickets (“they’re selling you all wolf tickets and you people are eating them right up”).
Snake oil was never mentioned. But had it have been, it would have fit right in. “Diazisms” were a dime a dozen. St-Pierre, whose own distaste for press conferences and the redundancy of the questions was barely contained, fired back once in a while. But most questions were directed at Diaz and Dana White, who was looking down at him with a red, muted face as if to interject (or destroy him via telepathy).
Meanwhile, Carlos Condit, Jake Ellenberger and Nate Marquardt, all on the card and present, never said a word. Marquardt smiled and chuckled along with the media. Ellenberger might as well have had laryngitis. As for Condit, he did roll his eyes at one point when Diaz went off on yet another tangent.
Actually, hey, let me get out the way and post a couple of those tangential highlights. My thoughts follow in italics.
“I would like to put out the best image I could. To be honest with you I think a lot of times they make me out to be the evil guy. I fit the description of the evil villain. I think Georges fits the description of a good guy. I mean, look at my poster. No offense, but [the UFC] has had plenty of time to switch my poster. That picture of me is from years ago. Can I get one buttered up, photoshop picture on a poster?”
It’s true. The poster features a younger Nick Diaz, who is mean-mugging more than entirely necessary. Come to think of it, he has a legitimate beef here.
–- “Georges likes to say I remind him of the bullies that picked on him growing up. How many times did you have a gun to your head, Georges? How many times has somebody put a gun to your head? How many of your best friends have been shot through the chest with a .45? How many of your friends have been stomped and put to sleep in a coma? How many kids put gum in your hair?”
He reiterated a form of this in an ESPN interview. The guess here is GSP can count on one hand how many times he’s had gum put in his hair.
–- “Georges here is selling wolf tickets. Dana here is selling wolf tickets. The UFC is selling you some wolf tickets. You guys are eating them right up.”
Wolf tickets are now out-hashtagging GSP’s dark place on Twitter.
Meanwhile, White, who curtailed some of the “antagonism” headed Diaz’s way and had a semi-heated moment with MMA Fighting’s Ariel Helwani, did a good job of reminding everyone of why we were here.
“All the stuff that leads up to this thing, all the selling of wolf tickets, all the things that happen leads up to this fight -- there is going to be a fight Saturday night.”
Condit done with being cautious
There was a moment at UFC 154 when it looked like Condit was going to break the heart of Montreal when he rocked St-Pierre. It was only for about 90 seconds or so of a 25-minute fight, but it was enough to bring him to a realization: Should he get that rematch with St-Pierre, he’ll go for broke.
“In [the St-Pierre fight], I think I hesitated,” he told ESPN.com. “Sometimes I was a little bit gun shy. I just need to go back to letting it all hang out, leaving everything in the cage, and really just focusing on what I bring to the table as opposed to training for the other guy’s strengths.”
When asked if he can let it all hang out against a smasher like Johny Hendricks, who has an anvil for a left hand, Condit thought about it for a quick second before answering.
“I can, but I just have to be smart,” he said.
ESPN’s Brett Okamoto asked Diaz if he changed anything in his use of medical marijuana after what happened last time (when he tested positive for metabolites in Nevada, and was suspended for a year).
“I think I tested for metabolite, or nanogram, or something,” he said. “I just did a little more than I did last time, so sorry if I don’t pass the test -- but I think it should work out. I’ve passed plenty of them before, unless they just weren’t testing me. I wonder how much they test people around here.”
Then he shot St-Pierre a strong, insinuating glance. What does it all mean? Not even remotely sure. But “it should work out” didn’t exactly come off like reassurance to the boss who was standing right next to him.
(White mentioned later in the media scrum that, should Diaz test positive for marijuana again, he would “probably” be cut).
Diaz’s younger brother Nate, who will be in Nick’s corner on Saturday night, was at the press conference and speaking to media. Somebody brought up the incestuous matchmaking methods of the Canadian promotion MFC, which recently booked a fight between brothers Thomas and Mike Treadwell.
Since we all know Nate Diaz is a “Diaz brother” and not just Nick’s brother, he was asked about his thoughts on that.
“That kind of makes me sick, when you think about it. Guys fighting each other, and they’re brothers? They’re a bunch of idiots as far as I’m concerned. It’s ridiculous. Do they even know each other?”
Then it became actual theater.
Diaz alternately complimented St-Pierre and spat on him, often in the same breath. St-Pierre, who is usually a picture of intense cool, came unmoored a little bit. He had trouble getting a word in edgewise as Diaz rambled on about being pampered and St-Pierre's tight shorts. By the time St-Pierre called Diaz an "uneducated fool," his dark place seemed like more than "putting American quarters in vending machines," as MMA Junkie's Dann Stupp joked on Twitter. His personal torment bubbled up to the surface for a minute for everyone to glimpse.
All of this begs the question: Is Diaz in St-Pierre's head a little bit? The answer is: of course! He can't not be. But this is all just fun with intangibles. When you think about the fight itself, it's easier to imagine St-Pierre's wrestling nullifying that "Stockton Slap" than vice versa. If Saturday night's main event goes to the ground, and St-Pierre puts the hurt on Diaz (for five rounds, or for one explosive one), the sound you'll hear might be laughter emanating from St-Pierre's dark place.
FIVE THINGS TO KNOW/STORYLINES
Jake Ellenberger as dark horse contender
The third welterweight fight on the card pairs up Jake Ellenberger with Nate Marquardt. No, a win over Marquardt won't be the same as if he had beat his original opponent, Johny Hendricks. But an emphatic victory still might launch Ellenberger into title consideration if (A) Hendricks loses to Carlos Condit, (B) St-Pierre handles Diaz and (C) the UFC thinks it's too soon to roll out Condit-St-Pierre II.
The rise of Darren Elkins
The rise of Chris Camozzi
The middleweight division has gone on a long time without a Chris Camozzi to come along and mess things up. But guess what? If Camozzi gets by Nick Ring on Saturday night, he's suddenly riding a four-fight winning streak and begins to encroach on top-10 radars.
St-Pierre, Diaz as rivals
Rivalries consist of more than heated arguments and rising dander, don't they? The headlining fight between Diaz and St-Pierre is being loosely dubbed a "rivalry," even though this is their first meeting. Yes, they were booked to fight each other in 2011 before Diaz's insubordination became a thing. But a rivalry? If Diaz pulls off the upset Saturday night, then we've got a rivalry. Forget rematch -- that would open the floodgates to a trilogy.
Diaz's long layoff
Diaz will have gone 405 days between fights, which is the longest layoff of his career. Just how this will affect him remains to be seen. The longest he went before that was 314 days between his first pro MMA bout and his second, back in 2001-02. How did he respond to that gulf? By decisioning Chris Lytle. Of course, that was eons ago, when he was barely 18 years old and things like metabolites were still tucked away in their lexicons.
Can Diaz get back up?
Can St-Pierre get a finish?
It has been four years since St-Pierre finished a fight, and that was at UFC 94 against B.J. Penn. Even in that one, it wasn't overly dramatic -- Penn simply didn't answer the fifth-round bell after a steady mauling. A statistic such as that can lead to "pressure," and St-Pierre can't help but feel it. Chances are, when the fight feels comfortable enough, he'll look for the finish.
Is Hendricks next with a win?
We've been asking this same question since last year when the tulips came up in the spring and Hendricks was fighting Koscheck -- does a win get Hendricks a title shot? The answer is, of course -- maybe. Hendricks not only beat Koscheck, he salted Martin Kampmann next for good measure -- and yet here he is again opening for St-Pierre's big act. Unless the roof falls in on the Bell Centre, a win over Condit should get him that evasive title shot.
Can Diaz win a decision in Montreal?
Diaz doesn't particularly like judges, because he suspects they don't like him (see: UFC 143). But let's make something clear: If his fight with St-Pierre, a native son of Quebec, goes to the gavels, his chances of victory share a percentage with the world's most popular milk (2%). Not necessarily because of hometown favoritism (though there's that), but because can you imagine St-Pierre getting outpointed?
If Marquardt-Ellenberger goes past the first round, then what?
Your guess is good as mine. As Brett Okamoto pointed out, Ellenberger likes to throw punches with such all-or-nothing force early in fights that he's running on fumes toward the end. Then again, Marquardt has had some trouble with determined wrestlers (such as Yushin Okami and Chael Sonnen), and if patient dictation of the will is Ellenberger's tact, this thing becomes a crapshoot.
WHO’S ON THE HOT SEAT
Reuben Duran -- See above, only reversed.
Rick Story -- Remember when he dominated Thiago Alves and was calling out Fitch and Koscheck? Distant memory. Losing to Strikeforce immigrant Quinn Mulhern would make it four losses in five fights, which is a roundabout way of saying "curtains."
Patrick Cote -- Since coming back to the UFC, he lost very unspectacularly to Cung Le and then was the victim of a series of illegal back-of-the-head blows from Alessio Sakara last time the UFC visited Montreal (remember that inexplicable brainlock?). Play the dramatic doom music: Cote is walking the plank against Bobby Voelker this weekend.
Mike Ricci -- That knockout of Neil Magny during TUF 16 was fun, but if he drops to 0-2 in the UFC by losing to Colin Fletcher, it's hard to justify his roster spot.
Colin Fletcher -- The mask. Won't. Save him.
WHY YOU SHOULD CARE
Because it's a welterweight bonanza that features the best 170-pound fighter ever (St-Pierre) ... because St-Pierre has good reason to abandon "safe" in his attempt to punish Diaz ... because Diaz doesn't do "safe," and fights off his back like a fire hose that got away from its handler ... because with Hendricks, the word "southpaw" barely describes the brute force in that left hand … because Ellenberger leaves behind his aura each time he throws a first-round punch … because that's Marquardt's chin he's aiming at … because Carlos Condit is due for a finish after going 0-for-2 in 2012 in that department … because St-Pierre's dark place becomes, for one night only, a popular destination.
In Georges St-Pierre and Nick Diaz, the welterweight division has found its odd couple.
They despise each other, and we love it.
Headed into their clash for St-Pierre’s 170-pound title at UFC 158, we quite simply can’t get enough of it, thrilling in that singular way the fight business can at each and every cross word between them. They are perfect together, a headline-stealing machine, as GSP’s straight-laced French Canadian patience slowly unravels in front of the hypnotic skew of Planet Diaz.
It’s no wonder the other four fighters involved in last week’s prefight conference call couldn’t get a word in edgewise. This is a beef for the ages.
Yet even as the great Diaz-St-Pierre feud of 2013 gobbles up all the attention, two of UFC 158’s additional welterweight bouts -- Carlos Condit versus Johny Hendricks and Nate Marquardt versus Jake Ellenberger -- will arguably do just as much on Saturday night to plot the course of the division.
One need look no further than the show’s co-main event, where, as long as Hendricks can take care of business against Condit, it will be difficult to deny him the next available crack at the gold. Of course, that’s exactly what we all thought after Hendricks starched Martin Kampmann in 46 seconds in November and what we thought when he edged Josh Koscheck by split decision six months before that, too.
The story of Hendricks’ UFC career to date has certainly been one of delayed expectations. The guy is so overqualified to be the No. 1 contender, it’s astonishing to behold his 11-1 combined UFC/WEC record, his five straight wins, his nine stoppages in 15 career fights and realize he’s still waiting for his chance. By all rights it should probably be Hendricks fighting for title this weekend, were Diaz-GSP not worth its weight in pay-per-view gold.
The very fact that Hendricks is already so deserving of a championship opportunity is the most nerve-wracking thing about his upcoming fight with Condit. MMA can be a fickle mistress, after all, and if a guy is going to get the rug pulled out from under him in this sport it typically happens just as his fingers are about to close around the brass ring. Long story short: A Condit victory is certainly very possible here, and a loss by Hendricks could potentially be the most chaotic outcome of all.
It would certainly put guys like Demian Maia, Martin Kampmann and Rory MacDonald back in play for No. 1 contender status.
It would also probably do good things for the fortunes of Ellenberger, who could scrawl his own name near the top of the queue if he comes out on top against Marquardt. Ellenberger’s solid wrestling and heavy hands make him nearly as compelling a matchup for St-Pierre as Hendricks, if -- and this is a big one -- he came into their fight prepared to go five full rounds without slowing down.
Perhaps the biggest wild card of all is St-Pierre himself. Assuming he beats Diaz, will he stick around in the welterweight division long enough to fight Hendricks or Ellenberger or anybody else? Or will the champ finally concede to the pressure to head up to middleweight for a big-money superfight against Anderson Silva, leaving this fresh crop of challengers to fight it out among themselves?
Whatever happens, we should at least have a better idea where we’re headed after Saturday.
Unless Diaz wins, in which case all bets are off.
When the UFC first announced the next challenger to Georges St-Pierre’s title would be Nick Diaz -- Nick Diaz, the guy coming off a drug suspension, not to mention a loss -- plenty of people had a problem with it.
Jake Ellenberger wasn’t one of them.
As a rising welterweight contender, one would think Ellenberger (28-6) wouldn’t be too happy to see Diaz (26-8) jump him in line. But Ellenberger, who is set to face Nate Marquardt this weekend at UFC 158, didn’t mind at all, actually. He got it.
“I really didn’t have a problem with it,” Ellenberger told ESPN.com. “Nick’s been one of the top guys in the division for years. As a fan, I want to see that fight. Nick is dangerous. You’ve got a guy who is good at getting takedowns, and Nick is good off his back.
“How could you not be excited to see that fight? It’s a ticket-seller.”
One matchup Ellenberger doesn’t get, however, is the UFC 158 co-main event between Johny Hendricks (14-1) and Carlos Condit (28-6).
Ellenberger was originally scheduled to face Hendricks, but the fight was canceled when Condit’s opponent, Rory MacDonald, withdrew due to injury. Hendricks agreed to replace MacDonald shortly after.
To Ellenberger, it felt like a “duck” -- like, maybe Hendricks opted for an easier fight.
“I was p---ed,” Ellenberger said. “I spent 10 weeks training for one guy. He’s not a hard guy to figure out. He throws hard punches and he’s good in a scramble. That’s it.
He's not a hard guy to figure out. He throws hard punches and he's good in a scramble. That's it” -- Jake Ellenberger, on Johny Hendricks
“I have him figured out and I will beat him. He knows I have the potential to beat him, so he takes a less dangerous fight.”
In addition to the frustration he has over lost time preparing for Hendricks, Ellenberger questions the logic of the move. Condit, after all, is coming off a loss to St-Pierre in November.
Should he end Hendricks’ five-fight win streak, the welterweight division will be absent a No. 1 contender.
“I’m not disrespecting Carlos Condit, but are they going to give him another fight with St-Pierre if he beats Hendricks? I don’t think so,” Ellenberger said.
“Carlos is a really dangerous guy at a certain range. If he fights at his range, he’ll do really well. I wouldn’t be surprised if Carlos won. I really wouldn’t.”
As he discusses Hendricks, Ellenberger’s tone quickly changes, and suddenly, as if he’s reminding himself of something, he dismisses the opponent change. It is what it is. He’s over it and focused on Marquardt (32-11-2).
For the record, though, next time Diaz complains he isn’t getting the respect a No. 1 contender deserves, he should know Ellenberger agrees with the main event -- just not the fight that will precede it.
“There’s not an anger feeling. It just doesn’t make sense to me,” Ellenberger said. “It’s out of my control. That’s on [the UFC].
“I forgot about it. I’m still fighting. I’ll be ready to fight on Saturday.”
In 2013, the year of the “superfight” and new-fashioned division jumping in the UFC, anything is possible.
How possible? A simple, timely text can shake up an entire division for the better part of a year. Ask Ricardo Lamas, who should have been the next featherweight for Jose Aldo if Anthony Pettis, ten pounds and 1,000 decibels his superior, wasn’t the quickest Blackberry draw in the Midwest.
When Dana White got the buzz that night, it played out like this: Merit, shmerit. This game deals in duckets.
Now Pettis-Aldo is slated to take place in far-off August. Jon Jones versus Anderson Silva has been speculated about for New York (or Brazil [or Dallas]) in November (or December), even though Silva is fighting Chris Weidman in July, and Jones has a fight with Chael Sonnen in April. Apparently Sonnen can be looked right past to the “superfight” everybody wants. In fact, Jones/Silva is the only true superfight right now that is super enough to make rational people superstitious. Nobody wants to jinx it, except a couple of pesky wrestlers who stand in their way.
Imagine that: Diaz-Ellenberger is the potential title fight nobody is talking about.
Then there’s UFC lightweight champion Benson Henderson, who is talking about bouncing up to welterweight to face Georges St-Pierre, even though he has a fight with reigning Strikeforce champion Gilbert Melendez this spring, and GSP fights Nick Diaz next weekend.
That idea has since been shot down by White but, what, is Melendez a hologram? It used to be that media and fans were always thinking two steps ahead. Now the fighters are, too? This is fantastic. (I have to admit -- it’s fun to align in such foolish behavior!).
At least the scenarios get simpler from here, so let's look ahead. On March 16, at UFC 158, the welterweights will come into focus. It’s really black and white. The three top fights on the card are 170-pounders. St-Pierre, who we are assured has a dark chamber in his psyche that nobody (especially that inconsiderate Nick Diaz!) can possibly fathom, headlines the event.
All revolves around him beating Diaz. If he defeats Diaz he could fight anyone from Johny Hendricks to Carlos Condit to Jake Ellenberger to Silva, this summer, this fall, or this winter. The line snakes around the block. Hendricks more than deserves the shot, particularly if he beats Condit that same night. He has been deserving for what feels like years. If Hendricks and St-Pierre both win, that fight seems obvious.
In 2011, maybe. In 2013, not so fast.
That’s because people like Silva and Henderson happen to exist. Though Silva is now booked to fight Weidman at UFC 162, he can't help but still hover over St-Pierre in 2013. Now with a new contract, it's possible he courts that St-Pierre fight sooner rather than later. St-Pierre would have to be coaxed into agreeing, of course, which is never a given.
In other words, even if all goes to plan and both GSP and Hendricks win, Hendricks could find himself on the outside looking in. Yet again. If that were the case, maybe Hendricks could fight Rory MacDonald next, who was scrapped from the card when he got injured. He was supposed to face Condit.
And speaking of Condit, he could emerge as a dark horse in the St-Pierre sweepstakes. If he takes care of No. 1 contender Hendricks, he has some ammo. After all, the first fight had that fleeting moment when Condit came unnervingly close. And if Diaz pulls the upset over St-Pierre and somehow makes it out of Montreal in one piece, same thing -- Diaz-Condit II is viable (unless the fight results in a scorecard nightmare and St-Pierre/Diaz II has to be played back immediately). If Condit wins and somebody texts Dana White to jump the line to GSP, you’ve still got the Condit-MacDonald vendetta to sort out. No scenario is without a silver lining.
There are other factors. Ellenberger is on the card fighting Nate Marquardt, who two years after trying to debut at 170 pounds in the UFC finally gets his chance. One of them -- namely Ellenberger -- could factor into this title discussion, too. Much like an 8-7 NFL team heading into the final regular season game in a tight Wild Card race -- Ellenberger is mathematically alive, but needs help. He needs an emphatic showing and some smiling fortune, such as Johny Hendricks losing. The UFC might jump him to the top to avoid rolling back Condit-GSP II too soon in that case (even though Ellenberger lost to Condit narrowly in 2009). Unless Diaz wins, that is, and Condit faces a long medical suspension in victory.
Imagine that: Diaz-Ellenberger is the potential title fight nobody is talking about.
What’s at stake come March 16 in this makeshift welterweight grand prix? Feels like plenty. But in 2013, “what’s at stake” has turned into a versatile question. There is no obvious answer. And if you ask White beforehand, you’re likely to get his go-to response for most things yon: We’ll see what happens.
It’s not the situation Carlos Condit expected to find himself in next month at UFC 158, but he isn’t complaining. Rather, he’s embracing it.
Condit was slated to fight Rory MacDonald in the March 16 co-main event. But MacDonald, who called out Condit on several occasions in hopes of landing a rematch, suffered an injury which forced him to withdraw. UFC officials quickly scrambled to find a replacement for MacDonald. They didn’t have to look far -- consensus top-welterweight contender Johny Hendricks was penciled in to face Jake Ellenberger on the March 16 card in Montreal.
Out goes MacDonald, in comes Hendricks and Condit goes from a good situation to a better one. What a godsend for the former UFC interim 170-pound champion.
“Fighting Johny Hendricks is the perfect opportunity for Carlos to earn another shot at the UFC welterweight title,” Condit’s manager, Malki Kawa, said Monday in a statement. “Hendricks is the perfect replacement for Rory, keeping a No. 1-contender bout intact.
“It’s going to be an exciting fight.”
In his first fight since coming out on the short end of a unanimous decision to lineal welterweight champion Georges St-Pierre during a title unification showdown at UFC 154 on Nov. 17, 2012, Condit is in position to land a title shot sooner than even he could have imagined.
Talk about being in the right place at the right time. In a way, it’s poetic justice: Condit gave St-Pierre a scare, giving him all he could handle. A head kick in the third round had St-Pierre on unsteady legs.
Both fighters had been out of the cage for an extended period, but who knows how that fight would have played out under normal circumstances? It was a very competitive fight, arguably the toughest of St-Pierre’s career.
At the completion of five rounds, however, there was no suspense -- St-Pierre was awarded the decision, and rightfully so. But Condit was able to hold his head high; he’d proven that he belonged in the same cage with one of the best mixed martial artists in history.
Condit spoke to ESPN.com a few weeks after that loss and expressed optimism about his future. He learned from the experience and realized there were several mistakes made during the bout. But he vows to be a much improved fighter the next time around.
“I almost had the fight in the bag,” Condit told ESPN.com in December. “With some adjustments and a few tweaks in my game, I’m going to be able to capitalize on those moments that I had in the last fight.
“I’m fired up. I’m looking to come back with a vengeance.”
Well, next time has arrived.
When Condit spoke in December of "being fired up," he had MacDonald in mind. Condit was eager to face the fast-rising 23-year-old one more time in hopes of silencing him for good. Condit won their first encounter back in June 2010 at UFC 115 by third-round TKO.
But MacDonald has been calling for a rematch since, claiming he was too green the first time around. He raised his campaign rhetoric during the build-up to UFC 154 in Montreal. MacDonald currently resides in Montreal, where he trains with St-Pierre.
Following Condit’s loss to St-Pierre and MacDonald’s dominating win Dec. 8 over BJ Penn, UFC decision-makers quickly worked on putting the rematch together. It came as no surprise that both fighters accepted the UFC’s bout offer.
Condit never turns down a fight, and now that take-on-anyone-anywhere attitude has paid off immensely. As a result of MacDonald’s strenuous training habits, he injured himself in camp.
MacDonald now has to wait a little longer for his coveted rematch, while Condit will compete in a fight that (by all accounts) is a title eliminator.
Condit is a very happy man today. But Condit’s increased enthusiasm is spurred solely by his participating in a possible eliminator; he gets to take on another fighter with a penchant for calling him out.
Condit might have to make a few strategic adjustments for Hendricks, but his motivation needle is jumping all over the place right now. The former interim champion has his swagger back.
“I have been training for Rory MacDonald, but there is plenty of time left to switch my focus to Hendricks,” Condit said Monday. “He’s called me out in the past, and now is his chance to try to back that talk up.
“I’ll be ready for him.”
Listen to him talk about the welterweight title fight between Georges St-Pierre and Nick Diaz on March 16, and you’ll know.
The dialogue starts with their upcoming fight at UFC 158 -- but by the time Hendricks is finished, St-Pierre and Diaz have completed one of the most epic trilogies in UFC history, spanning nearly two years.
“Let’s say Nick Diaz beats GSP [and] there’s a rematch,” Hendricks told ESPN.com. “Diaz holds the belt for six months, so then you’d be at 10 months from my last fight. Then you’re looking at, what if GSP wins but barely beats him? You know the UFC will want to do a third one. Then the winner needs five months to prepare for me, so that’s maybe 20 months.”
You can’t blame Hendricks (14-1), who now fights Carlos Condit at UFC 158 following an injury to Rory MacDonald, for thinking this way. This is the guy who Diaz (26-8) leapfrogged for the title shot, despite losing his last fight.
Count Hendricks among those who were interested in the inaugural UFC rankings, which the promotion released this month. He wasn’t shocked when he saw his name trailing only St-Pierre at 170 pounds.
“[St-Pierre] said he doesn’t think I’m the No. 1 contender,” Hendricks said. “We saw in the UFC rankings that the whole world does.
(St-Pierre) said he doesn't think I'm the No. 1 contender. We saw in the UFC rankings that the whole world does.” -- Johny Hendricks, on his place among the best at welterweight -- at least, in the eyes of the voting media
“It is what it is. I won’t be shocked ever again. The thing is, I know I’m going to have to fight these guys sooner or later. That’s the only reason I’m OK with getting all these fights. Whenever I do get the belt, I’ll already have a win over these guys.”
Hendricks was dealt an interesting hand this week, when news broke MacDonald had been forced out of his fight against Condit.
Condit (28-6) is a bigger name than Hendricks’ originally scheduled opponent, Jake Ellenberger (28-6). Big-name opponents usually represent the quicker path to a title shot.
Hendricks, however, is already widely considered the No. 2-ranked welterweight in the world. So is there much of a difference between a win over Condit and a win over Ellenberger? He believes, “Yes.”
“He was the interim title holder, he just fought GSP,” Hendricks said of his new opponent. “If you go out there and do good against him, they can’t hold anything from you. At that moment, there’s nothing they can take from you.
“If I beat Jake Ellenberger but don’t do it impressively, do I get that title shot? With this fight, as long as I win, that right there is another solidifying moment for me.”
Hendricks wouldn’t go so far as to say Condit is a more difficult fight. For Ellenberger, he had been training for a lot of hooks and takedowns. With Condit, he says he’s done a “180,” preparing for a taller guy with knees, kicks and a ground game.
If you’re wondering whether he hesitated taking the fight, the answer is no. He received a phone call asking to comment on the new matchup before he was even aware MacDonald had pulled out.
At this stage, Hendricks is unafraid of any fight at 170 pounds. There may be that sense of paranoia in his mind, but he also knows no one can deny him forever if he accepts tough fights and comes out on top.
“After this fight, I get my hand raised -- the good Lord willing -- and there’s nothing Georges can do to keep me from fighting him,” Hendricks said. “The only thing he can do is move to 185.”
Then on Dec. 8, MacDonald put on arguably his most impressive performance with a dominating win over BJ Penn. At that point, his craving turned into obsession. There was no suspense; it was clear that MacDonald had won all three rounds en route to a lopsided unanimous decision.
The only question remaining was whether he would request a rematch with Condit during a televised postfight interview. MacDonald didn’t let the suspense linger; after extending his win streak to four, he looked right into the TV camera and demanded a rematch.
Within a week, UFC officials began speaking to MacDonald and Condit about a second meeting -- on March 16 in Montreal. Each fighter has accepted the offer.
Overwhelming a mixed martial arts legend such as Penn can serve to bolster any fighter’s confidence.
Besides, MacDonald has improved in every aspect of his game since that June 12, 2010, third-round knockout loss to Condit at UFC 115.
Now MacDonald gets his wish. He’s a confident young man who is certain this time around the outcome will be very different.
But there is a matter that MacDonald and his handlers better take into account before stepping back in the cage with Condit -- he too is a much improved fighter since June 2010. And he’s not Penn: Condit won’t be physically overmatched.
“I’m a different fighter,” Condit told ESPN.com recently. “I’m a bigger, more physically imposing fighter. I’m in my prime right now. And I can’t say the same for BJ.”
Condit is aware of the beating MacDonald put on Penn, a natural 155-pound fighter. But he isn’t taking away from MacDonald. The fast-rising 170-pound contender has all the tools to defeat any of today’s top welterweights. And it must also be noted that MacDonald gave Condit all he could handle during their initial showdown.
But the confidence MacDonald has exhibited during his current win streak is countered by a hunger that Condit has not had displayed before previous fights.
“I’ve just come off a loss, the biggest fight of my career,” said Condit, the former UFC interim welterweight and WEC titleholder who will bring a record of 28-6 into the Octagon against MacDonald. “I’m fired up. I’m looking to come back with a vengeance.”
Condit has come to grips with his Nov. 17 unanimous decision loss to MacDonald’s training partner -- current welterweight champion Georges St-Pierre -- at UFC 154 in Montreal. But he isn’t hanging his head. Instead, Condit has concluded that the fight was a blessing.
“I proved that I can compete with the best in the world,” Condit said. “I almost had the fight in the bag. With some adjustments and a few tweaks in my game, I’m going to be able to capitalize on those moments that I had in the last fight.
“I think I did a pretty good job. I did the best that I could in preparing for Georges, knowing what I knew. Some things worked and some things didn’t; now we have to go back and refine. After a test like that, I have a lot of information to come back a much better fighter.”
Condit isn’t willing to share any information he garnered from the fight with St-Pierre, but he did say that fighting MacDonald again in Canada is a nonissue.
Their first bout took place in Vancouver, not far from MacDonald’s native town of Quesnel, British Columbia. MacDonald currently trains fulltime at TriStar Gym in Montreal, where he has lived the past two years.
What matters most to Condit is timing. He wants another crack at becoming the UFC’s lineal welterweight champion and a victory over MacDonald (14-1) will get him back in the title conversation. It also will give him a chance to exact his own form of payback on MacDonald.
“I’m also fired up because I was called out on national television [by MacDonald],” Condit said. “I gave him the worst beating of his life. I beat the snot out of him.
“He can come up with all the excuses that he wants; he’s got to fight me again.
“Rory has a lot of hype behind him; people are talking about him. A win over him -- another win over him -- will put me right back in the [welterweight title] mix.”
Cool. That's a fantastic fight. It was that way before UFC 137 -- back when it was on, then off -- and it is now. But today, it's a fantastic fight with all kinds of messy side effects. It's a fantastic fight out of time and place, even if it is very fun to think about.
Diaz is coming off a suspension, a loss, an all-but-forgotten retirement and that pre-UFC 137 bit of insubordination that got him removed from his last chance at St-Pierre. Johny Hendricks is fresh off annihilations of Jon Fitch and Martin Kampmann, with a gritty decision in between over Josh Koscheck.
These things aren't equal. That's why it's complicated.
Hendricks deserves the fight, but he's only deserving. Diaz is alluring, plus three more things: He's a softer letdown from a "superfight" not happening; he's money; and he's Nick Diaz. If he beats St-Pierre, there's no nightmare attached. The same can't be said if the anonymous bearded guy beats St-Pierre. At least not yet.
But let's try to clarify the situation as it stands: Hendricks, the active No. 1 contender in the UFC's welterweight division, joins a growing list of heavy-handed wrestlers who have Octagon control but no control outside the Octagon (along with Dan Henderson at 205 pounds, and Chris Weidman at 185). You know how it looks? Like these fighters are being asked to keep earning title shots until they lose and title shots are no longer available to them. That's a tough swallow.
Then again, these things happen. Chael Sonnen, who hasn't fought at 205 pounds in half a decade and is coming off a definitive loss at 185, is fighting Jon Jones for the title. If that's justifiable, then this is nothing.
All of this started, of course, with Anderson Silva, who called out St-Pierre. We all knew that a "superfight" was going to involve hurt feelings from people near the top of either division. That's the nature of the big inter-division superfights: the backburners need to stay lit while the champions collide. Thing is, the idea of GSP-Silva is massive enough to trump a few slights. Even Hendricks understood that.
GSP-Diaz, though, isn't a superfight. It's a blood fight, one that lots of people -- St-Pierre especially -- are impatient to make happen. Hendricks, and many others, are having a harder time understanding that.
Complicating things further was the fact that White began chirping about GSP-Silva. It was a forgone conclusion that the bout was happening at one of three fancy venues (Cowboys Stadium, the Rogers Centre in Toronto or a big soccer stadium in Brazil). Silva even flew to Montreal to watch St-Pierre defend his 170-pound belt against Carlos Condit at UFC 154, and was shown on a big screen throughout the PPV reacting to every blow. It was a lot of expectation. It was on. It had to be.
Then it wasn't.
St-Pierre won, but afterward didn't seem overly excited for a Silva bout. In fact, he seemed peeved at all the presumption going on around him. Buzzkill. Then he went on vacation to heal and not think about fighting (a fib, because he was clearly thinking about Diaz).
St-Pierre wants Diaz. Silva wants St-Pierre. Diaz wanted Silva (remember that?), but he's cool with St-Pierre. That's straightforward enough. St-Pierre went last, so his vote is newest. He picks Diaz. Diaz isn't Silva, but, with no super-clash with Silva, it's better than Hendricks. He comes equipped with anticipation from the UFC 137 moment that never happened. He comes equipped with unfinished business, which is sellable. Plus, GSP-Diaz isn't a huge departure from GSP-Silva. In fact, GSP-Diaz might be bigger when you factor in the hype and lead-up.
Does any of that make it right? No. But it's not wrong, either.
More importantly, these guys hate each other. Why prolong the inevitable?
Not that any of that matters to Hendricks, who has very politely went about his business of knocking out or beating each guy placed in front of him. This is a raw deal for him. Not to mention a raw deal for people who trust the pecking order. Or for the purists, or those who believe Hendricks is a far scarier challenge to St-Pierre than Diaz.
These people may be right. I tend to think this way, too.
But the UFC was promising GSP-Silva. And when that couldn't be made, it went to the next big thing. And that's GSP-Diaz. With so many promises floating around out there at once, the UFC chose the route of disappointing the least amount of people possible.
Now there's really only one thing left to say about it: Sorry, Johny.
If the opportunity for a rematch with Carlos Condit presents itself, fast-rising welterweight contender Rory MacDonald will leap at it.
MacDonald wants that rematch, and isn’t shy about expressing his sentiment: Condit is the only fighter to beat him inside the Octagon. But don’t take MacDonald’s openness about wanting a rematch with Condit as evidence that he’s failing to focus on matters at hand. He has a fight Saturday night in Seattle with BJ Penn. And MacDonald is 100 percent determined to walk away from the cage that evening victorious.
The only reason he has mentioned Condit’s name over the past several weeks is that people have regularly requested his thoughts on the former UFC 170-pound interim titleholder.
And it is not part of MacDonald’s makeup to avoid answering questions truthfully.
“I answered those questions honestly,” MacDonald told ESPN.com. “I would like to fight Carlos next; that’s my honest answer.
“I completely understand what’s in front of me Saturday night. That is 100 percent my focus: BJ Penn on Dec. 8. I’m just honest with myself and honest with everybody in the media asking me questions. I don’t want to give half-truths or beat around the bush when asked a question.”
Honestly, MacDonald (13-1) knows no other way to communicate. It’s an essential part of his character and has played a major part in his development as a mixed martial artist. MacDonald is just 23 years old, but his age should not be considered when measuring his maturity level. One month before his 21st birthday, MacDonald relocated from Kelowna, British Columbia, to Montreal in 2010.
He traveled across Canada to begin full-time training at TriStar gym. The decision to move was easy for MacDonald; it was made a few days after his first professional loss.
“If you watch that fight, you can see the intensity in my face,” MacDonald said of his first meeting with Condit, a third-round TKO on June 12, 2010, at UFC 112. “And I fought that way. It’s not my style and I paid for it that night. He beat the [crap] out of me.”
As a result of that loss, MacDonald -- being honest -- concluded he needed to make a major change in order to take his career to the next level.
“I’ve had a lot of experiences and I’ve learned from every one of them,” MacDonald said. “That’s made me the person I am today.
“Moving to Montreal was the biggest experience.”
While that decision was easy, MacDonald had been making tough decisions for several years. From the age of 16 he’d been living on his own. He’s an independent thinker, though wise enough to listen to and accept any point of view that might prove beneficial. This formula has served MacDonald well thus far as a professional fighter.
Having one of the best trainers in mixed martial arts, Firas Zahabi, in his corner, and several top fighters for sparring partners -- including UFC welterweight champion Georges St-Pierre -- have helped MacDonald improve in all areas of fighting.
Being honest, an independent thinker, mature beyond his years, confident and physically talented has placed MacDonald on the cusp of MMA greatness. Defeating Condit in a rematch would go a long way toward achieving the high expectations many have for MacDonald, but first he must take care of business Saturday night.
Penn is the most determined he’s been in many years. The former UFC lightweight/welterweight champion is motivated to again have his name mentioned as an all-time MMA great.
And Penn isn’t just offering lip service to promote the bout. He’s in the best shape ever for a 170-pound fight.
“It’s good for him that he respected me enough that he actually worked a little bit and got himself in shape, because he’s going to need it,” MacDonald said.
“At the end of the day I can’t control what type of shape BJ is going to be in or what level of skill he possesses. I can only control myself. If I start worrying or stressing about things I can’t control that’s just going to be a damper or weight on my shoulders that I feel I don’t need.”
That’s just MacDonald being honest again. And it’s another reason why the odds favor him leaving the cage Saturday night with his hand raised.
Condit, who is coming off a unanimous-decision loss to St-Pierre at UFC 154 on Nov. 17, might want to pay close attention to MacDonald on Saturday. The two could be back in the cage for a rematch sometime in 2013.
And next time around, MacDonald won’t be overwhelmed by the moment or an inexperienced fighter inside the Octagon.