Mar 15, 2013; Montreal, Quebec, Canada; UFC president Dana White (center) steps in between Georges St.Pierre and Nick Diaz during the weight-in for UFC 158 at the Bell Centre. Mandatory Credit: Eric Bolte-USA TODAY Sports

UFC 158: GSP vs. Diaz Main Card Preview

Tonight, the talking stops.

Not that it hasn’t been entertaining watching Nick Diaz and UFC welterweight champion Georges St. Pierre go at it in the press. Nick Diaz never fails to captivate whenever he opens his mouth (and, you know, shows up), and it was nice to see GSP step outside his robotic good guy image. For him, calling Nick Diaz and “uneducated fool” is the equivalent of a couple of F-bombs.

And wouldn’t you know it, this fight has people talking. You always know a fight is a big deal (outside the circles of MMA fandom, that is) when people who’d never talked to you about MMA before come up to you at work (or wherever) and talk about a fight. And people have been talking about this fight everywhere I go.

Then again, I live in Canada, where a GSP fight is basically a national holiday – you know, on top of St. Patrick’s day, which is also basically a national holiday. Yeah, it should be a fun Saturday night for beer drinkers (everyone) and MMA fans (a surprising lot) north of the border.

Unless Nick Diaz ruins the day, that is.

Let’s break down UFC 158’s PPV card.

Mike Ricci vs. Colin Fletcher

Mike Ricci first came across my radar screen way back in 2010, when I was a Bellator beat-writer for a Canadian MMA news website. At that time, he was the red-hot Canadian prospect out of Tristar, the supposed protégé of Georges St. Pierre. Word was he was going to run through the Bellator season 2 lightweight tournament.

Then he met Pat Curran, and was knocked cold at the 3 minute mark. His hype train has never fully recovered from that loss, even if he did go on an impressive run on the “Ultimate Fighter”. At the end of the day though, he’s 2-2 since the Curran fight, and he needs to start stringing some wins together if he wants to start building momentum again.

Luckily, he’s been given a winnable fight in “The Ultimate Fighter: Smashes” contestant Colin Fletcher. The Sunderland, UK fighter brings an outlandish personality and some theatrics to his fights (anyone check out the mask he was sporting at the weigh-ins?). But the fact is he’s only had 12 professional fights (10-2-overall) and is coming off a loss in his professional UFC debut.

This is a strange fight to put on the PPV card unless the UFC knows something. I think they view this fight as a good litmus test for Ricci, and fighting in front of his hometown fans should help motivate him. Fletcher is more of a submission guy, and I think the Firas Zahabi training will keep Ricci out of danger in that regard.

Or I’m drinking the Tristar Kool-Aid again, just like I was in 2010.

Mike Ricci via Decision

Nick Ring vs. Chris Carmozzi

Canadian UFC cards have certainly been kind to Nick Ring. The Calgary-based fighter has gone 2-0 fighting north of the border in his UFC career, choking out  James Head and decisioning Court McGee. He’ll look for his biggest win to date tonight against an extremely tough Chris Camozzi.

Believe it or not, this fight will be Camozzi’s 8th trip to the Octagon in his professional career, where he has a record of 5-2. He’s currently riding a 3-fight winning streak, and most recently upset long-time contender Luis Cane in October of last year. He’s quietly flown under the radar, and now is poised to make a big statement with his 4th straight win.

Ok, he did once get fired from the UFC, and have to work his way back. Point is, this is a tough “out” for Mr. Ring, and a fighter that can challenge him anywhere. If I had to bet, I’d say Ring has the stronger submission skills (though perhaps not by much) and the stand-up…too close to call. I want to say Ring in this one, but I think Carmozzi has the momentum. He’s my “what the hell?” pick of the night.

You know, like all the rest.

Chris Carmozzi via (T)KO

Jake Ellenberger vs. Nate Marquardt

The fight gods work in mysterious ways. An injury to Rory MacDonald, a little bit of fight reshuffling – and Nate Marquardt is back on a UFC PPV. Wasn’t it just yesterday that Dana White was cutting Marquardt from the promotion and vowing he’d never work for the UFC again? Nice to see Dana’s sentence of banishment for Marquardt isn’t a lifetime one.

But he’s been given no favours in Jake Ellenberger, a powerful wrestler with some extremely heavy hands. Both of those things should have Marquardt a little nervous. We’ve seen him outwrestled before, though that was by bigger men at 185-pounds. And he’s coming off a loss to Tarec Saffiedine in his last fight, where Marquardt was thoroughly outstruck by Saffiedine (including some brutal leg kicks).

Ellenberger isn’t that type of fighter, but he does have KO power in either hand and he swings for the fences. His weakness has always been his cardio, which sometimes doesn’t make it even three full rounds. We saw him clobber Diego Sanchez for two straight rounds, only to almost lose in his hometown when Sanchez stormed back on a fading Ellenberger big time in the third.

I think Marquardt has the tools to win this fight. He has underrated wrestling, good grappling skills, and the patience and experience to fight a smart fight. After a huge opening round for Jake, I see Marquardt slowly taking over and doing enough to win the decision.

Nate Marquardt via Decision

Carlos Condit vs. Johny Hendricks

This should be an absolute barnburner of a fight, all to determine the next challenger to the UFC welterweight title.

At least that’s what Dana White said at the press conference. Something tells me that if Carlos Condit were to win here, the UFC isn’t going to rush to make GSP vs. Condit 2 anytime soon. When Mike Goldberg says the words “The winner of this fight gets a title shot!” tonight, you should remember to add “…as long as it’s Johny Hendricks.” to the end of that sentence.

Don’t think I’m complaining, by the way. Hendricks is way past overdue in getting his title shot. If his beats Condit tonight, he’ll have had the most impressive run up to a UFC belt since…well, since GSP ran through the welterweight division on his way to Matt Hughes the second time. And Hendricks has all the tools to dethrone St. Pierre. He has elite, world-class wrestling, and the heaviest set of hands in the division.

But first he’ll have to get past Carlos Condit, who’s no slouch in the shutting-people’s-lights off department either.  His last two fights are an outlier, because they were against two of the best and most durable guys in the division (Nick Diaz and GSP). But before that, Condit was a monster when it came to getting the finish, showing equal skill with submissions as he did with crazy-a** knockouts.

I’m hoping Carlos wins this fight. I really am. 2 straight losses would pretty much remove him from the title picture for the foreseeable future. But Johny Hendricks is just so good, and is riding a huge wave of momentum. Still, against my better judgement, I’m going Condit by…oh, let’s say knockout. A flying knee sounds good. I’ve pretty much lost all credibility already, might as well get creative.

Carlos Condit via (T)KO

Georges St. Pierre ( C ) vs. Nick Diaz – UFC Welterweight World Championship

I’ve already written about this fight in-depth – and you’ve probably read a thousand articles by now, breaking this fight down in every single way imaginable. We’ve seen both guys fight dozens of times now, and we pretty much know what to expect from either one.

Georges St. Pierre will look to establish his range early with his lightning-quick jab and his lead leg kick. Once he feels any pressure from Diaz coming forward, he’ll change levels and go for a double-leg. Once inside Diaz’s guard, he’ll look to stay tight, land some elbows, pass, and start opening up with shots on the ground. Round ends. Wash, rinse, repeat.

Nick will look to start mixing things up right away, get a sense of GSP’s timing, and crowd him against the cage. Once he’s there, he’ll start unloading his high-volume punches and looking for the KO. If St. Pierre takes him down, Nick will look to use his top-level BJJ skills to set up a sweep, or a submission. Round ends. Wash, rinse, repeat.

Don’t get me wrong here. I’m not insulting either man. The fact that everyone (including their opponents) knows basically what to expect from them, but still can’t do anything to stop it, is a testament to both of their skill levels. Both men are simply elite at what they do. Both men have some of the best, most well-rounded arsenals in all of MMA. And both men train like elite, world-class athletes should.

This fight will come down to who can impose their will upon their opponent, and upon the fight. And no one is better at that than Georges St. Pierre. In front of his hometown fans, expect the champ to do his thing for 25 minutes while a sea of drunken Canadians chants “OLE, OLE OLE OLE!” to their heart’s content.

Georges St. Pierre via Decision

Tags: Georges St-Pierre MMA Nick Diaz UFC UFC 158

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