UFC 158 went down Saturday night from the Bell Centre in Montreal, Quebec, Canada. In a main event three years in the making, hometown favorite Georges St-Pierre put his welterweight title on the wire against an underdog and a personal rival in Stockton, Calif., native Nick Diaz.
Throughout fight week, the animosity between these two built like war drums. The caustic but charismatic Diaz entered trash-talking hyperspace, calling St-Pierre pampered, openly accusing him of steroid use (a claim St-Pierre has always flatly denied) and gleefully disrespecting the champ at every turn.
St-Pierre, typically stoic and stiffly courteous in front of a microphone, lost his composure more than once, referring to his opponent as an "uneducated fool" and a bully.
The main event certainly stole the spotlight Saturday night, but as always, great matchups and memorable moments covered the card, from Facebook to finale.
Anyone can regurgitate all the stat lines, but do those lines tell you who the real winners and losers were Saturday night in Quebec? No, sir or madam. No, sir or madam, they do not.
Who emerged in a stronger position? Who took a step back? Who became a star, and who became a heel? Fighters, judges, referees, observers, beverage vendors: No one is safe.
Not long ago, Rick Story was in the co-main event. Saturday night, he headlined the Facebook-only portion of the card. Losing three of four will do that for you.
But at UFC 158, Story got his groove back, dialing up a heavy left hand to pound out UFC debutant Quinn Mulhern in the very first round.
"I'm on my way back up," Story declared to the cameras in the fight's immediate aftermath. So it would seem.
All right, hardcore fan. Put the pitchfork down. The FX card opener was a nice fight. But when you have two lightweight knockout artists like Daron Cruickshank and John Makdessi, you want to see a little more than "tactical" success.
To see this fight go the distance without even a knockdown has to qualify it as a disappointment. Both men were tentative, waiting for openings that never really came and watching their infrequent home-run swings go begging.
Credit where it's due: It heated up toward the end, and there were good exchanges in places. Makdessi's excellent jab in particular found a home down the stretch. In giving Makdessi the unanimous decision win, the judges definitely got it right.
But for a bout many had tagged as a dark horse for Knockout or even Fight of the Night bonuses, this one simply didn't deliver the goods. The booing fans in Montreal certainly seemed to think so, and it's a safe bet UFC brass concurred.
Canada may have just unveiled its next great welterweight.
In his very first fight below the UFC lights, Jordan Mein showed a blend of skill and poise that belied his 23 years in handing veteran Dan Miller his first career stoppage loss, by first-round TKO.
Mein maneuvered out of a serious early armbar and regrouped in a big way. He floored Miller with a hard left hand, but instead of listening to his adrenaline and rushing into another dangerous ground situation, he allowed Miller to stand.
Mein patiently waited for his next opportunity, and when he saw it, he took it. And how.
I mean, I love the guy as a fighter. And I'm certainly no fashion plate. But come on. You're in the bigs now, Jordan. Try not to look like you have permanent hat head.
I don't envy Lavigne's responsibility. And I think he does a fine job, by and large. But it's hard to defend his decision to wave off Darren Elkins after Elkins knocked down Antonio Carvalho. Carvalho, known for his toughness, was undeniably rocked. But he also bounced right back to his feet.
Even Elkins semi-admitted to broadcaster Joe Rogan after the fight that he probably wouldn't have stopped it had he been in Lavigne's shoes.
"It's not my call," Elkins told Rogan. "I would have kept on trying to finish him. He came right back up."
I guess it goes to show you can't win 'em all. And that's why Lavigne is here.
This one was a rousing success for every reason Cruickshank/Makdessi was not: Two tough and creative fighters waging MMA war.
There were punches, elbows, even a jumping knee or two. There were strong ground exchanges. Both men took major punishment but stayed upright and continued to give as good as they got.
Though it was a very close contest, the decision went to crowd favorite Cote, a Quebec native who frequently appears as a fight commentator on French-language television. It was a satisfying end to a satisfying fight.
If you want a surefire plan for gaining a foothold in the UFC, take a look at what Colin Fletcher did Saturday night and do the exact opposite.
Fletcher was tentative and uninspired throughout his decision loss to Mike Ricci. He often raised a leg or started a spin, only to bail on actually throwing the strike.
Before the final round, Fletcher's corner advised him he had to submit Ricci in order to win. Fletcher never attempted a takedown.
And to top it all off, he wore a clown mask during his walk to the cage. It's one of Fletcher's calling cards, but it's not exactly a favorite of UFC president Dana White. This in-fight tweet from the man himself kind of tells you all you need to know:
Fletcher won't need his mask when this fight is over!!— Dana White (@danawhite) March 17, 2013
Fletcher is now 0-2 in UFC competition. I don't see him getting a third opportunity.
With his first-round knockout of Nate Marquardt Saturday night, Jake Ellenberger scrawled his name on the very short list of contenders for the UFC welterweight title.
Ellenberger survived a bit of early trouble and used his massive punching power to finish the veteran Marquardt at 3:00 of the opening stanza.
Ellenberger may be second to Johny Hendricks in the division's power-punching department, but those gnarly chunks of sidewalk on the end of his fists are some of the deadlier weapons you can find in the Octagon.
"I earned it," Johny Hendricks told broadcaster Joe Rogan after the fight.
Yes, he did.
In a masterwork of mixed martial arts excitement, the college wrestling champion brandished his bowling ball of a left hand effectively. He hit, by my count, 12 of 13 takedown attempts. It all resulted in a well-contested but clear decision victory for Hendricks over the great Carlos Condit.
So what did he earn with the victory? The title shot, of course. Many thought he earned it after his last win, a November knockout of Martin Kampmann.
He didn't get it then, but after his sixth consecutive win, how can you possibly deny him? This is the second-best welterweight in the world. At least.
Condit came up just short at UFC 158, but he proved yet again that he's one of the toughest outs in the entire UFC.
He absorbed Hendricks' infamous left hand and kept on coming. It's been a long time since anyone did that. It may have never happened before.
And he did plenty of damage himself, shading Hendricks into the mental grayscale on a couple of occasions, thanks to those razor-sharp striking combinations and deceptively heavy fists, knees and feet.
Hendricks earned his title shot. And with another crazy, energetic and just plain-old brilliant performance, Condit made certain "earned" was the operative word.
It wasn't the major beatdown some people were expecting. It was just classic Georges St-Pierre.
Five rounds of dominance, in a nutshell. Nick Diaz fought reasonably well, staving off St-Pierre's ground strikes, stuffing a few takedowns and doing what he could to score during standing exchanges. But in the end, Diaz was smothered and frustrated by a better fighter in St-Pierre.
And it's just another victim for the pile.
After the fight, Diaz appeared to retire (again) from the sport. "I think I'm done with mixed martial arts," Diaz told broadcaster Joe Rogan after the fight. "Hopefully I made enough money to invest in something...I like to think I did the best I could with what I had to work with."
We'll see if that sticks. In the meantime, both men did their jobs Saturday night. It wasn't brutal, it wasn't spectacular, it wasn't an exercise in psychological catharsis.
But it was another thorough, businesslike win for Georges St-Pierre, Inc. No more. No less. On to the next one. And if there's any logic or justice in the MMA world, that next one will be Johny Hendricks.
For more MMA and UFC news and observations, find Scott Harris on Twitter.