Mixed Martial Arts: Johny Hendricks
When Jake Ellenberger and Rory MacDonald step into the Octagon on July 27 in Seattle for the co-main event at UFC on Fox 8, it will be very easy to tell them apart. They’re cut from two very different cloths.
“We’re two different species,” Ellenberger recently told ESPN.com. “He’s a Cro-Magnon; I’m a Neanderthal. We have different bone density, power, pure instinct, savagery.
“He’d be better at painting caves; I’d be better at killing mastodons.”
There is, however, a tie that binds them. Both are highly-ranked contenders in the UFC’s welterweight division.
Ellenberger is ranked fourth by ESPN.com; MacDonald sits at No. 6. UFC.com places Ellenberger fourth, while MacDonald occupies the three-spot.
“The winner of their showdown is likely to land a 170-pound title shot if champion Georges St-Pierre and top contender Johny Hendricks settle their issues in the foreseeable future. But if a St-Pierre-Hendricks fight doesn’t materialize, Ellenberger envisions participating in a welterweight title eliminator.
Everybody in UFC is tough. But I've been building up, especially in my last fight. I have a new boxing coach [Carlos Ruffo] who focuses on my strengths and what I need to do to get better.” -- Jake Ellenberger on his improved boxing skills
“If [St-Pierre] and Hendricks doesn’t happen next, then I think Hendricks and me are going to decide who’s going to be the next No. 1 contender,” Ellenberger said.
In either case, Ellenberger knows his title shot isn’t far away. And when it arrives, he plans to be more than ready to secure the gold.
Since a second-round TKO loss to Martin Kampmann in June 2012 (a bout Ellenberger was in control of before a knee took him down and snapped his six-fight win streak), he has rebounded with two victories in a row. The Kampmann loss still stings, but Ellenberger doesn’t dwell on it.
Instead, that loss serves as motivation. Ellenberger has always worked to improve his fighting techniques. But the man who dons the Octagon these days is a complete fighter.
Because Ellenberger is a physically strong, highly skilled wrestler, no one has controlled him on the ground. But he is now equally dangerous standing.
Ellenberger has settled in as a proficient boxer. His skills in that discipline were on full display during his most recent fight, a first-round knockout of former Strikeforce welterweight champion Nate Marquardt at UFC 158 in March.
“My whole time in UFC has been about working my way up,” Ellenberger said. “It’s the hardest sport to be consistent at. But I’m focused on the big picture.
“Everybody in UFC is tough. But I’ve been building up, especially in my last fight. I have a new boxing coach [Carlos Ruffo] who focuses on my strengths and what I need to do to get better.
“I’m also in Las Vegas from time to time. Actually I’m there quite a bit; I only live about four hours from Vegas. And when I’m there I’m working with [renowned boxing trainer] Jeff Mayweather.”
Not a single stone has gone unturned in Ellenberger’s boxing development -- footwork, head movement, rolling with punches, jabs, you name it. And through it all, Ellenberger has not compromised his wrestling in the least.
Ellenberger has combined wrestling and boxing in a way that has onlookers shaking their heads. By the way, his jiu-jitsu, especially defensively, hasn’t suffered, either. He can accurately be labeled a full-fledged mixed martial artist.
So when Ellenberger speaks of being the Neanderthal to MacDonald’s Cro-Magnon, it’s not a slight at his opponent; it’s the description that best describes the action that will take place on fight night.
“I feel great about the fight,” Ellenberger said. “[MacDonald] is a guy who really motivated me to work harder.”
Ellenberger intends to be the more dominant man inside the cage in Seattle. He intends to put a vicious beating on MacDonald: Whether it’s on the ground or standing doesn’t matter.
When the result is announced, Ellenberger will lift his hands briefly if he wins -- a friendly acknowledgement to the fans -- then turn his attention to claiming the title. Ellenberger is all about becoming UFC welterweight champion. He won’t accept anything less.
The timing is perfect for Ellenberger to realize his goal: His skills are at peak levels, and his confidence couldn’t be stronger. Everything is in place, even his willingness to savagely pummel an opponent inside the cage -- and he possesses the tools to do just that, if need be.
Maybe Ellenberger’s description of himself as a Neanderthal isn’t too far off. But let’s be clear on one thing: Ellenberger remains a highly intelligent fighter. No one is going to catch him by surprise with a knee anymore -- he’s too smart to fall for that again.
“The timing is perfect for me,” Ellenberger said. “I’m in a good place mentally and physically. I couldn't be better.”
St-Pierre (24-2) holds the record for total UFC wins (along with Matt Hughes) at 18 and is second in title defenses with eight. He ranks No. 1 in the UFC in career takedowns, takedown accuracy and total strikes.
From August 2007 to April 2011, St-Pierre won a record 33 consecutive rounds.
Prior to his recent title defense over Nick Diaz at UFC 158, St-Pierre's former manager Stephane Patry penned a column for a Canadian website that outlined St-Pierre's plan of two more fights -- a title defense against Johny Hendricks and a "super fight" against Anderson Silva -- and then retirement.
Whether or not that comes to fruition, ESPN.com decided to speak with some of the brightest minds in the sport on what has fueled St-Pierre's historic career, what it will take to disrupt his success and whether or not he's still at his peak.
"We kind of always knew he would eventually become a champion ... "
Pat Miletich, former UFC champion, longtime trainer, analyst: I used to go up to Tristar Gym years and years ago because my wife is from Montreal. I would teach a bit here and there when those guys were younger. Georges was always very respectful. He actually came into one of my seminars and sat in and watched when I was teaching up there at different spots in Montreal. We kind of always knew he would eventually become a champion. It was just something you could tell. Before Matt [Hughes] even fought him the first time, Matt and I both publicly said in interviews, "Georges is going to be the world champ. Just not yet."
Matt Hume, trainer, matchmaker, ambassador: The moment I recognized he was a very special martial artist was when he did Abu Dhabi (Submission Wrestling championships). He went against a guy named Otto Olsen. Otto Olsen, the first time he did Abu Dhabi, he went all the way to the finals against Marcelo Garcia with only six months training. Otto was great. He got really good at head control and started destroying people. The next Abu Dhabi, his first match was against Georges St-Pierre, who wasn't known as a great grappler, and he beat Otto that day. He shot a double on him, which is something he's very well known for now and escaped what a lot of people call the D'Arce now. Georges' posture on his shots was perfect and his explosiveness and awareness of where his head was when he got to the ground. That was the moment that told me this guy really gets out of his element. He really learns.
Matt Hughes, former UFC champion, went 1-2 in three fights against St-Pierre: Usually when I tie up with somebody, I feel I'm stronger than the other person and with Georges, I can't say I was stronger than him. I'm a big welterweight. I probably cut more weight than Georges does, which you think would give me a strength advantage but I didn't feel I had that advantage against Georges.
Miletich: After the first time Matt fought him and beat him, I asked Matt, "He's pretty strong isn't he?" We were walking through the tunnel back to the locker room and he looked at me and said, "You're damn right he's strong."
Hughes: I don't think he's a great wrestler. I think if you put him on a wrestling mat against Josh Koscheck, Josh would beat him up. What Georges does so well is mixes everything up and camouflages his takedowns with his striking. When you're out there against Georges, you don't know if he's going to kick, punch, close the distance and gets his hands on you or take a shot. He's pretty one-dimensional on the ground. You don't see him going for many submissions. He is really there to keep people down. But he's effective at his striking. He likes to stand up in people's guard and that gives him power in his punches. But his No. 1 thing is to keep people down.
Marc Laimon, grappling coach, trains Hendricks: One of my black belts and I were talking about this and he was saying St-Pierre kind of reminds him of a guy who pushes to half-guard, does enough to get the advantage to win and stalls the rest of the match. Against Nick Diaz, for somebody to talk so much trash, I didn't see that killer instinct. I saw a guy win and stay busy and active and do enough to win, but not a scary, killer, bloodthirsty guy wanting to kill you. I see a pro athlete doing his job very well.
Mark Munoz, UFC middleweight, NCAA wrestling champion: Pure wrestling is a totally different sport than MMA wrestling. In MMA wrestling, you can't shoot to your knees anymore. If you shoot to your knees, you're being stopped because there's too much distance to cover when you change levels. You've just got to explode and run through them in a power double and that's what Georges St-Pierre does. He is such a gifted athlete at first-step explosion and he's got long arms.
Hughes: He does everything pretty well. His lead strike, I believe, is his left leg. Usually, it's people's rear leg but I figured out real quick his left leg in the front of his stance is what he has all his power with.
Hume (on St-Pierre's intimidation factor): It's not the same extent as [an Anderson Silva.] Anderson put Rich Franklin's nose on the other side of his face and what he did to Forrest Griffin, making him miss the punches and dropping him with the jab -- it's the striking aspects, getting the bones broke in your face from an unprotected knee bone, those things scare people. I think with Georges, people don't look at him the same way as Anderson. They see it more as, "I don't know how to beat this guy." Not so much, "This guy is really going to hurt me bad."
Laimon: He still does things very well. The timing on his double leg is impeccable. He's still very fun to watch but when he was going for the title and he murdered [Frank] Trigg and murdered Hughes -- oh man. That guy is a killer and I don't see that guy anymore.
"What's going to beat Georges, is a hit ... "
Munoz: The guy that beats St-Pierre is the guy that is able to counter the jab. Able to circle, have good footwork, and counter while moving his feet. Not countering in front of him, because that's where GSP is able to capitalize -- when he jabs or throws punches, the other guy counter punches and then he drops down and shoots.
Miletich: You have to take him out of his comfort zone. It's not like there are a lot of guys out there who are going to take him down and submit him, but a guy who can actually take Georges down and make him nervous on his back a little bit is certainly going to help. In terms of striking, guys that use feints and fakes very well and they've got to be able to do that better than him. When somebody is throwing feints and fakes at you, they're trying to make you guess on what's real and what's not. When you're not able to do that (as good as St-Pierre), he is sticking you with the jab. Then he's able to progressively chips away at you because he feints the jab and throws the cross. Then feints the cross and throws the hook. It goes a lot deeper than that, but a guy who can do that better than Georges and throw it back in his face and has the power to hurt him standing, plus the technique to take him down, is pretty much what it's going to take.
Hughes: That's a very easy question for me to answer. What's going to beat Georges is a hit. You can tell it in the way he fights. He does not want to get hit. You see what happens when he gets hit. Any big hit is going to hurt Georges. My speculation would be that Georges has been hit in practice and he don't like it. This is all my speculation -- that he's been hit, knows his body doesn't like it and he's not going to get hit anymore.
"Johny is a different breed of cat ..."
Munoz: St-Pierre is not going to want it to be a brawl. He's going to want to execute that jab, circle around him, stop shots, drag behind him and take his back. I don't think he's going to be able to hold Johny down. Everybody who wrestled him [in college] had trouble holding him down. What you're going to see Johny do is knee slide -- which is, shoot his knee forward and stand up to his feet. He's not going to stay turtled up. He's going to hand fight, look for wrist control and get up.
Hughes: Being the best wrestler doesn't mean that Georges can't take him down. He disguises things so well that he can get in on somebody by throwing punches, but Georges is going to have to work for it. He's going to have to spend more energy and that's a good thing in a fight -- to make somebody spend energy and take punishment along the way. I think if you look at who Georges has fought, Johny is a bad matchup compared to everybody else.
Laimon: I really think I've got a guy who matches up very well with him and is going to present problems. Johny is a different breed of cat. He operates on a different frequency. He's hungry and I think Georges is ripe for the picking. I think Johny Hendricks is coming into his prime and I see St-Pierre as an unbelievable LaDainian Tomlinson-type guy who is kind of at the [New York] Jets now. He was so dominant, the premiere guy, but if you look recently ... how many guys defend his takedowns? How many guys have been able to get back to his feet? Every time I see Georges, his face is busted up. These guys are putting their hands on him. Georges is hittable and being hittable against a guy like Johny Hendricks isn't good.
"I actually think the [Silva] fight will be pretty close ..."
Hume: Anybody who stands with Anderson is risking what he does to everybody. Anderson has been taken down. He's been mounted. He has been armbarred, but he has survived those things. He has a great ground game, too. Georges has great takedowns. He knows how to put people at their weakness. If you're going to try and fight Anderson at his weakness, it's going to have to be on his back.
Munoz: I think it's a bad matchup for Georges. Anderson is a big 185-pounder. I wouldn't say St-Pierre is a big welterweight. I've seen Anderson upwards of 215 pounds. At the same time, St-Pierre has double leg takedowns, which Anderson has trouble defending at times. I would give Anderson the nod because of his movement on his feet, elusiveness and precise punching.
Miletich: Georges is not going to win that standup fight at all. Anderson will shut down his feints. The victory is going to lie in Georges' ability to take down Anderson, which I think he certainly can. He could take him down and control him all five rounds because he's strong enough to do it. Anderson's takedown defense has gotten better over the years, but I still think Georges could take him down.
UFC president Dana White told reporters on Thursday he’ll talk to welterweight champion Georges St-Pierre soon. The two haven’t spoken since St-Pierre recorded his eighth consecutive title defense over Nick Diaz at UFC 158 last month.
Expectations have been that St-Pierre (24-4) would face Hendricks (15-1) later this year, but White said that bout would go on hold should St-Pierre express interest in a long-anticipated, lucrative superfight with middleweight champ Anderson Silva.
“I am literally going to call Georges St-Pierre today and see what he wants to do,” White said.
“If Georges says to me, ‘I want to fight Anderson Silva,’ you think I’m going to go, ‘No, you’re not. You’re fighting Johny Hendricks’?”
Silva (33-4) is scheduled to defend his 185-pound title against Chris Weidman at UFC 162 in July. In yet another superfight wrinkle, light heavyweight champion Jon Jones will defend his title against Chael Sonnen at UFC 159 next week in Newark.
White said he’s interested in any fight that involves two of the three champions, saying if both St-Pierre and Jones wanted Silva, “that’s a good problem to have.”
Hendricks would be the clear loser if St-Pierre opts to fight Silva next. The former collegiate wrestler is on a six-fight win streak and was already leapfrogged earlier this year by Diaz, who was coming off a drug suspension.
White said St-Pierre would not vacate the 170-pound title if he took the Silva fight, meaning Hendricks would have to wait or accept another fight.
“If [St-Pierre] lost, he could still go back down and fight Hendricks for the title.”
Mitrione fined, suspended -- but forgiven
UFC heavyweight Matt Mitrione has been fined an undisclosed amount and remains suspended for comments made last week regarding transgender fighter Fallon Fox.
The UFC quickly suspended Mitrione following an appearance on “The MMA Hour,” where he referred to Fox as a “freak.” Fox is scheduled for her third pro fight in May.
Mitrione (6-2), who defeated Philip De Fries via first-round knockout earlier this month, spoke with UFC president Dana White following the incident and took responsibility for his actions -- but there is no timetable for his return.
“It’s up to us,” White said regarding Mitrione’s suspension. “I’m not mad at Mitrione. He did something stupid. He knows he didn’t handle it the right way.
“I’m sure he wants to know [when he’ll fight again]. We’ll let him know when we decide. He was fined, too. Enough to make him call me three times.”
• A Brazilian fan attacked UFC light heavyweight Chael Sonnen during an event last weekend in Las Vegas, according to White.
Sonnen, who challenges Jon Jones for the 205-pound title next week at UFC 159, was in Las Vegas to attend "The Ultimate Fighter" finale at Mandalay Bay Events Center. According to White, he was involved in a minor scuffle during the show.
“I don’t know if any of you guys saw this, but he was there shaking hands with fans and one guy says, ‘Chael! Chael!” White said. “Chael goes over there and the guy started swinging at him, trying to punch him. The guy goes, ‘I’m from Brazil!'”
Sonnen (27-12-1) was involved in a heated rivalry with Brazilian middleweight champ Anderson Silva from 2010 to 2012. He went 0-2 in two fights against him.
• Whether his teammate claims the UFC lightweight title on Saturday or not, Nate Diaz says he’s moving back to 170 pounds.
Diaz (16-8) meets lightweight Josh Thomson on Saturday. His teammate, Gilbert Melendez, will look to dethrone champion Ben Henderson in the night’s main event.
Regardless of the outcome of either fight, Diaz says he intends to move back to welterweight, where he compiled a 2-2 record from 2010 to 2011.
“I already fought everybody at lightweight,” Diaz said. “I don’t think there is anything for me in the lightweight division. I already beat everybody or fought everybody. The only person who beat me was Ben. What, I’m going to sit around and fight all the same guys again? That’s boring. There’s no motivation in that.”
• Strikeforce Heavyweight Grand Prix winner Daniel Cormier still wants to fight UFC light heavyweight champion Jon Jones -- just maybe not as soon as he once thought.
Cormier (11-1) faces arguably the biggest challenge of his career on Saturday as he takes on former UFC heavyweight champion Frank Mir in the night’s co-main event.
The former U.S. Olympic wrestler has been quietly shedding weight for a potential trip to the 205-pound division. Cormier’s teammate, Cain Velasquez, currently holds the UFC heavyweight title.
Cormier has publicly expressed interest in fighting Jones previously, but now says he’d probably want a test fight at 205 pounds first. The 34-year-old experienced kidney failure while cutting weight in 2008 but is confident he can make 205.
“At first, I was so emotionally tied to [fighting Jones],” Cormier said. “I’ve thought about it, and I wouldn’t be opposed to fighting one time down there just to see how my body reacts to the weight cut. It would be very difficult to fight him in my first fight, a five-round fight.
“What if I get in a fight and I can’t do anything but wrestle because my arms are tired and my body isn’t responding to the weight cut? I don’t want that guy to be Jon Jones. Seriously, can you imagine standing in with him and not feeling your best?”
En route to arguably the most complete performance of his career, St-Pierre stalled Diaz’s vaunted boxing with sharp counters and slick movement, tortured him with relentless takedowns and rendered his black belt-level Brazilian jiu-jitsu all but nonexistent. It was yet another in a long line of blowouts from the 31-year-old welterweight champion, and it was so lopsided that it plummeted members of the Diaz camp into fits of paranoia, claiming there had to be spies in their midst.
Because, yeah, that was the problem.
Jonathan Ferrey/Zuffa LLC/Getty ImagesDoes Georges St-Pierre's dominance make it that much harder to appreciate his talent?
The victory pushed St-Pierre to 24-2 overall, marked his 20th appearance inside the Octagon and extended his five-and-a-half-year win streak to 11 fights. It also further underscored the notion that he’s solved the grueling, complex riddle that is MMA competition as well as anyone in the sport’s short history.
The overwhelming response from the masses? At best, an indifferent shrug. At worst, well, let’s just say St-Pierre’s sixth consecutive unanimous decision win -- a stretch during which he's lost just three of 30 rounds on the official scorecards -- only provided more ammunition for critics who say he’s grown overly conservative. Tedious, even.
“GSP couldn’t submit a girl,” one reader on ESPN.com commented roughly 24 hours after UFC 158 wrapped.
“Wrestlers are ruining the marketability of this sport,” lamented another later in the week.
And another: “The Ultimate FIGHTING Championship should change its name to The Ultimate WRESTLING Championship if it is going to continue to show this garbage.”
Sound familiar? Responses like this are certainly not a new phenomenon. Seemingly every time St-Pierre makes another of the best 170-pound fighters in the world look downright helpless for 25 straight minutes and then walks out with a new notch on his championship belt, we hear the same refrain.
It’s difficult to think of another figure in any sport who has been as dominant for as long as St-Pierre and still so often has his tactics lambasted in the court of public opinion. It’d be a little like basketball fans of the 1950 and '60s constantly ragging on Wilt Chamberlain for shooting so many layups. Or college football fans threatening to give up on the sport if Bear Bryant didn’t stop winning national championships running the option.
Of course, we’re all entitled to our opinions, and people who shell out $50-plus for UFC pay-per-view events ought to have their voices heard. Still, too often the bellyaching distracts us from the larger truth: We may never again see a fighter dominate the landscape of the welterweight division with the same ease, poise or grace.
Now that he’s pushing into his 30s, on the heels of major knee surgery and with a brand new crop of contenders breathing down his neck, perhaps it’s time we started showing GSP a little love. You know, lest one day we wake up and realize we didn’t know what we had until he was gone.
If you come to MMA looking for blood and guts, St-Pierre’s style may leave you unmoved, but you have no choice but to recognize its effectiveness. On the other hand, if you like skill, determination and strategy, you can’t help but feel a little awed. Contrary to what his detractors might say, it’s a style that embodies the very qualities that make this sport great: The diverse, nuanced action, the need for constant evolution and the idea that mental acuity is as important as physical force (also, that having both doesn’t hurt).
Later this year, when he defends his title for the ninth time against the dangerous Johny Hendricks, the American will likely be the fashionable pick to bring St-Pierre’s historic run to a screeching halt. Some people will no doubt cheer that, if it comes to pass. Please excuse the rest of us if we pull on our “Karate Kid” headbands and perform a few silent crane kicks to mourn the end of an era.
Until then, my advice to the haters? Get on the bandwagon. Drink the Kool-Aid. Learn to like St-Pierre while we still have him. Who knows, someday you might just miss him.
By the time the smoke cleared, and Georges St-Pierre was eating pizza off the floor in celebration of his eighth title defense, Nick Diaz became MMA’s equivalent of the “boy who cried wolf (tickets).” He told Joe Rogan after the fight that he was through. Done. Kaplooey. Giving up the racket. Just like he did after his loss to Carlos Condit at UFC 143.
Nobody believed him. Just like we didn’t after his loss to Condit. The difference this time was his change of heart happened quicker. Much quicker. Half an hour after retiring, Diaz was requesting a rematch with St-Pierre (using expletives for emphasis) in the bowels of Montreal’s Bell Centre. One minute he’s done, the next he’s not. You never know with Diaz (although you always know).
There are hurdles to this fantasy rematch that will never happen. His tests need to come back clean, something Diaz himself isn’t so sure about. Those metabolites can be hostile tenants. And he needs to pay his taxes. Even unpamapered fighters who have the burden of tweeting their own tweets have to pay their taxes. Uncle Sam doesn’t care about your geography.
Beyond the usual Diaz histrionics, the three focus-point fights of UFC 158 played out more or less predictably. St-Pierre continued to dominate, Johny Hendricks defended his No. 1 contender status a third time, and Jake Ellenberger continued lighting people up like a showroom gala. "People," in this case, being Nate Marquardt.
FIVE QUESTIONS ANSWERED
A: Turns out, no. Not really. Sometimes, but not often. And though Diaz was actively searching, he wasn’t particularly dangerous off his back, either. He was just on his back. And while there he was fending off incoming elbows, hammerfists and knees. Just the same as the noble optimistic fighters who went before him (Condit, Hardy, Alves, Penn, Shields). The thing is, once you get taken down by GSP, there is no takeup.
Q: Can St-Pierre get a finish?
A: All week the talk was “is Diaz in St-Pierre’s head?” If he was, surely he’d have needed a headlamp to find his way through the dark places. And as it turns out, St-Pierre treats people who get in his head the exact same way he treats people who have no in with his psyche. He dominates them thoroughly. (The answer to the question is: This isn’t 2006! Stop living in the past).
Q: Does Hendricks get the next title shot with a win?
A: At this point, if St-Pierre came out on record saying he’d like to fight Anderson Silva next -- even though Silva has a fight with Chris Weidman in July, meaning St-Pierre’s fight would be somewhere in the vicinity of November -- this would be the ultimate compliment to Hendricks. Problem is, it would feel like another slap across the bearded fellow’s face. Hendricks should be next. Under any meritocracy he should be. Should is a funny word, though. So is “merit,” which sometimes in the UFC means “LOL.”
Q: Can Diaz win a decision in Montreal?
A: Turns out Montreal had less to do with it than the tyranny he was facing with the wrestling skills. Remember when we were wondering if St-Pierre might be tempted into a dogfight with Diaz out of anger? Let me tell you something: Anger gets locked away in St-Pierre’s dark place come fight night. From cageside you could hear it banging and screaming to get out, but he is a strict disciplinarian. He just ignored it.
Q: What happens if Ellenberger/Marquardt goes to the second round?
A: We’ll never know because Ellenberger will be throwing them bombs, baby! Marquardt was hit with a mean combo in the first round and down he went. He surfaced a few moments later to protest the stoppage, but as Bellator’s Jimmy Smith pointed out on Twitter, “if somebody tells you ‘you were knocked out,’ you should generally take their word for it in my experience.” We were all witnesses, Nate.
FIVE NEW STORYLINES
Hendricks did everything he said he wanted to do. He threw his left hand early and often, and he connected plenty. He took Condit down and worked his ground and pound. He tied up, dirty boxed, and used his horsepower. And yet no matter what he did, Condit kept moving forward. Condit kept coming. Condit wouldn’t be put away. Condit is the spirit of the fight game.
Diaz and his taxes
Out of all the bizarre things that happened this week in Montreal centered on Nick Diaz (from his “wolf tickets” rant to the St-Pierre steroid allegations), his admission that he has never paid taxes in his life was startling. Does he wind up in jail? The future always looks like a minefield when talking about Diaz.
Ellenberger as a contender In the past three years, Ellenberger has lost once. And even in that one (a TKO loss to Martin Kampmann) he was dominating early but didn’t get the job done. If Hendricks’ injured left hand ends up sidelining him for a long period of time, it’s possible Ellenberger gets the call to see St-Pierre next. Nobody can question his credentials: 8-1 in his past nine fights, with five finishes.
MacDonald can still get his wish
Condit won’t be fighting for the title next, which means Rory MacDonald can still get his shot to avenge his only professional loss when he comes back from injury. That is, if the UFC still wants that. MacDonald is on a northbound surge up the welterweight rankings, and Condit has lost two in a row.
It’s Hendricks’ time
It’s either give Hendricks a title shot, or let him continue wrecking every contender coming up the ranks. In fact, if the UFC gives St-Pierre anybody other than Hendricks at this point, Hendricks should demand a fight with MacDonald to (A) take out a teammate of St-Pierre’s and (B) punish the UFC by batting back a hot prospect.
UFC 158 STOCK REPORTTrending Up
Ellenberger: He loves Canada. Last time he fought in Canada, it was against Sean Pierson at UFC 129. He blasted right through Ontario’s native son. This time it was veteran Marquardt who was on the wrong end of Ellenberger’s furious first-round volley. How would a fight between him and Hendricks play out? Dude.
Chris Camozzi: It was tougher than he wanted it to be, and he didn’t finish Nick Ring, but the Colorado fighter eked out his fourth consecutive victory. It might be time to test himself against a top-10 middleweight.
Darren Elkins: Somebody dubbed him the “anonymous contender.” That pretty much sums it up. He’s won five in a row at featherweight.
Marquardt: The loss to Tarec Saffiedine in his first title defense/last Strikeforce fight hurt more than this one. But the fact is that Marquardt is almost 34 years old and is riding a two-fight losing streak. Another loss in the division, and he might be out of the UFC.
Dan Miller: For as much as he’s a warrior (both in and outside of the cage), Miller has lost three of four. The loss to Jordan Mein hurts, too. He looked good from the gate, but things went south in a hurry when the armbar attempt came up empty.
Next for Ellenberger? Demian Maia. Two guys on the verge of something who would put on a great show.
Next for Condit? At last, that rematch with MacDonald.
Next for Camozzi? To paraphrase Goethe, “Be bold, and Wanderlei Silva will come to your aid.”
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.
Ross Dettman for ESPNJohny Hendricks' showing against Carlos Condit proved he's worthy of challenging for the welterweight title.
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?
Ross Dettman for ESPNIt's highly unlikely Nick Diaz gets a rematch with Georges St-Pierre -- at least any time soon.
“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
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.
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?
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?
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
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.
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.
Josh Hedges/Zuffa LLC/Getty ImagesJohny Hendricks has about as much to gain as he stands to lose against Carlos Condit.
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.
Ross Dettman for ESPN.comJake Ellenberger, left, feels he has the chops to take out Johny Hendricks.
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.
Ed Mulholland for ESPNCarlos Condit proved he can hang with the UFC's elite by pushing Georges St-Pierre for all five rounds.
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.”
If 2012 can be summarized by the fights we didn’t see, let’s put our positive thinking to good use and say the opposite will hold true in 2013.
The UFC sent an electronic Christmas card to its employees last month that pretty much summed up the year. An animated Dana White gets a phone call from Santa, to tell him Christmas is canceled. Rudolph has a bad knee.
That’s funny -- and kind of depressing. Nearly every UFC champ spent time on the DL last year. An entire card was canceled for the first time, due to injury. Another event lost its main and co-main on the same day. Lightweight Tim Means withdrew from a bout at the last minute when he slipped in a sauna, for crying out loud.
As we all tend to say about our own lives this time of year, change is coming in the next 365 days. This year will be about the fights we see, and there are a lot of good ones to get to. Here are 10 unannounced fights I’d like to witness in 2013.
No. 10: Lightweights Jim Miller (22-4) vs. Josh Thomson (19-5)
Everyone is sleeping on Thomson. Basically ignored in the “Strikeforce to UFC” talk. Hey guys, Thomson is really good. He sticks his foot in his mouth sometimes, and the last time he was in the UFC, this happened, but he performs and he’s underrated heading into 2013. Miller is pure aggression. Thomson isn’t afraid to exchange but he has finesse to his game as well. This would be Fight of the Night material.
Chances we’ll see it: moderate. These guys possess fairly level skill sets, but Thomson might have to catch up in the rankings a little to make the fight.
No. 9: Featherweights Erik Koch (13-1) vs. Cub Swanson (18-5)
I’m a big believer in both of these guys and actually remember when it happened. Koch hit his peak in that decision over Jonathan Brookins, which you have to go all the way back to September 2011 to find. UFC officials must have felt similarly because they booked him to a title fight off that performance. For Swanson, I actually got on the bandwagon during a loss. He got into a game of chicken with Ricardo Lamas at the first UFC on Fox card, each of them trying to one-up the other with flashy, unorthodox moves. Swanson is the kind of guy who just looks different when he’s in the zone. Both are finishers.
Chances we’ll see it: high. I think they each start the year with a win. Swanson over Dennis Siver and Koch over Lamas.
No. 8: Welterweights Carlos Condit (28-6) vs. Erick Silva (14-3)
Too soon? Maybe, but Silva held his own against Jon Fitch, and this would be a vastly different fight, stylistically. We’ve seen Silva against back-to-back wrestlers now: Fitch and Charlie Brenneman. He didn’t pass both tests, but he didn’t completely fail them, either. He’s the real deal. Book this as a co-main late in the year? You’d watch.
Chances we’ll see it: moderate. Will depend on Silva. He needs to keep winning.
No. 7: Middleweights Chris Weidman (9-0) vs. Luke Rockhold (10-1)
Right or wrong, if you’re Luke Rockhold, isn’t this the first fight you want in the UFC if Anderson Silva is off the table? What a frustrating year this guy had. Only two fights, one of them against Keith Jardine. (Keith Jardine!) The only storyline Rockhold could manage at the end of the year was a bit of trash talk with Lorenz Larkin? Man. Meanwhile, Weidman -- same age, nearly same record -- fought on Fox, headlined his first UFC card and accumulated twice as many Twitter followers. Rockhold’s got reason to be bitter heading into this fight, and I’d love to see what happens.
Chances we’ll see it: very high. If Michael Bisping is next for Silva, why not book this one immediately? I could see these two fighting multiple times down the road.
No. 6: Lightweights Ben Henderson (18-2) vs. Donald Cerrone (19-4)
I’m still disappointed with how the second fight went, and that was more than two years ago. There I was, all giddy on press row at WEC 48 in Sacramento, fresh off watching Leonard Garcia/Chan Sung Jung I on the undercard and thinking the Henderson/Cerrone rematch was going to be even better. Then Henderson won in 1:57 of the first round with a ho-hum guillotine. I can’t see Cerrone going down that easily in a trilogy fight.
Chances we’ll see it: moderate. Cerrone has to beat Anthony Pettis later this month, because if this fight does happen, it mostly likely has to be for a title.
No. 5: Lightweights BJ Penn (16-9) vs. Joe Lauzon (22-8)
This one caught you off-guard, didn’t it? I really do believe Penn can still fight, and if I had to guess, I think he still wants to fight. This absolutely has to be at 155, though. If it’s not at lightweight, I don’t want to see Penn at all. In his return to the division, you can’t get crazy and put him against a top-5 guy. Enter Lauzon, a reliable Fight of the Night machine who won’t spend rounds latched onto a single leg takedown. This fight gets Penn to 155 and gets Lauzon motivated off a loss.
Chances we’ll see it: low, unfortunately. Not sure if Penn is willing to drop to 155, and even if he does, I don’t see him fighting anytime soon.
No. 4: Welterweights Georges St-Pierre (23-2) vs. Johny Hendricks (14-1)
About three years ago, I was casually talking with Hendricks at a Las Vegas gym about how he’d go about fighting St-Pierre. I can still remember his exact words. He said he’d strap on a singlet and treat it like a pure wrestling match. Now, clearly a lot has changed since then, but there’s an interesting point to take. Hendricks is so confident in his wrestling that he believed he could beat St-Pierre even back then, before he really developed this striking game we’ve seen. If you were to create a welterweight in the lab to beat St-Pierre, wouldn’t he look like Hendricks? Relatively equal wrestling skills with an iron chin, knockout power and loads of confidence.
Chances we’ll see it: very high. They both win in March then fight in July.
No. 3: Bantamweights Ronda Rousey (6-0) vs. Cristiane Santos (10-1)
Respectfully, this is the only fight in women’s MMA that matters until it happens. Let me be clear, I’m not saying it’s the only good fight or the only matchup worthy of our attention. What I’m saying is that like it or not, any female fight that’s not Rousey vs. Santos will only exist in the shadow of Rousey vs. Santos. The UFC knows this and it will do everything it can to make that fight next.
Chances we’ll see it: very high. Has to happen.
No. 2: Heavyweights Cain Velasquez (11-1) vs. Jon Jones (17-1)
Not to be a prisoner of the moment here, but isn't it easy to envision Velasquez simply overwhelming Jones right now? I have two images of Velasquez in my head. The first one is pretty specific. After he knocked out Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira, he had a line of blood running from the bridge of his nose to his chin. His natural first reaction was to wipe the blood with his fingers, lick it off and spit it out again. Now, we’ve seen that before, but usually it’s for show. Velasquez doing it was more genuine and, quite frankly, a bit frightening. The next image is a broad one, basically him going about carving Antonio Silva’s face up with elbows as though he was baking a cake. This guy is part machine, part animal in the cage. You think Jones is going to be able to circle and keep that inner chi thing he does when he’s locked in the cage with a wild animal? I kind of don’t.
Chances we’ll see it: not good. Jones doesn’t need to go to heavyweight yet. Why would he? There are still title defenses for him, as well as a potential fight with the middleweight champ. Maybe we’ll see this in 2014.
No. 1: Jon Jones (17-1) vs. Anderson Silva (33-4)
Pretty simple. They are the No. 1- and No. 2-ranked fighters in the world. The longer it takes to make the fight, the less appealing it gets as Silva gets older and Jones gets better. Funny, in a way, the matchup could produce a miserable fight. What if Jones takes Silva down in the first two minutes and spends the rest of the round slicing him up with those razor blades he calls elbows? Could definitely happen. Silva has fought 14 different opponents in the UFC, though, and figured out how to beat every one of them. The feeling I get, at least right now, is he’d figure Jones out, too.
Chances we’ll see it: high. Makes more sense than Jones moving up in weight, and Silva is close to cleaning out 185 pounds.