The top two welterweight contenders in the world will step into the Octagon this Saturday night (March 16, 2013) as former UFC interim champion Carlos Condit takes on Johny Hendricks in the co-main event of UFC 158 in Montreal, Quebec, Canada.
Condit sat out for nine months last year to wait for a shot against Georges St. Pierre after winning the interim title, but it backfired this past November after losing a unanimous decision to the now undisputed champion. He'll get another shot at the belt if he can put away Hendricks this weekend.
Hendricks has been campaigning for a title shot ever since violently knocking out Jon Fitch in December of 2011, and wins over Josh Koscheck and Martin Kampmann have only strengthened his case. After getting passed over for a title opportunity by Nick Diaz, "Big Rig" is out to make a statement and get that shot once and for all on Saturday night.
Will Condit earn another potential chance against GSP? Can Hendricks connect with his prolific left hand and finally land that title opportunity? What's the key to victory for both men?
Record: 28-6 overall, 5-2 in the UFC
How he got here: MMA fans have short memories, but before UFC 143, Carlos Condit was one of the most exciting fighters on the planet. He first came to fame in the WEC where he fought for and won Mike Pyle's vacant welterweight title in just his second fight with the promotion.
Condit would defend his WEC welterweight title three times before the UFC would merge all fighters above lightweight into its promotion. In his first UFC fight, Condit had an absolute barnburner against Martin Kampmann where "The Hitman" would walk away with a split decision victory.
He would go on to have another Fight of the Year candidate against Jake Ellenberger where "The Natural Born Killer" survived being rocked multiple times to outgrapple and outwork Ellenberger. He followed this win up by surviving an early onslaught from current contender Rory MacDonald only to bounce back with an insane third round TKO victory with just seven seconds remaining in what is still the only dark mark in "Ares'" career.
"The Natural Born Killer" battled Nick Diaz interim UFC welterweight title last year and fought a much more measured gameplan, avoiding big exchanges and pattering away with range and leg kicks to earn a decision and the belt. He sat on the sidelines waiting for St. Pierre but his dreams of becoming a unified champion were crushed when he was outworked over five rounds, although he had GSP on the ropes with a third round head kick.
Now, after initially expecting a rematch against MacDonald, he'll be battling top ranked contender Johny Hendricks in the co-main event.
How he gets it done: This biggest difference for Condit against Hendricks is probably the diversity of his attack. He can take a shot with the best of them, has significant power in both his hands, his gap-closing knees and even his head kicks. What truly helps Condit in the stand-up realm are his combinations as the best strikes he's landed in his last couple fights were the final blow of an extended combo.
The key for Condit it to be aggressive enough to land those blows without being too reckless and giving Hendricks a wide open shot at his chin. Condit has a tremendous ability to take punishment, but even he has shown vulnerability to some of the division's heaviest hitters (Ellenberger).
If taken down, Condit needs to be extremely aggressive both with submission attempts and sweeps. Hendricks was a multiple time national champion wrestler in his college days but he's not nearly as dangerous on the canvas as St. Pierre is with his tremendous top control, elbows and guard passing. Hendricks has a bad habit of getting comfortable off his back so if Condit can sweep him, he might actually be able to do some serious damage from within "Big Rig's" guard.
Record: 14-1 overall, 9-1 in the UFC
Key Losses: Rick Story (The Ultimate Fighter 12 Finale)
How he got here: Hendricks was a stud wrestler who transitioned to MMA. While competing at Oklahoma State University, he claimed both the 2005 and 2006 national championships and after graduating college, he quickly joined up with Team Takedown and began training MMA full time.
In just his fourth professional fight, he was making his WEC debut, defeating an overmatched Dustin Haskins via second round knockout and after the UFC absorbed all WEC weightclasses over 155 pounds, he was taken along for the ride.
"Big Rig" made his UFC debut against The Ultimate Fighter (TUF) 7 winner Amir Sadollah and he made quick work of him via technical knockout in less than 30 seconds. After four straight wins in the division, including another impressive stoppage of Charlie Brenneman, he earned another main card slot against Rick Story on TUF 12 Finale.
Hendricks would be no match for Story's relentless pace, losing a unanimous decision to suffer the first and only loss of his career. He bounced back with consecutive victories over T.J. Waldburger and Mike Pierce and then took a huge step up in competition in Jon Fitch, scoring an unbelievable 12 second knockout against the former title challenger.
He followed that career-defining victory up with a razor thin split decision win over his second straight title challenger Josh Koscheck and then once again showcased his insane power, knocking Martin Kampmann out in less than a minute this past November.
After having two straight title shots pulled out from under him, Hendricks will be looking to make an emphatic statement against Condit this weekend.
How he gets it done: Hendricks, despite competing for Team Takedown and possessing national champion amateur wrestling skills, should want to keep this fight standing. He hasn't quite been able to transition those elite college attributes into his MMA game, at least against some of the better welterweight wrestlers in the UFC.
What he has been able to develop is an vastly improved striking game, one that continues to grow and evolve in technique and power every time we see him. Hendricks has severe knockout power in his hands if he can land a clean strike to the chin or temple and he'll be looking to catch Condit like Kampmann and Fitch. His left hand might be the pound-for-pound more powerful punch in UFC today.
Expect to see Hendricks work his angles, maneuvering his feet so he's not caught out of position and he can fend off Condit's strikes. Hendricks needs to find a way to close the distance and put that left hand on Condit's chin. That will require patience, explosive forward movement and timing.
The biggest thing for Hendricks to concern himself with is not trying to knock Condit's head off with every strike thrown. When he thinks about the knockout too much or tries too hard for it, it doesn't happen. He has to let it come naturally as he definitely has the raw natural power to pull off a stoppage via strikes.
Fight X-Factor: This biggest factor for this fight might be distraction. Johny Hendricks has been bounced around in terms of his opponents before the bout (as has Condit) but he's been talking so much about Georges St. Pierre, how the champ is afraid of him, why he deserved the title fight over Diaz, that he might not be 100% focused on one of the most dangerous opponents he's ever faced in his entire career. Condit is going to be prepared guaranteed, as just about every fighter out of Jackson's MMA tries to make sure every base has been covered before a fight. If Hendricks comes into the bout with too big of a chip on his shoulder, it could lead to negative consequences.
Bottom Line: This fight is going to be amazing. Both men have incredibly finishing ability, are capable of turning the tide of a fight at any moments notice and are motivated to the max. Condit can put himself right back in title contention with a huge win and Hendricks will finally get the shot he feels he's been owed for nearly a year now if he can walk away the winner. Expect some serious fireworks at any moment.
Who will come out on top at UFC 158? Tell us your predictions in the comments below!