MMA: Colin Fletcher

GSP's mindset, Ellenberger's chances, more

March, 14, 2013
3/14/13
5:55
AM ET
Mindenhall By Chuck Mindenhall
ESPN.com
Archive
What exactly is Georges St-Pierre's "dark place"? It has become a hashtag on Twitter for one thing -- an unlit place where St-Pierre himself never goes. Leading up to this weekend's fight with Nick Diaz at UFC 158 in Montreal, the UFC ran a slick promo package with St-Pierre cautioning Diaz about an unfathomable self within. This would have passed off as normal PPV shtick if emotions didn't turn so raw in the media call last week.

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

[+] EnlargeDarren Elkins
Ed Mulholland for ESPN.comWith a 4-0 mark since making the move to featherweight, Darren Elkins is in search of an exclamation mark against Antonio Carvalho.
Darren Elkins wasn't a slouch as a lightweight, going 1-1 before dropping down to 145 pounds -- but he has been gangbusters since losing that weight. Elkins is 4-0 as a feather (even if you eye the Michihiro Omigawa decision somewhat suspiciously). If there's a knock, it's that all of his wins have come via decision. An exclamation point finish over Antonio Carvalho would do wonders.

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.

FIVE QUESTIONS

Can Diaz get back up?

[+] EnlargeNick Diaz
AP Photo/Eric JamisonIt's not secret that Nick Diaz, right, is comfortable trading punches on his feet. But how will Diaz fare once Georges St-Pierre takes him to the ground?
We've seen optimism from everybody St-Pierre has faced going back to Jon Fitch. They all talk about staying off their backs, and then end up staring at the Octagon lights for five rounds (except for Josh Koscheck and Jake Shields, who couldn't see anything past the jabs crashing into their sockets). Diaz isn't known for thwarting bull rushes. But he is known to be crafty on the ground and in scrambles. Can he get back up? Aha! That's the question. Crazier, can he reverse St-Pierre and submit him on the ground?

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

[+] EnlargeGeorge Roop
Mark J. Rebilas for ESPN.comGeorge Roop, right, enters his UFC 158 bout against Reuben Duran hoping to ensure job security by avoiding a third straight loss.
George Roop -- Granted, losing to Hatsu Hioki (narrowly) and Cub Swanson (definitively) isn't all that bad. But a third loss in a row, against Reuben Duran (1-2 in the UFC), just as the UFC is tidying up its roster? Not good.

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.

Mike Ricci on TUF Finale, lightweight return

March, 12, 2013
3/12/13
12:26
PM ET
Okamoto By Brett Okamoto
ESPN.com
Archive
Colton SmithAl Powers for ESPN.com Mike Ricci is happy to be back down to 155 after a season at welterweight on "The Ultimate Fighter."
Canadian lightweight Mike Ricci is in for some night on March 16.

In the span of about six years, Ricci has gone from a novice martial artist learning Kung Fu out of books to a meeting with Colin Fletcher on the main card of UFC 158.

The event takes place in his hometown of Montreal. Several of his Tristar Gym teammates are on the card, including welterweight champion Georges St-Pierre.

"It's going to be a moment I'll never forget, right?" Ricci told ESPN.com. "These are definitely the ones that matter -- the ones you'll always remember."

Ricci, 26, has traveled an interesting path.

It truly began when he met trainer Firas Zahabi at Tristar, about six months after he'd been training himself and attending random classes. He drove to the Montreal suburbs to attend a class taught by St-Pierre, who he knew little about at the time.

"I heard 'GSP,' who is this GSP guy?" Ricci said. "I heard he was teaching classes so I drove over to a small gym in South Shore, which is like country area, and trained with him. That was the first time I met Georges."

Ricci compiled a 5-0 record to start his career, suffered a brutal knockout loss to current Bellator featherweight champion Pat Curran in 2010, nearly retired, then eventually earned a roster spot on the 16th season of "The Ultimate Fighter."

Things were far from easy on Ricci once he got into the TUF house. In addition to the social strains the show has on contestants, the season featured welterweights -- meaning Ricci was fighting up a weight class.

"It was short notice," said Ricci. "I didn't have time to effectively gain weight. I could have ballooned up, but I didn't think it would be beneficial. My first fight at welterweight I won by TKO. Dropping a guy that size, I thought, 'Wow. I can hurt guys at this weight.' It gave me a boost of confidence right from the go."

Ricci went on to win all three of his fights in the house and advanced to the finals against Colton Smith in December. Given the very difficult time he had in the house, it almost seemed fitting something would go wrong in the finale.

Seven weeks prior to the fight, Ricci suffered a knee injury that would significantly shorten his camp. Colton smothered him throughout three rounds for the decision.

"When I went back home [from the TUF house], I really should have taken a break," Ricci said. "I ended up tearing my LCL in my knee. I was on the sideline for four weeks. I was ill-prepared. It probably would have been best to back out. Right away [in the fight] I thought, 'I'm in deep water. This guy is prepared. He has a good strategy.'"

Ricci is back where he wants to be this month, at 155 pounds. The opportunity to fight in his hometown in the packed Bell Centre is, in some ways, the reward for the path he's traveled, but hopefully the start of a new one, too.

"In my case, I feel I've improved by fighting at 170 pounds," Ricci said. "Adjusting to that different level of power and what not, it really taught me how to be a different fighter."

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