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Johny Hendricks vs Carlos Condit: The heavy-hitting significance of UFC 158's co-main event

Photo courtest of Esther Lin for MMAFighting.com

Carlos Condit will undoubtedly be the toughest test of Johny Hendricks’ mixed martial arts (MMA) career this weekend (Sat., March 16, 2013) when the two top-ranked Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) Welterweight contenders collide inside the Bell Centre in Montreal, Quebec, Canada.

"The Natural Born Killer" is the best striker "Bigg Rigg" has ever faced, has the most impressive record out of anyone he has ever faced, and has the largest reach advantage out of anyone he has tangled with inside the Octagon to date.

On the flip side, Condit is the first opponent Hendricks has faced in a very long time who doesn’t have any notable grappling achievements whatsoever sans Jon Fitch; however, that bout at UFC 141 in Dec. 2011 last just 12 seconds. Not the kind of performance from which much can be gleaned, rather just a reminder that Hendricks hits like a Mack truck.

Indeed, the same Condit who got wrestled into unanimous decision defeat by Georges St. Pierre at UFC 154 in Dec. 2012.

Condit’s strengths, weaknesses and credentials beg the question heading into UFC 158: Will Hendricks -- a two-time NCAA Division I wrestling champion from Oklahoma State University (OSU) -- finally leverage his All-American mat skills or continue to showcase his always-improving striking game?

It's safe to say that Condit has drilled his wrestling consistently since the recent loss to "Rush," hoping to plug any glaring holes so that Hendricks can't exploit them again. It's important to note that St. Pierre -- widely regarded as the best MMA wrestler in the sport -- didn't takedown Condit at will -- he had to work. In addition, St. Pierre had to constantly maneuver within Condit’s dangerous guard to keep him under control.

No small feat.

While it would definitely be interesting to see how much dominance Hendricks could exude if the two go to the ground, it’s safe to say that the fight most fans are hoping for is a brutal battle of strikes. And that’s because it’s hard to deny that whoever wins a fight of that kind of style would likely emerge as the most effective striker in the entire division.

Together, Hendricks and Condit have competed against -- and mostly beaten -- just about every notable superstar in the 170-pound superstar not named St. Pierre. The pair have combined to earn a total of five "Knockout of the Night" awards, out-boxing and/or out-pointing many of the UFC’s most experienced stand up fighters in the weight class.

Condit’s Muay Thai expertise snapped Nick Diaz’s 11-fight win streak in one of the most technically brilliant welterweight striking bouts to date. He became the first competitor to knock down St. Pierre since 2007 with a beautiful head kick combination and he is one of the only men in UFC history to obtain two consecutive "Knockout of the Night" honors, handing Dan Hardy and Dong Hyun Kim their first career knockout losses.

And now that Thiago Alves has for all intents and purposes disappeared from the contender scene, Condit’s versatile arsenal of knees, elbows, punches and kicks make him the premiere kickboxer in the division.

Meanwhile, Hendricks’ three "Knockout of the Night" awards are the most in UFC welterweight history. And his one-punch knockouts of Jon Fitch and Martin Kampmann sent shockwaves through the hearts of everyone gunning for St. Pierre’s coveted belt. The last time Fitch was finished like that was back 2002, and perhaps what makes this win so incredibly impressive is the fact that St. Pierre himself couldn’t finish Fitch even after knocking his beard off with a lethal head kick.

Hendricks also proved that he wasn’t a one-trick pony with his win over Josh Koscheck, a bout that saw "Bigg Rigg" utilize several combinations to put Kos’s boxing reputation to rest.

Indeed, no other modern-day Welterweight to ever set foot inside the Octagon has given as many outstanding striking performances against highly ranked fighters as either Hendricks or Condit. These unassuming knockout artists have proven to possess the most accurate and powerful blows in the division today and are the only competitors who have the records to hold a candle to each others' skills.

Barring an uncharacteristic, but very possible wrestling-minded gameplan from Hendricks, this bout has the best chances of winning "Knockout of the Night" on the UFC 158 pay-per-view (PPV) main card. That's because there are no two fighters in the division at delivering a highlight-reel victory of this nature than Hendricks and Condit.

Let the race for the chin begin.

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