UFC 158 predictions

Esther Lin, MMA Fighting

The UFC's welterweight and arguable pound-for-pound Canadian king returns to action against a strange, but noteworthy contender. Despite losing in a bout that would determine who would face St-Pierre after the champion returned from an injury layoff in November and serving a monumentally punitive suspension for marijuana use, here Diaz is on the verge of his greatest career opportunity. The Stockton native claims he's coming into this bout to save UFC fans and the MMA world from boring bouts between wrestling-centric athletes who don't really want to fight. St-Pierre, by contrast, has made no bold proclamations about his career generally other than he wants to win Saturday.

Notably, St-Pierre and Diaz aren't the only elite welterweight talents on the card. Rightful number-one contender Johny Hendricks takes on former interim champ Carlos Condit while TRT-free Nate Marquardt returns to the UFC to take on Jake Ellenberger.

Can Diaz fulfill his ultimate career ambition and be recognized as the UFC's champion in one of their deepest weight divisions? Will St-Pierre make history with yet another title defense against a very tough foe? I answer these questions and more with predictions for UFC 158.

What: UFC 158: St-Pierre vs. Diaz

Where: The Bell Centre, Montreal, Quebec, Canada

When: Saturday, the three-fight Facebook card starts at 6:30 p.m. ET, the four-fight FX card starts at 8 p.m. and the five-fight main card starts on pay-per-view at 10 p.m.

Georges St-Pierre vs. Nick Diaz

I respect Nick Diaz enormously, but he and his fans are going to be disappointed after Saturday evening. That's not simply because I believe St-Pierre will retain his title, but because of Diaz's alleged mission to rid MMA of boring, controlling wrestling. While nothing is guaranteed in mixed martial arts, there is nothing no more likely to happen than endless takedowns from the champion on Saturday evening. Diaz has an excellent guard, but lacks any submission victories of top ten welterweights off of his back. GSP won't be the first. He'll take Diaz down at will, pass to half guard and avoid Diaz's guard and work from there. Stockton's finest will have his moments as he does every fight, but this one is going the distance, it's likely going to be 50-45 in favor of the champion and it's almost assuredly going to involve everything Diaz claims to rally against.

Pick: St-Pierre

Carlos Condit vs. Johny Hendricks

Let me plainly state I think this fight is matchmaking malpractice on the part of UFC matchmaker Joe Silva. Silva normally hovers in a space that's above reproach, but he badly dropped the ball here. This is not a bout where no matter who wins the division moves one direction or the other. It only works if Hendricks wins and then we arrive...exactly where we are right now. This is just disastrous.

Listen, the fight itself will be fun, but matchmakers are required to think about consequences. Why on earth anyone would think giving the consensus number one contender a bout against the guy who just lost in a title bout where he was almost shut out is a good idea is beyond me. This is insanity. It gives a deeply unfair and strange benefit to Condit while placing a borderline cruel burden on Hendricks. That Hendricks asked for it is entirely irrelevant.

As for the bout itself, few are bigger admirers of Hendricks than yours truly, but I like the Greg Jackson-product here. Even if he gets taken down, he won't be held down either because of Condit's sweeps or ability to create space from guard and stand. On the feet, he'll win at range, in the clinch and is hard to hurt.

I hope and pray I am badly wrong about this pick.

Pick: Condit

Jake Ellenberger vs. Nate Marquardt

I am torn on this fight more than any other on the card. On the one hand, Marquardt's a multi-talented veteran, large for the weight class, an clean striker and submission threat. On the other hand, Ellenberger is a ferocious power puncher, strong offensive wrestler and has had the benefit of a full camp. Tough call, to put it mildly. I'm going to go with 'The Juggernaut'. Even if he has gas tank issues, Marquardt is too inconsistent, took the fight late and showed he was hittable both in the Tyron Woodley victory and Tarec Saffeidine loss in Strikeforce. Things might get tense late, but Ellenberger should move on.

Pick: Ellenberger

Nick Ring vs. Chris Camozzi

Another close fight. The difference for me will be Ring's kicking at distance and should it go to the ground, his generally more active, superior jiu-jitsu game. To be honest, though, Ring is injury prone, so who knows how healthy he is? And if anything, Camozzi's takedown defense has improved. If he can keep this at boxing range, things will get interesting.

Pick: Ring

Mike Ricci vs. Colin Fletcher

I'm not particularly high on either guy. Fletcher hasn't beaten anyone with a Wikipedia entry and Ricci lost by one-punch, first-round KO to Bellator's featherweight champion (who is an excellent fighter, but I'm the size disparity alone should've made it a tighter contest). That said, Ricci is back in his normal weight class and generally a better grappler than he's given credit. He'll work for it, but eventually get the submission.

Pick: Ricci

From the preliminary card:

Patrick Cote < Bobby Voelker
Antonio Carvalho < Darren Elkins
Dan Miller < Jordan Mein
John Makdessi < Daron Cruickshank
Rick Story > Quinn Mulhern
T.J. Dillashaw > Issei Tamura
George Roop < Reuben Duran

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