Kyte on UFC 158: Great fight, but puzzling

Johny Hendricks will likely remain the No. 1 contender with a win, but who's the No. 1 if he loses?
March 12, 2013, 2:26 PM

From an expected entertainment standpoint, there may not be a fight on this weekend’s UFC 158 fight card in Montreal that I’m more looking forward to than the co-main event between Carlos Condit and Johny Hendricks.

It should be obvious why I’m stoked for this fight, but just in case it’s not, here are the Coles Notes:

– Hendricks has been on a tear, winning five straight, and scoring beautifully vicious knockouts in three of those contests.

– Condit is a tremendous finisher, and perpetually entertaining. Simply put, you always get your money’s worth with “The Natural Born Killer.”

– Placing the two in the cage together can only create fireworks. Even if Hendricks goes to his wrestling, Condit is extremely active off his back and able to do damage. If they stay standing, the fight will generate bonus money for one of them, if not both of them.

While the last pairing of two elite contenders from a prominent division didn’t pan out so well (see: Machida vs. Henderson, UFC 157), it’s hard to envision this fight falling short of expectations, unless you expect a double knockout on simultaneous spinning back fists 14-seconds into the fight.

If you’re headed to the Bell Centre this weekend, you’ll only need the edge of your seat for this one, and if you’re watching from home like I will be, you may want to clear the area of anything that can be knocked over and spilled because I have a hunch that we’re going to get at least one jump out of your seat, scream at the television moment in this one.

Having read all that, you’re probably going to be thrown off by what I’m about to say next: I wouldn’t have pulled Hendricks from his bout with Jake Ellenberger in order to pair him with Condit if I were running the show.

(This is the point where several people will stop reading, drop down to the comments section, and thank the stars that I’m not running things in the UFC.)

If you’ve been following my work here on Sportsnet for the last few months, you’ll know I’m a big advocate of thinking two or three fights ahead when it comes to coordinating match-ups. I’m also a bit of a “worst case scenario” planner as well, and that’s what has me slightly confused when it comes to this pairing.

At this point, I should clarify that a win for Condit is probably the best “worst case scenario” ever, but at the same time, there is no denying that a victory for the former interim champion would produce more questions than answers for the welterweight division.

With apologies to everyone representing the 209 area code and Team Diaz, I’m operating on the assumption that Georges St-Pierre defeats Nick Diaz in this weekend’s main event. I think the champion retains his title, and that’s what makes the potential of Condit knocking off Hendricks a less-than-ideal outcome in my opinion.

One of the big positives of the Hendricks-Ellenberger pairing was that regardless of who won, the bout created a fresh title challenger in a division that is short on established options at the moment.

If Hendricks ran his winning streak to six, it would be nearly impossible to deny him the opportunity to fight for the belt. On the flip side, if Ellenberger pulled off the upset, he’s beaten the man a lot of people felt should have been headlining this card with St-Pierre in the first place. He’d be 8-1 over his last nine fights, and coming off a high-profile win, so sliding him into a title fight would be a pretty easy choice.

It’s no different than moving Antonio (Bigfoot) Silva into a title fight with Cain Velasquez after he beat Alistair Overeem. You beat the consensus No. 1 contender, you become the No. 1 contender yourself.

In moving Hendricks into the void opening created by MacDonald’s injury — and backfilling his spot opposite Ellenberger with Nate Marquardt — that clear “next in line” contender is now only produced if Hendricks beats Condit.

As much Ellenberger would still be 8-1 over his last nine with a victory on Saturday, Marquardt is coming off a flat performance in a loss to Tarec Saffiedine, so it’s not anywhere near as impactful a victory as upending Hendricks would be.

What about Condit, you ask?

Well, he was the last man to share the cage with St-Pierre, and while it was an exciting contest, no one came away from that bout in dire need of seeing them do it again in quick succession.

Having won three straight since relocating to welterweight, Demian Maia could possibly move into position opposite St-Pierre depending on how things play out, but then again, his most recent victory did come against a fighter UFC president Dana White feels was on the downside of his career and deemed expendable, Jon Fitch. (wink)

Can you really push a guy as a viable threat to a dominant champion coming off a win over a fighter who has since been shown the door? Has that ever happened before?

Admittedly, all these permutations and possibilities could be rendered moot with a Diaz victory on Saturday, as the next welterweight title fight would then be a rematch between UFC 158’s headliners, but like I said earlier — I just don’t see that happening; I see the champion defending his belt.

What I’m not so sure of is whether or not we’ll come away from UFC 158 with a clear picture of what comes next at the top of the welterweight division?

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