Editor's Note: Join Gries, Bader, Aaron, Jose and The Power MMA Show crew for our UFC 158 watch party, 6:00 tonight at Firehouse Tempe. No cover, 20+ TV's, free pics and autographs, prizes, food and drink specials, Power Girl & former Miss Teen AZ USA Megan McMaster and a lot more!
Mike "The Martian" Ricci vs. Colin "Freakshow" Fletcher
The UFC 158 main card starts off with a pair of fighters who came up just short on The Ultimate Fighter, when season 16 runner-up Mike Ricci squares off against TUF: Smashes runner-up Colin Fletcher in this lightweight bout. Ricci last fought at welterweight and was manhandled by the much larger Colton Smith at The Ultimate Fighter Finale back in December. Losing a unanimous decision that saw Smith dominate with superior wrestling showed a glaring weakness in Ricci's game and a bout against someone in "The Martian's" natural weight class will give fans a real sense how the Tri-Star athlete actually stacks up in the UFC.
But standing across from him could most certainly be his worst nightmare, as he will once again face a fighter whose main point of attack is grappling his opponent to the ground and locking on a submission.
The always entertaining and menacing Fletcher struggled in his last fight at UFC on FX back in December, being outpointed by fellow Brit Norman Parke. "Freakshow" has a slight advantage in terms grappling but can't hold a candle to Ricci's striking. If he can manage to utilize his height and reach advantage to keep Ricci from getting inside and landing bombs, I could see Fletcher grinding out a decision victory. However, Ricci trains with Georges St. Pierre and Rory MacDonald, both of whom are known for pinpoint striking and world-class cardio. So, in the end I don't think Fletcher brings anything to the table Ricci hasn't already seen in training.
Ricci via unanimous decision
Nick "The Promise" Ring vs. Chris Camozzi
The forgotten fight on the main card features a middleweight bout between two more TUF alumni in Nick Ring and Chris Camozzi.
Both fighters have quietly put on a streak of impressive performances, as both are 3-1 in their last four bouts and looking to prove they belong with the best in the division. This is my sleeper pick for fight of the night as both men enter the octagon with a dynamic striking arsenal. While Camozzi is known for his iron chin and unique Muy Thai style, Ring utilizes solid leg kicks to compliment his polished boxing.
While Camozzi has generated a respectable winning streak, he hasn't looked as crisp as Ring and was actually on the verge losing to Nick Catone before an elbow to the face caused the doctor to controversially stop the match and declare Camozzi the winner. Ring will have to put Camozzi away early if he hopes to leave Montreal with his hand raised and to do that he has to fight at an unrelenting pace and give Camozzi the worst beating of his life. I see this fight as an uglier version of the Brian Stann-Wanderlei Silva fight, as both fighters will look to come out guns blazing to prove their worth. It's the classic matchup between a fighter's "never give up" attitude and wild attack versus his opponent's blistering and precision striking. In the end I see Camozzi's determination and heart as the deciding factor, as Ring has been known to slow down in the later rounds.
Camozzi by a very entertaining split decision
Nate "The Great" Marquardt vs. Jake "The Juggernaut" Ellenberger
This is where the card starts to get interesting, as it is the first matchup of Dana White's makeshift welterweight tournament. Jake Ellenberger was originally scheduled to face Johnny Hendricks in a number-one contender's bout, but after an injury forced Rory MacDonald out of the main event, Hendricks was called up as a replacement. In stepped former UFC Middleweight contender and Strikeforce welterweight champion Nate Marquardt. A little more than a year ago "The Juggernaut" was one win away from a title shot before being knocked out by Martin Kampann back at The Ultimate Fighter 15 Finale. That night he lost a huge amount of the momentum he earned following six straight victories. But before that, Ellenberger was an absolute monster inside the octagon with knockouts in four of those six wins, including a TKO victory over former Strikeforce middleweight champion Jake Shields. A victory over Jay Hieron, the man who gave him his first career loss, put Ellenberger back on track but a win over Marquardt would propel him into the top three of welterweight rankings.
But "The Great" is no slouch. As a former King of Pancrase champion, Marquardt has some of the best grappling in the entire UFC let alone at 170-pounds. But his last fight against Tarec Saffiedine showed some glaring holes in Marquardt's game as his legs were literally kicked out from underneath on his way to dropping his Strikeforce welterweight championship. But now he's back in the UFC, following a failed drug test that led to a two-year exile from the company, and he'll be looking to prove his doubters wrong.
While both men are solid wrestlers, I give a slight edge to Ellenberger as he has stopped 92.9 percent of all takedowns attempted on him. This will create an interesting matchup as Marquardt enters their bout with the second best takedown accuracy in the UFC with 27 successful takedowns in 37 attempts. In the end, I see both fighters spending most of their time on their feet and away from areas where their opponent holds the advantage. But the key in this bout is the fact that Ellenberger had been preparing for the heavy-handed Hendricks up until a few weeks ago. The complete overhaul of his camp could certainly play a factor as Marquardt is vastly different from Hendricks. Plus the UFC has been releasing fighters like crazy, so Marquardt has to have a bulls' eye on his back after his last loss. Look for him to leave it all on the line. This fight could go either way and both fighters are fighting for relevancy but I see Ellenberger's superior wrestling as the deciding factor.
Ellenberger by TKO
Johnny "Bigg Rigg" Hendricks vs. Carlos "The Natural Born Killer" Condit
Johnny Hendricks has about as much momentum as anyone in the UFC right now. Blistering off six straight victories, including three first round knockouts, "Bigg Rigg" has cemented himself as the number-one contender for the welterweight championship on more than one occasion. But as is tradition in the UFC as of late, the bigger name gets the title shot over the one who deserves it. Originally scheduled to square off against Ellenberger, Hendricks stepped up and replaced the injured Rory Macdonald and will look to finally earn his elusive title shot over the last man to fight for the belt. Carlos Condit last fought back at in November at UFC 154 where fans saw him drop a decision to UFC welterweight kingpin St. Pierre. Before that "The Natural Born Killer" was on a five-fight win streak, including two Knockouts of the Night and one Fight of the Night. This is easily the most difficult fight to pick on the entire card. Just look at the numbers: both fighters have a combined 42-7 record and 21 combined victories by TKO and KO and zero losses by knockout. It's about as even and exciting a match as you can get.
But what Hendricks has that no one else in the division has is a thunderous overhand left that has sent both Jon Fitch and Martin Kampann skidding across the octagon less than a minute into their fights. It's on par with Dan Henderson's legendary overhand right, dubbed the H-Bomb. But what Hendricks has in power Condit more than makes up for in diversity and technique. Everyone knows what's coming with Hendricks but with Condit you have to be ready for everything from flying knees to spinning back fists, head kicks and uppercuts. He is without a doubt the more complete striker than Hendricks and has the advantage of knowing what to look for. Condit will absolutely look to circle to the right and out of the reach of Hedrick's Mac truck of a fist and counter strike with his own unique arsenal of kicks and punches. Just look at his last victory over current top contender Nick Diaz. When the two squared off back at UFC 143, Condit landed a record 68 leg kicks in 25 minutes of action.
If Hendricks is going to have any chance of winning this fight, he's going to have to stray from his game plan of looking for that one-punch knockout and bring the fight to the mat where Condit has had trouble in the past. Hendricks is a four-time NCAA All-American and two-time NCAA Champion. He has some of the best wrestling in the division and the strength to toss almost anyone in the UFC around. The problem is he doesn't use it as he looks to keep the fight standing. If he can manage to get a hold on the ever elusive Condit and drag him down, he should look to drain his energy and set up that huge knockout fans expect from him. If he can negate Condit's underrated submission game, I can see Hendricks walking away the winner.
Hendricks has been calling for a title shot for more than a year and a win over Condit would finally grant him that shot. But Condit has played dream killer before when he defeated Nick Diaz back in early 2012 to put Diaz and GSP on hold. At the end of the day, Condit is the better fighter than Hendricks and I don't think he'll get caught in the same situations as Hendricks' last few opponents. Condit wins and throws a wrench into the welterweight title picture.
Condit by Decision
UFC Welterweight Champion Georges "Rush" St. Pierre vs. Nick Diaz
This is finally happening. UFC welterweight kingpin Georges St. Pierre will square off against the man who's been calling him out for the better part of two years -- former Strikeforce welterweight champion Nick Diaz. The two were originally scheduled to meet at UFC 137 but Diaz missed scheduled media appearances and was removed from the title bout. Diaz went on to win his fight against BJ Penn and famously shouted at the camera "Where you at Georges?", while the champion sat ringside shaking his head. The bout was scheduled once again for UFC 143 but St. Pierre had to pull out due to an ACL injury, leaving Diaz to fight for the interim welterweight championship against Carlos Condit. In a very controversial decision, Diaz came out on the losing side and upon failing a drug test for marijuana, was suspended for an entire year, putting a hold on the super fight fans everywhere have been calling for.
Since then St. Pierre returned from injury and reclaimed the top spot at 170-pounds with a dominating victory over Condit. "Rush" quickly looked to once again schedule a bout against Diaz once his suspension was up. It's been a long time coming and it's finally here. If casual fans still aren't sure about the bad blood between the two here's a portion of the UFC 158 conference call from last week between the two fighters:
Diaz: If I had that much money I'd be pampering myself the (Expletive) up! I'd be having (Expletive) pampering my (Expletive) left and (Expletive) right! There would be (Expletive) every hour, on the hour, showing up to pamper me out. Period.
(Interrupting) St-Pierre: Let me tell you something, uneducated fool. Listen to me.
(Interrupting) Diaz: Right. Okay. You do a great job of explaining and making things real for what they are (Expletive). I'm stupid. I can tell what's what.
St-Pierre: I don't even know what that means, man. I'm pampered?
Diaz: You don't even know what that means? What the (Expletive)?! You don't have any argument...
(Interrupting) St. Pierre: I don't understand half of the words that you're saying because your English…I speak English better than you, man. Talk to me like a human being.
It's one of the biggest and most hyped grudge matches in the history of the fight business. In one corner there is the brash and immensely popular Diaz and in the other corner there is the stoic and even more popular St. Pierre. But it takes more than great smack talk to build a fight; both men still have to back up their words.
Diaz is a cardio machine. This is a man who runs triathlons for fun and swims to Alcatraz and back to prove he could do it. Combine this with some of the best boxing in the entire organization and a world-class jiu-jitsu game and a very dangerous fighter emerges. He stood toe to toe with dynamic kick boxer Paul Daley and knocked him out, he not only submitted Japanese icon Takanori Gomi but he did it with the holy grail of submissions, the miraculous gogoplata and he has emerged as a master at getting under his opponents' skin, which causes them to fight with their emotions instead of their brains. UFC legend Frank Shamrock said it best regarding Diaz's trash talking in the cage: "He's doing it and I can't believe he's doing it."
But in GSP, Diaz will finally meet someone who is at least as well conditioned, if not more conditioned, than him. GSP uses this world-class endurance to not only take his opponents down but hold them and control them with ease. His 75 takedowns and 78.1 percent takedown accuracy are both good for most in the entire UFC. Once the champion takes his opponent down, there's very little chance they'll get back up as St. Pierre has spent 2:22:13 on top of his opponents dictating the fight in his entire career. It's here where the champion shines as he pounds his opponents and grinds out dominating decision victories. His 409 career significant ground strikes is also the most in UFC history.
But St. Pierre may rethink his usual game plan of gaining top control of his opponent when he meets Diaz this Saturday. In his last 25 fights, Diaz has attempted 20 total submissions- 10 of them coming while he was on his back -- earning four submission victories in the process.
As I mentioned before, Diaz possesses some of the best boxing in the organization. With training partners like Super Middleweight boxing champion Andre Wards it's to imagine anyone out striking Diaz. While he doesn't have the one-punch knockout power of Hendricks, he more than makes up for it with the sheer volume of strikes he lands. In fact, he's surpassed 100 significant strikes landed a total of five times in MMA career. But once again, St. Pierre will step in as the the all-time leader in the UFC in significant strikes, landing 1,048 in his career, 190 more than the second place fighter.
In the end I see GSP's cardio and world class wrestling playing a huge factor in this bout as he looks to extend his winning streak to 10 fights. It's very hard to pick against a fighter like St. Pierre who's been so dominant for so long. But I'm going to go out on a limb and say Diaz shocks the world. Remember you heard it here first, and oh yeah- "Don't be scared, homie."
Diaz by triangle choke submission
For all of you who have been following my UFC Rankings Breakdown series, following this Saturday's fight card my next column will look at the UFC Welterweight division as five fighters in the UFC's 10 at 170-pounds will be fighting at UFC 158. But don't worry fight fans -- I haven't forgotten about the lightweights. I'll be sure to follow up the welterweights with the stacked 155-pound division and get back on track. Thanks for reading!
Listen to Ryan Bader, Aaron Simpson and Jim Grieshaber on the Power MMA Show, Saturdays from 11am-1pm on Arizona Sports 620 and right here on ArizonaSports.com.