If it feels like you've waited forever to see Georges St-Pierre and Nick Diaz face off, well, you're not alone.
We've waited a long time for this fight. And there was a time, back when Diaz was suspended and retired and not coming back to the UFC, that I figured it was going to fall in that category of "dream fights that never came to fruition," right alongside Fedor Emelianenko vs. Randy Couture or Brock Lesnar.
But we got lucky.
Diaz came to his senses and decided to continue fighting, and St-Pierre elected to go with the biggest-money fight available to him in the welterweight division instead of facing Johny Hendricks or moving up in weight to face Anderson Silva. So even though the road was a long one, we're finally here: St-Pierre and Diaz will step in the Octagon on Saturday night in Montreal.
I'll be in Montreal all week providing you with the usual fight week news and nuggets. But for now, let's take a look at five questions surrounding various fighters on the card.
Will the St-Pierre/Diaz grudge lead to an exciting fight?
There's very little question that Georges St-Pierre truly dislikes Nick Diaz. We've known that for quite some time now.
The question surrounding the fight is this: Will St-Pierre's hatred for everything Diaz represents result in GSP actually trying to finish a fight rather than score a wrestling-based decision?
I don't know that it will. I hope so, but we've seen instances of St-Pierre having plenty of dislike for his opponents in the past. Josh Koscheck, for example, got under the welterweight champion's skin for a long time leading up to their fight, and yet St-Pierre was content to keep Koscheck grounded for the majority of their UFC 124 fight.
I can't blame St-Pierre for going after a win in the best way he knows how. He's a rich man with a brand to protect, and much of the popularity of that brand comes from his long reign as champion. In his head, it probably makes more sense to score the win however he can, and if that means wrestling his opponent for five rounds, so be it.
But we've also spent a lot of time hearing St-Pierre discuss how he's not going to do that anymore, how he's going to go for the finish. And then, after each unanimous decision win, St-Pierre apologizes for not finishing his opponent.
It's time to stop apologizing and start taking a few risks. If St-Pierre wants to maintain his standing as one of the most popular fighters in the world, he'll need to show the fans that he's willing to do a little bit extra to thank them for paying their hard-earned dollars to watch him fight. And there's no better opponent with which to do that than Diaz.
This is a situation tailor-made for St-Pierre to put on an exciting fight, because he has a willing opponent that would love nothing more than to stand and trade punches. And on top of that, this is a real grudge match that has the potential to send his hometown Montreal crowd into raptures.
I would understand if he just wants the win, but I want to see GSP do more than just win. I want to see him excel.
Can Johny Hendricks make a statement and overcome his biggest test to date?
By all rights, Johny Hendricks should be competing against Georges St-Pierre in the main event of UFC 158. He's the rightful top contender and is riding a five-fight winning streak, with his last three wins coming over top-10 competition.
But money talks, so Hendricks is relegated to the co-main event while Diaz takes his place against St-Pierre. And even though Hendricks should be fighting for a title, his bout with Carlos Condit affords him the opportunity to firmly cement himself as the challenger for whomever wins the main event.
Condit is Hendricks' toughest challenger to date, perhaps even by a wide margin. Despite losing to St-Pierre in his last bout, Condit is the former interim welterweight champ and has plenty of big wins over tough competition throughout his career. Prior to losing to St-Pierre, Condit was on a five-fight winning streak of his own that dated back to 2009.
Simply put, if Hendricks can beat Condit, there's simply no way he can be denied a title shot in his next bout. That makes this fight the most important of Hendricks' career, and it'll be interesting to see how he responds.
How will Nate Marquardt fare in the UFC's welterweight division?
Prior to his dismissal from the promotion, Nate Marquardt was a good UFC middleweight. But like so many others, Marquardt reached the top of the mountain, only to be swiftly knocked back down by Anderson Silva. That's nothing to be ashamed of; it happens to everyone, after all.
Once Marquardt left the UFC, he made the drop to welterweight. Upon signing with the Zuffa-owned Strikeforce—it was a way for Marquardt to earn his way back into the UFC after Dana White famously said that Marquardt would never be allowed back in the UFC—he made his welterweight debut in a fantastic showing against Tyron Woodley, capturing the Strikeforce welterweight title in the process.
It was a new Marquardt; he looked incredible, and it seemed like he had finally found his optimal weight class. But Marquardt came out flat in his next bout against Tarec Saffiedine in the final fight in Strikeforce history. He lost the title but still got a chance to sign with the UFC.
Marquardt has all the tools to be a top-level welterweight in the UFC. And his willingness to fight sometimes-teammate St-Pierre for the title will surely earn him points in White's eyes. But before any of that can happen, Marquardt must get past Jake Ellenberger, a strong wrestler who hits like a truck.
It's a tough matchup for Marquardt, but all of his fights in this division will be tough. If he beats Ellenberger, he'll likely have to face another top-five fighter or two before even being remotely considered for a title shot.
This is not to say that Marquardt can't do it, because again, I believe he has all the tools to succeed. But Marquardt often fails himself from a mental perspective in fights, the bout with Saffiedine being a perfect example.
If he comes out mentally prepared and physically ready, Marquardt can beat just about anyone in the division. If he doesn't and instead loses a couple of fights, he could find himself back in the unemployment line.
Is Jordan Mein truly a top welterweight prospect?
Jordan Mein is 26-8 in his mixed martial arts career. That's a nice record, but it's even more breathtaking when you consider that Mein is just 23 years old.
Put simply, Mein is one of the most promising young fighters to come to the UFC from Strikeforce. He's very well-rounded, but his technical boxing game is what truly sets him apart. And despite his young age, he has the experience that you usually only find in veterans who are 10 or more years older.
He's facing a tough opponent in Dan Miller, though. Miller made his own drop to welterweight last June, submitting Ricardo Funch and earning Submission of the Night honors. He's known as a very game fighter with excellent submissions, and Mein will need to do everything he can to keep the fight standing, where he should have a significant striking advantage.
Mein could go far in the UFC. It's cheesy to say, but the sky is truly the limit for this Canadian kid.
Can Rick Story turn his career around?
Back in 2011, Rick Story was being considered as a potential title contender. He had won six fights in a row, including wins over Johny Hendricks and Thiago Alves.
But then the wheels came off. Story lost three of his next four fights, including his last bout to Demian Maia in October. The main thing we'll remember from that fight is Maia squeezing Story's head so hard that blood began squirting from Story's nose.
Nowadays, Story isn't trying to contend; he's simply trying to stay in the UFC.
He has a good chance. Quinn Mulhern is a Strikeforce import, but he's far from being the best of the Strikeforce welterweights to come into the UFC. Mulhern has never faced an opponent like Story, but Story also has a tendency to fight on his opponent's level.
This fight represents a chance for Story to stop his skid and establish some footing in the welterweight division. But he'll need to go into the cage and perform at the level he's capable of; otherwise, he'll likely find himself out of the Octagon and out of a job.