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While Welterweight Division Idles, Jake Ellenberger Makes Case for No. 1

Zuffa LLC via Getty Images
Zuffa LLC via Getty Images

The UFC welterweight championship hasn't been defended in 397 days. That's how long titleholder Georges St-Pierre has been out of action, a number that will balloon to 568 days if GSP returns, as he suggests, at a scheduled Nov. 17 event in Montreal. Carlos Condit won the interim championship 117 days ago, and has no plans of competing until St-Pierre returns. More recently, Johny Hendricks was promised a title shot after beating Josh Koscheck, and he has said he will wait to cash in that chip rather than risk it, an absence that could last one year.

If you're counting, that's the champ, interim champ and No. 1 contender -- two belts and three fighters -- on the shelf.

While they're waiting, Jake Ellenberger and Martin Kampmann will be squaring off in a significant matchup of top 10 ranked fighters at Friday night's TUF Live Finale. Yet given the suspended state of the division, it's easy to wonder exactly what stakes they are playing for. There's no title shot on the line, no interim belt, or anything else past their paychecks. Instead, these are the guys who will have to prop up the division while everyone else is waiting. Which begs the question, do we need an interim interim title?

That's a joke, even though technically speaking, we have two No. 1 contenders, which goes to show that things are basically a mess.

At least St-Pierre, Condit and Hendricks know roughly what's in front of them, but what about Ellenberger? While he's currently ranked No. 3 in the world by most observers and rides a six-fight win streak into the match, what is in his future if he wins?

Think about this: with GSP, Condit, Hendricks and Nick Diaz (suspension) out of action, who does Ellenberger face next to increase his stock? Josh Koscheck? Jon Fitch? Rory MacDonald? The options are slim because the guys he should be fighting won't be available to him until 2013.

The tricky part of this situation is that it's hard to blame Condit or Hendricks for waiting.

After UFC on FOX 3, I was part of a small group of reporters that asked Hendricks about the long road ahead. He equated it to something that a non-fighter could easily understand: money. If you were told you would be given a $1 million award, and all you had to do to earn it was wait a year without working, would you have the patience to do it? Most would. Hendricks and Condit are awaiting their respective opportunities to collect a jackpot. Fair enough.

The more curious decisions lie with the UFC. Specifically, what exactly was the point of making UFC 143's Condit vs. Diaz match an interim title fight if the interim title wasn't going to be defended? What was the point of awarding a title shot to Hendricks when there was already a challenger queued up?

If Ellenberger earns a victory over Kampmann on Friday, he will have won seven fights in a row. That will be a longer stretch of wins than both Condit (five) and Hendricks (four), and the longest active UFC streak of any non-champion. Yet even if he gets that win, he's promised and will likely receive nothing past his pay. That's fine in the sense that we get to see him stay active, but it doesn't seem right that regardless of what happens, he'll remain on the outside looking in.

Some will point out that Condit holds a win over Ellenberger, and while that's true, it came by the slimmest of margins in a controversial split decision in a fight that Ellenberger took on short notice. If that -- along with the prospect of a true No. 1 contender -- wouldn't make a great setup for a rematch, I don't know what would.

Unfortunately, it seems like it won't happen due to the creation of a meaningless title for no real purpose. Neither will Ellenberger vs. Hendricks, a fight would which could also set up a viable challenger. The UFC has made its promises to both Condit and Hendricks, and unless either of the two fighters change their mind, or GSP has a setback that radically alters his return timeline, neither seems likely to fight anytime soon.

While they're waiting, Ellenberger might just build a rock solid case as the true No. 1 contender. All he has to do is find someone willing to fight.

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