The build-up to this weekend's UFC 158 card has been nothing short of epic. Normally drab conference calls and pre-fight press conferences have been all the rage due to the ramblings of Nick Diaz, which have only served to bolster the buzz leading up to this weekend's clash between "The Stockton Bad Boy" and welterweight champion Georges St-Pierre.
While the main event is getting the lion's share of attention, two other high-profile 170-pound tilts have made the card at UFC 158 one of the year's most anticipated affairs. UFC President Dana White labeled Saturday night's event at The Bell Centre an "un-official" welterweight tournament, due to having the top six fighters in the 170-pound weight class stepping into the Octagon.
The stacked welterweight showing in Montreal will mark the second time in less than a year the organization has assembled a card to showcase a particular weight class. In May of 2012 at UFC 146, the promotion went with an all heavyweight lineup on the pay-per-view portion of the event in what turned out to be one of the year's strongest cards.
Much like UFC 158, the headlining bout featured a championship clash as Junior dos Santos squared off with Frank Mir. Rounding out the card were a collection of the UFC's top big men as Cain Velasquez, Antonio Silva, Roy Nelson and Stefan Struve all saw action in Las Vegas. The event put the spotlight on a weight class the organization has been pushing to build for years, and the end result was a show that was successful on multiple levels.
While the welterweight division has been one of the deepest and most competitive under the UFC banner for years, Saturday night's 170-pound throwdowns will serve a similar purpose to what the heavyweight lineup at UFC 146 was able to accomplish.
Title Pictures Become Clear as Contenders Rise and Fall
Aside from the title fight atop the billing at UFC 158, the clash between Carlos Condit and Johny Hendricks is set to determine the next contender to the welterweight crown. While there was previously speculation on this matter, at today's pre-fight press conference for the event that streamed live on the company's website, UFC President Dana White declared that the winner of Condit vs. Hendricks would get the next shot.
This is important because it keeps the divisional title picture moving. In a weight class as competitive as the welterweight division, the action needs to stay at a steady pace to ensure contenders move up and fighters lingering on the edge can breakthrough. Other weight classes in the UFC fold have experienced this backlog in previous years and it creates a blurred picture as to who is clearly standing in the title realm.
Another crucial bout in the welterweight pairings at UFC 158 comes between Jake Ellenberger and Nate Marquardt. "The Juggernaut" Ellenberger has won seven of his last eight showings, and a win over the former Strikeforce welterweight champion will solidify his position as a contender in waiting.
The same can be said for Marquardt. The 33-year-old Colorado-based fighter is looking to make a statement in his return to the Octagon. After being cut from the promotion in the fall of 2011, Marquardt has been on a mission for redemption.
The former No. 1 contender to the middleweight title made a move down to welterweight, looking to carve out a new lane in his career. A win over Ellenberger would certainly prove Marquardt deserves to be among the top of the divisional hierarchy in the 170-pound weight class.
While the winners will take a strong step towards a title opportunity, the losers of Saturday night's dust-ups are going to face a tough road. A collection of fighters are waiting their turns to make strong runs, and in the aftermath of this weekend's card, several spots will be available.
A similar comparison can be made to what happened at UFC 146. Former heavyweight champion Cain Velasquez was making his first appearance since suffering a first-round knockout at the hands of Junior dos Santos. The AKA staple locked up with Antonio "Big Foot" Silva in the night's co-main event, stopping the Brazilian in less than a round due to his brutal ground-and-pound attack.
On the strength of the victory, White deemed Velasquez would be given the opportunity to rematch dos Santos for the heavyweight title. With both JDS and Velasquez competing on the same card, the decision to make the fight was an easy choice, and a transparent path UFC fans could follow.
A Group of Fighters on the Same Schedule
A difficult part of UFC matchmaker Joe Silva's job is lining up bouts that fit into both fighter's timelines. Often times, one fighter will have a lengthy lay-off while he waits for an opponent that makes sense to materialize. When the UFC schedules multiple bouts on a card featuring fighters in the same weight class, this makes things a bit easier in that department.
Aside from the three bouts previously mentioned in Montreal, there are three additional bouts laced throughout the undercard that features competitors in the 170-pound weight class. With the fighters on the undercard locking up and all being in similar places in the divisional standings, it is a relatively easy choice to match-up the winners and losers of those scraps.
It would make sense for the winner of Dan Miller vs. Jordan Mein to face the victor in the bout between Patrick Cote and Bobby Voelker. Granted, this idea hinges on the idea that no one will get injured and face a lengthy lay-off, but the theory is solid should all work out in normal fashion.
This exact scenario played out perfectly for the UFC during the heavyweight showcase when surging prospects Stefan Struve and Stipe Miocic both emerged victorious from their respective bouts at UFC 146. The Dutch "Skyscraper" submitted Lavar Johnson in quick fashion, and Miocic knocked the shine off of Shane Del Rosario's seemingly bright future. With both fighters coming off solid wins, a matchup at UFC on Fuel TV 5 a few months later in September made perfect sense.
These particular situations could perhaps be the greatest benefit to a divisional showcase card. The fan base gets to watch prospects and contenders develop against the backdrop of the very best the weight class has to offer. This of course makes future matchups all the more intriguing because there is a familiarity with the fighters involved, and once fans are locked in, they will follow a fighter's progression in good times and bad.
Two More Showcases I'd Like to See
With the heavyweight and welterweight divisions employing this method, I would love to see two other weight classes take this approach. Both the lightweight and featherweight divisions have heated up over the past two years—a card that would serve to highlight the best each weight class had to offer would be a strong move.
While both divisions have experienced their fair share of lulls, where movement towards the title is concerned, a showcase such as the one taking place this weekend in Montreal would be a solid remedy to the problem.
By putting the championship fight as the main event, and allowing the other top fighters in the weight class to sort things out in the same night, it's only going to keep things moving in the right direction. Even if an upset occurs, the title changes hands and a rematch is granted, the fighter competing in the co-main event can squabble with the winner of the fight below him and it would not only make sense, but it would keep things moving despite the championship rematch.
On the other hand, the UFC has made a habit recently of putting together title fights that go outside the normal flow of a division. Therefore, the solution offered may not be perfect, but it does keep certain aspects of the division from being jammed up.