How the UFC 158 Shake-Up Affects the Welterweight Title Picture
The news of an injury forcing Rory MacDonald out of his scheduled bout with Carlos Condit at UFC 158 hit the MMA media headlines last night, and the UFC has its first taste of the "injury bug" in 2013.
The rematch between the surging young star and the former interim champion was a highly anticipated tilt, but before fans could feel the full weight of the letdown, the UFC moved quickly to build a new co-main event for the welterweight showcase in Montreal.
As first reported by Bleacher Report's Damon Martin, "The Natural Born Killer" will now square off with contender-in-waiting Johny Hendricks. "Bigg Rigg" was originally slated to face Jake Ellenberger on the same card, but when the doors to a fight with Condit opened, Hendricks jumped at the opportunity. At the current time, Ellenberger is still without an opponent, but it appears he will still compete in Montreal next month.
The switch-up has obviously had an immediate impact on the lineup at UFC 158, but the ripple effect has the potential to ultimately shake up the entire contender's class in the 170-pound weight class.
Johny Hendricks Looking to Leave No Questions on the Table
Heading into his training camp for UFC 158, Johny Hendricks already had a chip on his shoulder. The former two-time Division I national champion wrestler had just collected his fifth consecutive victory in stunning fashion by knocking out Martin Kampmann in the first round of their tilt at UFC 154, only to see the title shot he expected to get ultimately given to Nick Diaz.
The decision was undoubtedly frustrating for the Team Takedown fighter. But rather than wait for the next opportunity to come around, Hendricks jumped immediately back into the title hunt by accepting a bout with Ellenberger. It seemed to be a risky move, putting a potential title opportunity on the line against a dangerous opponent, but Hendricks wanted to make his case for contention loud and clear.
By accepting the bout with Condit, the 29-year-old now has taken destiny into his own hands. The Jackson/Winkeljohn-trained fighter is the only other welterweight in the current picture who could lay claim to the same level of title contention as Hendricks.
Condit has won five of his past six, with the only loss on that stretch coming in his most recent outing against welterweight king Georges St-Pierre at UFC 154.
Should Hendrick's hammer left hand and wrestling pedigree prove too much for Condit to handle, the next title opportunity will be carved in stone.
On the other hand, the former WEC champion has one of the division's craftiest skill sets, and Condit's well-rounded attack has the potential to give Hendricks fits inside the cage. If Condit can derail Hendricks in Montreal, another shot at welterweight gold could be in the near future.
The Timing is Bad, but Situation is Ultimately Good for Maia
As soon as Condit vs. Hendricks became official, Twitter blew up with suggestions from all corners of the MMA community as to who should step in to face Ellenberger. One name that came up in popular fashion was former middleweight contender turn welterweight, Demian Maia.
The Brazilian submission ace has been on a tear since dropping down to 170 pounds, and his recent dominance of perennial contender Jon Fitch has Maia on the cusp of big things in the welterweight division.
While MMA fans held out hope of Maia stepping in to face "The Juggernaut," MMA Fighting's Ariel Helwani reported via Twitter that Maia was suffering from a minor meniscus injury and wouldn't be healthy in time to make the bout next month. Despite this opportunity passing him by, Maia has the potential to benefit from the entire situation caused by McDonald's injury.
With the Tristar-trained fighter moving to the sidelines for the time being, the potential for Maia to get an opponent in the divisional upper tier greatly increases. The card at UFC 158 will serve to unseat at least three of the division's best, and Maia will have the opportunity to move up the ladder in his next outing.
There was talk this week of a potential matchup with Tarec Saffiedine, but with news of the former Strikeforce welterweight champion turning down an opportunity to face Condit, it is difficult to tell what Saffiedine's next step will look like. Nevertheless, Maia will undoubtedly get a high-level opponent for his next trip into the Octagon, and a victory could put him on the doorstep of a title shot.
Three More Contenders at the Ready
Jake Ellenberger may have lost his top-ranked opponent for UFC 158, but his mission to become a UFC champion has not been detoured. The former Marine has won seven of his past eight bouts, with his most recent victory coming over veteran Jay Hieron at UFC on FX 5.
In the wake of the GSP vs. Diaz announcement, Ellenberger told Bleacher Report the Hendricks fight was the thing he wanted next and his wish was granted. But now the bout with Hendricks is gone, and Ellenberger's road to a long-awaited title shot has just had a few steps added to the path.
A possible option to step in to face Ellenberger would be former Strikeforce welterweight contender Tyron Woodley. The former University of Missouri wrestling standout made a major splash in his UFC debut by knocking Hieron stiff just 36 seconds into the opening round.
The victory over the Xtreme Couture staple was a strong rebound after Woodley suffered the first loss of his career against Nate Marquardt last July. Immediately following his win at UFC 156, Woodley told UFC president Dana White he was ready to go if any welterweights dropped off the UFC 158 card. Now that this scenario has become a reality, "T-Wood" could very well get the call to face Ellenberger.
Another fighter who has the opportunity to make a move up the divisional ladder is Josh Koscheck. The former NCAA Division I wrestling champion steps back into action for the first time in nine months when he throws down with Robbie Lawler this weekend at UFC 157.
The TUF alum has been one of the sport's best welterweights for the past six years and is only a couple of wins away from becoming a serious contender again. If the 35-year-old is successful against Lawler this Saturday night, a potential show down with Maia or MacDonald when he becomes healthy would make sense.
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