Puzzled: With the Welterweight Title Picture Scrambled, All the Pieces Have To Fall Into Place At UFC 158

By Raphael Garcia

For a long time it has been apparent that the Ultimate Fighting Championship does not use “rankings” when deciding which fights to place its fighters in. The promotion doesn’t use such a direct method when it determines title challengers, and in a sense, their view is understandable. However, the fans still make their voices heard when matchups like those recently announced for UFC 158 are made. Even if you don’t agree with who is facing who, there is a reason the UFC has set up these fights.

UFC 158 is set for March 14 from the Bell Centre in Montreal, Quebec. At the top of the billing, the plan is for Nick Diaz to get his shot at Georges St. Pierre’s welterweight title. A redo of their proposed 2011 fight, the response from fans and media has been interesting, as many feel that Diaz does not deserve this position. The Stockton native is not only coming off of a February loss to Carlos Condit at UFC 143, but he’s also returning to the sport after a 12-month suspension for a failed pre-fight drug test. He’s already the third fighter coming off of a loss to be announced for a title fight in 2013, but his placement seems to be the most upsetting of the three.

The reason for this outrage is that there is an individual by the name of Johny Hendricks who many people feel is the true number one contender to the title. He’s been on a strong run for the last two years with victories over Jon Fitch, Josh Koscheck, and a recent knockout of Martin Kampmann at UFC 154. Instead of being granted the title shot, he was instead matched against Jake Ellenberger, who is only one fight removed from being crumpled on the mat at the hands of Kampmann, who Hendricks dropped in a matter of seconds when they met.

This card will also feature Rory MacDonald getting a rematch against Condit, who is the only man to defeat him. Condit is coming off of his title unification attempt against GSP, where he performed well, but was unable to defeat the Canadian.

At first look, most people will call this matchmaking unfair to Hendricks. UFC President Dana White has stated that GSP picked this bout, rather than the UFC assigning it to him. In the past, the promotion hasn’t been fond of athletes saying no to certain fights, but since GSP is one of their top two horses, it’s apparent that those rules to not apply to him. But the way this card is arranged is still smart matchmaking, albeit dangerous at the same time.

First, look at Nick Diaz. The Skrap Pack member hasn’t always played by the rules, which has resulted in him being pulled from a title bout with St. Pierre in the past. When that occurred, Condit was inserted as the number one contender, but that would eventually fall apart as well. If that occurs this time around, you can expect to see Hendricks placed into the main event against “Rush.” Having Hendricks training and ready will make it an easy substitution, as well as create a fight that fans still want to see.

On the other hand, what happens if Hendricks loses? In mixed martial arts we have seen it time and time again: a fighter on a roll gets defeated in a fight that many people expect him to win, completely derailing his push towards a title. If Ellenberger finds a way to pull out this bout, who becomes the number one contender to the title? If Rory and St. Pierre both win, it’s already known that they will not fight each other. Ellenberger wouldn’t be a respected top contender. So who would the UFC turn to for the rest of 2013? Perhaps this would be an opportunity to revisit the idea of an Anderson Silva fight for St. Pierre, but that is a conversation for a later date.

And what happens if Diaz pulls out an upset submission victory? Hendricks would likely be forced to wait once again, because it would be inevitable that the UFC would grant St. Pierre an immediate title shot. This would potentially force Hendricks to decide whether to fight again, and again risk the spot he’s earned during this run. The UFC doesn’t enjoy when its top stars decide to sit and wait on fights they want, but they may be forcing Hendricks into this very position.

Some interesting bouts have been arranged for UFC 158. Matchmakers have created a welterweight tournament of sorts, as White put it, and they are rooting just as hard as the fans that things go “according to plan.” If they don’t, however, the contendership picture in the welterweight division is going to be a mess.

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