Fortunes changed for five at UFC 158

USA TODAY Sports
A lot was made on Saturday night of the ending in the ring of the Georges St-Pierre vs. Nick Diaz fight.

After a grueling 25-minute fight, a victorious St-Pierre asked his hometown crowd at the Bell Centre in Montreal to cheer the man they paid $3.7 million to see get smashed into oblivion.

"(He did) a great job of promoting the fight," said St-Pierre. "He's a good guy. Please give him hands (applause)."


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To a crowd where their champion can do almost no wrong, that was met with resounding boos. Fans at home had similar reactions. They had paid somewhere in the range of $35 million or more, based on commercials that led them to believe Diaz was a brooding, disrespectful outlaw who was finally going to get what was coming to him by one of the most talented fighters the sport will ever see. Instead, they were left in some cases with frustrations and mixed feelings.

Sure, they had witnessed one of the year's best fights, a battle between Carlos Condit and Johny Hendricks that only emphasized the consensus going in, that Hendricks was the legitimate No. 1 contender for St-Pierre. But Hendricks had to settle for the co-main event slot because Diaz has a unique ability to make people gravitate toward him and be compelled to watch and follow everything he does and says. Diaz is the company's most unpredictable fighter both in and out of the cage. He's a sound bite machine. Unlike so many others who have attempted to master the art of pre-show promotion, Diaz outsells almost all of them while not even thinking about it.

And then, many felt slapped in the face. They bought the show based on hatred, dark music, and seeing a different St-Pierre than they'd ever seen before. Worse, Diaz had told them two days earlier, talking about "wolf tickets," that they were buying tickets based on fake hype.

In St-Pierre's mind, the idea of the fight is you battle for 25 minutes, and when it's over, the grudge is over and you thank the guy. It's the sportsman's way to do things, and St-Pierre is the squeaky-clean white hat of the promotion.

For Diaz, you never know. After ending Frank Shamrock's career in what really was a personal grudge since Shamrock had knocked out Diaz's mentor, Cesar Gracie, years earlier. It was the classic young student garnering revenge for his Sensei story filled with trash talk. Diaz, however, reacted with nothing but sportsmanship, helping Shamrock to his feet and saying, "Get up. You're a legend."

Usually, for the crowd at the end of the fight, that's what they want to see. Two guys fighting to see who is the best. And when it's over, both showing respect and embracing. It makes you feel good about yourself and the sport. The Hendricks vs. Condit fight was the perfect example of this. But there were no illusions going past the hopes that these two would provide an entertaining match and we would see who truly deserves to be the top contender. When it was over, fans got that, and even more than they expected.

But it's those few times a year when that isn't the case, those are the night the cash registers jingle more than any other. And this was one of them, likely UFC's biggest money fight since last year's similarly-promoted Anderson Silva vs. Chael Sonnen battle.

People didn't want St-Pierre to ask the fans who truly hated Diaz to give him "hands" when it was over. To them, the movie was still on and the closing credits hadn't played, and nobody wanted to see the fourth wall broken. It's what made the finish of the Ronda Rousey vs. Miesha Tate fight last year far more palatable to fans. After similar hype, when it was over, neither woman told the audience that bought into their fight, that they had really been taken for a ride.

But as far as whose fortunes changed, before getting into the five, the one person whose situation remained the same was St-Pierre. He's long since surpassed any standards as a Hall of Famer. At this point, the only question is which spot in top five fighters of all-time that he deserves.

His beating Diaz tied him with the retired Matt Hughes for the all-time record for most UFC wins with 18. It tied him with Royce Gracie for the second spot for most consecutive wins, with 11, behind Anderson Silva's 16. It tied him with Silva for most title match wins, with 11. He moved past Matt Hughes for most successful title defenses, with 8, behind only Silva with 11.

His next test won't be sold on hatred. It'll be sold on the idea that Hendricks won't be taken down as easily and as often as Diaz was, and while not the technical stand-up fighter St-Pierre is, Hendricks has far more firepower in both hands.

As far as Fortunes changed for Five, on a night built around welterweights, we'll look at five people to keep our eyes on going forward.

NICK DIAZ - A seeming mass of contradictions, Diaz's mouth and actions made him among the most compelling figures the sport has ever seen. He can't be put back into a rematch, nor matched with Anderson Silva as he asked, after losing five straight rounds and failing to capitalize on the long period the fight was standing late. But he can be promoted as a headliner against Condit in a natural return match, and he can, for years to come, be a valuable addition to any show. That's if he chooses to be.

Dana White's comments during the last week, and after, seemed to indicate the headaches he brings are expected going in. He seemed willing to put up with them because at the end of the day Diaz (27-9, 1 no contest) garnered so much attention for almost everything he did. Fights with the interest this one had don't come along that often.

But with his biggest career fight over, Diaz is no longer in the position where he can continually get away with things that would get 90 percent of the roster cut.

When the 29-year-old Diaz, almost predictably, announced his retirement after losing, only to minutes later ask for a match with St-Pierre or Silva, White said he didn't think Diaz should retire. But he also said he wasn't going to try and talk him out of it.

The funny thing is, there is a thin line between love and hate in fighters. If people hate you a lot, and the vulgar chants toward Diaz on Saturday night were louder than those ever heard at a UFC show, they are also in most cases not that far from turning the corner into loving you.

Diaz may not realize it, but he has the chance to become one of UFC's most popular fighters coming off this bout. Fans are drawn to him, and fans love a comeback story. Because he is one-of-a-kind in a sea of fighters who often seem interchangeable. He can get all those things he complained others have gotten ahead of him. That is, if he is just willing to not sabotage his career from this point forward.

JOHNY HENDRICKS - Few men have ever had to prove themselves as much as Hendricks (15-1) to get a title shot. Between St-Pierre's knee injury and Diaz's persona, the two-time NCAA champion wrestler from Oklahoma State amassed consecutive wins over Mike Pierce, Jon Fitch, Josh Koscheck, Martin Kampmann and now Condit.

From 2008-2010, St-Pierre looked like someone almost untouchable. He not only didn't lose fights, and didn't lose rounds, but he was virtually never losing any moment of any fight. It's hard to criticize someone who pitched a shutout against a dangerous opponent like Diaz, but St-Pierre did show signs of being human. He got tired in round three, something that had never happened before. Diaz was able to stop a lot of his takedowns, even if he never could mount much serious offense.

Hendricks does have weapons, the punching power and a level of at least on-paper wrestling ability that St-Pierre has never faced before that could make this his most difficult challenge since he started his second title reign.

It was long said that Josh Koscheck, who fought St-Pierre close in 2007, was St-Pierre's toughest stylistic match-up in the division. But Hendricks possess similar wrestling, more physical power, and knockout ability that Koscheck didn't have.

CARLOS CONDIT - After Condit (28-7) lost to Hendricks, he was fully aware of what is holding him back - his takedown defense in a division where a number of strong wrestlers fill up the top spots. Condit has a great diversified striking attack, superior conditioning and an iron chin. He withstood Hendricks' bombs and outstruck him for much of the fight. He was the one in charge in most of the third round, a point where Hendricks has traditionally pulled out his close wins. But Hendricks' ability to throw him around when needed cost Condit the decision. It was the same weakness St-Pierre took advantage of in the previous fight.

For most of his career, Condit was able to make up for his less-than-stellar takedown defense by that conditioning, most notable in handing Rory MacDonald his only loss, and with submission skills. But when going against the division's elite, who he can't submit from his back, he's going to find himself on the wrong end of decisions.

JAKE ELLENBERGER - On a night with the best in the division going at it, nobody made a statement like Ellenberger (29-6), who crushed Nate Marquardt (35-12-2) with a left and right combo standing, at the 3:00 mark of the first round.

The win was so impressive that if Hendricks hadn't been waiting too long, Ellenberger would have likely gotten the next title opportunity. And Ellenberger, learning about how the UFC works when it comes to the squeaky wheel theory, immediately issued a challenge to Hendricks.

Ellenberger has won eight out of his last nine, with a loss to Martin Kampmann perhaps being the only thing that puts Hendricks ahead of him. He and Hendricks have a lot of similarities, with the big knockout power and the good wrestling background.

But Ellenberger still has a hole he has to shore up when going against the elite, which is the ability to go the distance. He comes out strong in every fight, and either takes his opponent out early, or wins the first two rounds to where he's able to survive the third. That's something that will make it difficult once in the five-round main event picture.

The first-round finish, while the most impressive of the show, didn't tell us anything we didn't already know going in.

JORDAN MEIN - The 23-year-old son of a fighter, brought a combination of youth, poise, experience and skill level rarely seen in a UFC debut. Mein beating Dan Miller wasn't a surprise. But nobody at 185, including Michael Bisping, Demian Maia, Chael Sonnen and Rousimar Palhares, had ever finished Miller previously. Mein (27-8) did in the first round.

Mein is the new breed of fighter groomed since childhood. He has had 42 MMA fights (including seven as an amateur), as well as kickboxing fights in a combat career that dates back to age 11. The only question is if so many fights at a young age will break him down early. Right now, as his nickname states, the native of Lethbridge, Alberta, Canada, is the "Young Gun" to watch out for in the division.

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