Nick Diaz couldn't make Georges St-Pierre crack.
From Las Vegas hotel mean mugs to accusations of steroid use, from attempts by his camp to create a last-minute hand-wrap controversy, to taking a swing at the champion after the conclusion of the third round, MMA's premiere trash talker did everything he could to get inside the head of the UFC welterweight champion.
Over the course of fight week, St-Pierre looked as close to flustered as we've ever seen him, sometimes peevish in interviews and visibly annoyed with Diaz during Thursday's pre-fight press conference.
St-Pierre even admitted, after his across-the-board sweep of Diaz at UFC 158, that Diaz took head games to a higher level than any fighter he's ever faced.
"It was crazy," St-Pierre said. "It was the first time someone played a lot of head games with me. It was tough. It was very demanding. I'm happy. Some people play head games with me before, but to that level, it was quite uncomfortable."
Uncomfortable, maybe. But in the end, none of it mattered.
St-Pierre on Saturday showed the mental focus which separates the all-time greats from the contenders and even from other champions. Once the fight started at Montreal's Bell Centre, after all the histrionics, GSP treated the Octagon the way a doctor does his office. St-Pierre dominated the former Strikeforce and WEC champion with the same methodical precision as he has everyone else who has stepped to the plate.
In recording his 11th consecutive victory, St-Pierre tied Matt Hughes' UFC record with 18 wins, surpassed Hughes with his eighth successful welterweight title defense, and ensured that come April 19, he'll become just the second fighter, behind Anderson Silva, to boast a five-year UFC title reign.
Eventually, someone is going to defeat GSP and end his magnificent run atop the welterweight division. That someone could very well be Johny Hendricks, whose combination of high-level wrestling and punching power makes him the most intriguing pure style matchup St-Pierre has faced, perhaps in his entire title reign.
But Saturday night served as proof, once and for all, that when it all matters, no amount of bluster is going to rattle St-Pierre from his game plan, not even from the sport's pound-for-pound ranting champion in Diaz.
"I always respect everybody who does their job," GSP said of Diaz. "It's a very tough job, we all come from a different background, but where we all come from there's a lot of sacrifice. We all have a different road, but I have high respect for anyone who makes the sacrifice. You have to work very hard."
UFC 158 quotes
"He hits like a woman. He has his full-on range to separate and punch me, but he hits like a girl because he's too scared to let go to get a real punch in." -- Diaz, in a Fuel TV interview.
"There was animosity before the fight, and then after the fight we hugged, then when I went to do an interview with Ariel Helwani, he said that I fight like a girl and he wants to fight in a rematch immediately, so I guess we're back to where we were." -- St-Pierre at the post-fight press conference.
"When they were sitting up there at the press conference and GSP said ‘my dark side' and all that s***, you said that. I didn't put a f*** impersonator or ventriloquist up there to shoot the promo or the commercial, he said it, and all the s***'s that's happened with Nick Diaz has happened. You couldn't hear the commentary when Diaz went back to his stool, he was saying, ‘he hits like a b***, win or lose, he's a p****.' And stuff like that, he tried to slap him after the third round. He's one hell of an actor, maybe he should get a role. It's Nick Diaz, that's the way it is." -- UFC president Dana White, when essentially asked if the fight buildup was phony.
"Once your weapons are injured, you gotta find another way to win, and that's what I did. I know Carlos is tough, I knew that I had to fight him everywhere. Hopefully, it shows that I can do a little bit of everything." -- Hendricks on overcoming a hand injury and earning his victory over Condit.
"In my opinion, the ref should have taken a point away right there. It was intentional." -- White, on Diaz's swing at GSP after round three.
Stock up: Jake Ellenberger
Ellenberger fumed when Johny Hendricks, who was originally slated to face Hendricks on Saturday night, accepted the co-main event bout with Condit after Condit's original opponent, Rory MacDonald, had to drop out of their planned fight. You can't blame Hendricks for taking the opportunity, nor can you blame Ellenberger for his disappointment. But once he got over it, Ellenberger did the only thing he could with his vicious knockout of veteran Nate Marquardt. It remains to be seen whether Ellenberger's wrestling is up to the level of St-Pierre or Hendricks, which is what it will take to get to the top of the mountain. But there's also no doubt his striking is solid enough to hang with anyone in the division, including the top dogs.
Stock down: TUF Finale runners-up
With the benefit of hindsight, it's tough to figure why the lightweight matchup between TUF 16 finalist Mike Ricci and TUF Smashes runner-up Colin Fletcher was on a pay-per-view main card. Maybe the UFC felt Ricci would come out in front of his hometown and get the main card started off with a bang. Either way, all Ricci's unanimous decision win did was serve as a reminder how far the talent level has thinned on the reality show over the years, as both winner and loser looked not ready for prime time. Ricci's future should be fine, as he's a marketable personality and he's Canadian, which means he's likely to keep popping up on big cards whenever the UFC goes north of the border. My best guess with Fletcher is he gets one more chance on the undercard of a European event. But either way, it will be a surprise if we see either on a PPV main card any time soon.
Good call: Johny Hendricks
Since there were no obvious standout judging or officiating calls Saturday night, I'm going to use this space as another "Stock Up," this time to Hendricks. The former NCAA wrestling champ has long since proven he could translate his wrestling skills to MMA. He's done likewise with his knockout power against high-level guys like Martin Kampmann and Jon Fitch. Against Josh Koshceck, Hendricks showed he can grind it out against a tough out of an opponent when he had to. But Saturday, Hendricks showed he could put it all together in a big spotlight against a championship-caliber fighter. Hendricks injured his home-run left hand, but still managed to take the decision against one of the sport's most well-rounded fighters. It was precisely the sort of win which announces that someone is ready for their big moment.
Bad call: Elkins-Carvalho stoppage
The worst call of the night was Yves Levigne's stoppage of Darren Elkins' victory over Antonio Carvalho, in which Lavigne rushed in to stop the fight after a wobbly-legged Carvalho was dropped by a solid Elkins shot, only to have Carvalho pop right back up just as Levigne was waving the fight off.
But this was more a matter of unfortunate timing in a fight Elkins seemed well on his way to winning than a matter of a an out-and-out atrocious call. White explained it best in the post-fight press conference.
"I think that's one of the, obviously it's a bad stoppage," White said. "But I think it's one of those stoppages where, it's crazy where, when he got hit, you could tell he was on crazy legs, and then he gets hit with another punch, and the referee already made the decision to stop it. He was already moving to stop the fight when he popped back up. That's just one of those bad luck things, not only for Cavalho but also for the ref. That wasn't one of those ‘oh my god' things."
Fight I'd like to see next: Carlos Condit vs. Whoever Carlos Condit wants to fight
Condit's on a two-fight losing streak, so it goes without saying that his next fight is crucial. Unlike most people in his position, though, the former WEC and UFC interim champion has earned the right to pick his spot in his next fight. In Condit's last six fights, he's picked up three Fight of the Night bonuses (including his losses to St-Pierre and Hendricks), twice one Knockout of the Night, and the other was his interim welterweight title win over Diaz. When you have a resume like that, you've earned some say on your future.
In November, Condit pushed St-Pierre as he's rarely been pushed in his title reign. Last night, he came up a point short in a fight with Hendricks which is destined for Fight of the Year consideration when December rolls around.
It's only a matter of time until someone underneath Condit in the welterweight division calls him out. Ellenberger? Could be a memorable striking battle. Diaz? Condit's already beaten him, but it would sell more than anyone else available. A rematch with Martin Kampmann? Condit's the type of competitor who would want to wipe a loss off his record. Rory MacDonald? Why not? We were ready for that rematch as is. So let Condit pick his next opponent. Chances are we're in for a good fight either way.