UFC 158 is an electric card that will unveil the hottest contenders in the UFC's deepest division. On March 16, within the confines of Montreal's Bell Centre, leaders will emerge, and fall, as the best-of-the-best meet on a watershed card.
This will be a momentous night for the careers of the best welterweights in the world. The Octagon will be the portal that shall define the future for upcoming marquee bouts.
The headliner is the world champion, and possibly the greatest fighter on the planet, native Quebecer Georges St-Pierre against the quintessential bad boy, Nick Diaz. Diaz's fighting style resonates with all fight fans, and while his polemic personality might not ingratiate him to all people, even his most ardent of detractors would agree they enjoy watching his bouts.
Diaz has long lamented that he has been deserving of a title shot, and GSP has specifically requested this opponent for his chance to respond to some disrespectful remarks made about the champ's character and the legitimacy of his now healed injury. It's a recipe for an action-packed affair.
Diaz purported, in his post-fight interview after defeating B.J. Penn, that GSP was faking an injury and insinuated he did so to avoid fighting Diaz. GSP was in attendance to personally hear the bellicose comments made by the truculent Stockton star.
"I don't think he is hurt. I think he is scared to fight. Where you at Georges?"
The champ underwent surgery and intense rehab before agreeing to this bout which seems like an awful elaborate subterfuge to simply delay the encounter. Diaz's remarks irked "Rush" to the extent that the French-Canadian personally requested to Dana White that he meet Diaz. The winner here will categorically be the undisputed greatest 170-pound fighter on the planet.
The battle for the definitive No. 1 contender status is the co-main event. Jake Ellenberger will be contesting the division's most impressive fighter over the past two years, Johny Hendricks.
In 2011 and 2012, "Big Rig" had wins over five UFC opponents including first round knockout wins over Jon Fitch, Martin Kampmann and T.J. Waldburger. He also had two split-decision wins over a skilled Mike Pierce and perennial contender Josh Koscheck. The winner will be perfectly positioned to demand the next crack at the gold.
In another welterweight showdown, the man people have earmarked to replace GSP on the throne is the champ's stablemate and fellow Canuck, Rory MacDonald. The heir apparent is encountering the recently dethroned interim champion, Carlos Condit. Condit is the only man to blemish the young phenom's record. The stoic star called out Condit after he bested Penn.
While the win was controversial in that the match was stopped with a mere seven seconds left and MacDonald ahead on the cards, it was a fair stoppage as Condit was landing significant strikes to a weary MacDonald. The stoppage was just, as safety should always supersede ego and the abstract value in a perfect record. This rematch will place the winner squarely as a top contender.
As incredibly talented as he is, MacDonald has yet to beat an upper-echelon 170-pounder. His convincing destruction of Penn was, to be fair, not against the best B.J. The Hawaiian icon has not been a credible welterweight contender in years. A win over the former interim champ will prove to the world that MacDonald is deserving of the hype.
Condit, who lost to GSP last November, is looking to regain his foothold as the top of the mountain. In order for him to remain in title contention, he needs to derail the rising virtuoso. A loss would be a devastating setback.
While the world is enamoured with Canada's heartthrob champion, GSP and fast-rising star MacDonald, the MMA universe is about to be introduced to a fighter who may one day be the greatest Canadian fighter of all time, Jordan Mein.
Jordan is facing Dan Miller on the undercard. The young star is 23 years old and has 34 pro fights. He is perfectly well-rounded and has all the tools to be a legend in the sport. A big win over Miller will etch his name on the elite list where he will remain for at least another decade.
The chapter continues to write itself as Canada's Sean Pierson, on a two-fight winning streak, will face Rick Story. This clash is very important to frame the division's elite as Story holds wins over Johny Hendricks and Jake Ellenberger. A "W' for the skilled Pierson places him as a top-10 fighter on the brink of being a serious player in title contention.
This is a great opportunity for Pierson to showcase his prodigious talent and make an impact amongst the elite in the division. The raucous crowd will be staunchly supporting their comrade who is always capable of giving the fans a fight-of-the-night worthy performance.
His win over Matt Riddle in the same venue in December 2010 is a testament to his ability to please the viewers. "The Punisher" will surely be looking to unleash some of his Frank Castle-esque skills in this climacteric bout as the time for the veteran to utilize the multitude of options within his arsenal is now.
A win for "The Horror Story" places him back on track after losing three of his last four contests. Story is an exciting fighter with a growing fanbase and is in desperate need of a win to remain relevant in the promotion. It is an important fight to better define who will rise and fall in the division's middle ladder rungs.
Overall, the night will undoubtedly redefine the welterweight picture. Contenders will be moved up and down in the rankings reflective of their performance. It will also paint the canvass with future showdowns to further define the top title contenders. This night, like no other in MMA history, will showcase the best 170-pound fighters and sculpt the landscape for the most important upcoming bouts at this weight.
This shall be a night where performance, not politics will allow the players to carve out their own opportunities. This is a ripe opportunity of glory placed within the grasp of all of these athletes. In a sport where title shots and main events are chosen capriciously and often incomprehensibly (Bonnar-Silva), this is a night where one can make their own luck and forge their own destiny.
As Malvolio famously noted: "Be not afraid of greatness: some are born great, some achieve greatness and some have greatness thrust upon them".
The fans will see who the best are, and the fighters will have their chance to stamp their mark on the division before a massive PPV audience and a sold-out arena.
Regardless of the individual winners and losers, the future of the sport's deepest division is very bright indeed. There is no shortage of stars in the 170-pound galaxy. And on this night, all will have an equal footing to cross the threshold into greatness.
Before midnight strikes in La Belle Province, the world will have an undisputed champion, definitive No. 1 and two contenders and a clear idea of who should be in talks for a future title shot. Fans should not miss this card!
All quotes and paraphrased statements from UFC broadcasts.