Promoting Geoges St-Pierre in his hometown in a title fight with a top rival is an obvious call. There's very little risk there, short of promotional failure, but that's clearly not going to be an issue. So what risk is the UFC facing this evening? The answer is handing their welterweight crown to a fighter virtually all respect, but some believe to be a unreliable malcontent.
Let's say Nick Diaz wins. GSP would probably earn an immediate rematch, so I doubt there'd be huge long-term damage to St-Pierre's brand. The bigger problem is what this does for the UFC. Can they promote Diaz as a champion? Will he allow himself to be promoted as such? Most importantly, can he even stay on positive footing with the various athletic commissions of the world as they act like vice cops with absurd marijuana regulation? As deeply irrational and punitive as their rules are, they are not randomly enforced. And when they are enforced, bad things happen. Is the UFC really willing to risk giving one of their most coveted titles to a man who continually runs afoul of moronic yet serious regulations?
Apparently they are, which some take as an implicit acknowledgement the UFC wants St-Pierre to win and believes he will. Maybe, maybe not. What is for sure is the UFC needs their champions to behave within certain social and regulatory norms. They also need them to be willing company men who project an image they can rally behind and sell. Nick Diaz, for all his virtues, struggles with those responsibilities. And he's on the verge of creating a real-life scenario where UFC will be forced to make his troubles their own.
At stake: a night to define a large portion of one's career. GSP and Diaz will have their careers measured in part by what they do tonight. This fight will serve as almost a microcosm of their careers. Few doubt GSP's ability, but there is a belief among Diaz supporters that the Stockton native's antagonism and boxing/jiu-jitsu skill set is something he's never had to answer for in his illustrious career. In other words, Diaz isn't just a piece of the puzzle GSP needs to complete his run, but the crown jewel. Diaz and his supporters have long believed they'd give GSP the kind of fight he hasn't had yet. If GSP is to be the true welterweight king, he must get through Diaz first, they argue.
For Diaz, he'll never have a better opportunity to highlight his argument he's been denied opportunities or be someone he isn't for illegitimate reasons. This is his chance to capitalize on all the perceived phoniness he's had to endure, not to mention make good on his belief he's the best welterweight on the planet. Diaz denies he has a victim's mentality, but he does embrace one. Defeating GSP in the Canadian's hometown won't necessarily prove Diaz was right all along, but it will at least reduce any hostilities to Diaz's cries of wrongdoing.
Beyond all this, there's a sense these two were always meant to fight. They've been in different organizations fighting different opposition, achieving different levels of fame and adoration. But there's also been a gravitational pull between them. GSP has what Diaz wants; Diaz holds onto the claim he needs to be defeated by GSP for the champ to have true authenticity. It's a fight a long time in the making and one way or the other, will speak to the victor's and loser's career for years to come.
At stake: the front of the line. Stated plainly, this is all about being at the front of the welterweight title fight queue. I don't see how UFC could deny Hendricks should he win, although anything is possible. For Condit, a win doesn't necessarily mean a rematch with either GSP or Diaz, but it certainly fast forwards him from where he'd ordinarily be. Typically a fighter who is shut out in a title fight has to win several tough bouts to even face a number one contender. Condit was gifted this one, and therefore can make a lot of it.
A loss for Hendricks, it should be noted, would be devastating. To have come this far and defeated the murderer's row of opponents he has only to lose a title opportunity because he had to keep fighting while Diaz was given a title shot for promotional purposes would be utterly calamitous.
At stake: being pushed to the back of the line. There's no denying the winner here stands to gain, but it's not clear how much. The method of victory matters, but ultimately the victor still has to win another bout before title contention is even possible. However, a loss could be particularly devastating. While Ellenberger is coming off of a win against Jay Hieron, this is still something of a rebound fight for both competitors. Ellenberger and Marquardt are both dangerous and highly respected, but there are questions about their ability to string together enough wins to make things happen. Winning tonight is absolutely essential.
At stake: becoming something. Ring had some promise (no pun intended), but he's 34 now, injury-ridden and 1-1 in his last two outings. If he's going to be anything in the UFC middleweight division, he needs to get to work. For Camozzi, he's riding a nice three-fight win streak, but started from an unheralded position. If he wants to become a name that is good enough to stay on or even headline main cards, get interviewed on Primetime or Countdown shows, then getting through Ring is basically essential.
At stake: staying in the UFC, not being a bust. Both of these guys are hanging onto their UFC careers by a thread. There's more hope and awareness about Ricci given his stateside exposure and training partners. But if either of these two start their UFC careers 0-2, they may not have a UFC career much longer than that.