The rivalry will finally be settled tomorrow night (March 16, 2013) as UFC welterweight champion Georges St. Pierre puts his title on the line against former Strikeforce beltholder Nick Diaz in the main event of UFC 158 in Montrael, Quebec, Canada.
St. Pierre returned from a lengthy layoff and didn't miss a beat, handling Carlos Condit to easily win four of the five rounds and reclaim his undisputed welterweight title role. "Rush" then chose to settle his feud with Nick Diaz rather than take on number one contender Johny Hendricks and it all goes down tomorrow.
Diaz has not fought in over a year, losing an interim title shot to Condit and then testing positive for marijuana metabolites, which forced him to sit out a lengthy suspension. With all that behind him, he's now looking to make good on his second straight shot at UFC gold.
Will St. Pierre be able to wrestle the will out of Diaz? Can Diaz's mind games force GSP to make a crucial mistake? What's the key to victory for both men?
Georges St. Pierre
Record: 23-2 overall, 16-2 in the UFC
How he got here: Georges St. Pierre started out his career as a flashy kickboxer with a karate background, but he has evolved into something much, much more. He has turned his original weaknesses into his biggest strengths and despite never wrestling in college, the welterweight champ now possesses what is likely the best MMA wrestling on the planet.
The Canadian wunderkind has stepped up and competed against the best men in the stacked welterweight division night in and night out. No one possesses the résumé that GSP has, no one is even close. The man has stepped up and put down every challenger to his path dominantly and even had a ridiculous streak of not having lost over 30 rounds which was snapped by Jake Shields in his last bout.
While preparing for a fight against Nick Diaz and then Carlos Condit at UFC 137, GSP injured his knee. He aggravated the injury in advance of UFC 143 and this time required extensive surgery on his ACL. After a lengthy layoff, he finally rehabbed and returned in excellent shape and took "The Natural Born Killer" down at will, surviving a third round scare to reclaim his top spot in the division.
Now, he's ready to settle his unfinished business with Diaz.
How he gets it done: Georges St. Pierre gets criticized for fighting "safe" but that's just playing it smart. He carefully studies every aspect of the fight, finds a gameplan that puts himself in the least hazardous position, and then executes it perfectly.
GSP is well-rounded enough to capitalize on every fighter's weakness. He tired out B.J. Penn's arms by leaning against him along the fence, he battered Jon Fitch standing, he put Dan Hardy on his back and he kept Josh Koscheck at the end of his jab for five consecutive rounds.
On the feet, GSP is more explosive than Diaz, but he doesn't have the same reach and he could find himself on the end of some straight punches if he's not careful. Look for him to shoot in the second Diaz presents an opening and double leg him to the canvas with authority.
Once on the ground, St. Pierre needs to stay on Diaz and be aggressive with ground and pound. His elbows are a very powerful weapon and with Diaz's scar tissue, he could open up some really nasty cuts if he stays on him and really tries to hurt him. He'll have to try not to be reckless on the ground because Diaz does have a very good game off his back, but it shouldn't be too much of anything he hasn't seen before.
Record: 26-8 (1 No Contest) overall, 7-5 in the UFC
How he got here: Nick Diaz has been fighting tough challengers since he was 17 years old. He battled Chris Lytle to a unanimous decision victory in just his second professional bout. The Stockton slugger won the inaugural WEC welterweight title and burst onto the scene in UFC when he knocked out Robbie Lawler in highlight reel fashion.
Diaz had a 6-4 run in the UFC, but could never quite get over the hump. He left the promotion in early 2007 and defeated Takanori Gomi via gogoplata in one of the most exciting bouts in MMA history although the result was overturned with a positive test for marijauna. Diaz would lose a match to K.J. Noons for the EliteXC lightweight title before heading to Strikeforce and winning the inaugural welterweight championship there.
Diaz was on 10 fight winning streak that included victories against the likes of Paul Daley, Evangelista Santos, Hatato Sakurai as well as avenging his loss to Noons. When he made his UFC return in late 2011, he earned his much-deserved validation with a victory against B.J. Penn. Not only did he beat the former multi-divisional champion, he put a horrific beating on him.
In his interim title shot, he was frustrated by Carlos Condit's gameplan, refusal to stand in front of him and his constant leg kicks and it resulted in a decision loss, his fifth loss of such fashion inside the Octagon. After sitting out a year due to suspension, he'll try to redeem himself against GSP tomorrow night.
How he gets it done: Nick Diaz has got a crazy offensive attack in his striking that consists of pure volume strikes, mixing in so many blows that the opponent gets confused and doesn't see the heavy shots coming.
Diaz also likes to talk trash, leave his arms up, get his opponent flustered. It's all a giant mind game for him. If he can get St. Pierre angry, perhaps draw him into a brawl, that's the type of fight he loves and that's the type of fight he can win. If St. Pierre loses his composure in the fight, he could make a mistake that the Stockton slugger could capitalize on.
The Cesar Gracie-trained fighter has a style reliant on constant pressure and heavy offense as his best form of defense. He's one of the few fighters who can push an incredibly intense pace for up to five rounds and never get tired, especially at welterweight.
The biggest key for Diaz will be his ability to stay on his feet or at least make St. Pierre work for his takedowns. If he gets dumped on his back with ease, he's going to have a long night. If and when he is put on his back, he really needs to either try to get it back to the feet or try a submission attempt. Diaz possesses some solid armbars and other attacks off his back and if he's explosive enough with them, he could catch GSP similar to what Vitor Belfort did against Jon Jones.
Fight X-Factor: The biggest X-Factor for this fight has to be St. Pierre and his composure. He's one of the best true professionals in the game and he's had to deal with trash talk throughout his career, but he never has really had to deal with someone trying to get in his head in the middle of a fight. Diaz is going to be swearing at him, flipping him off and constantly taunting him, maybe even slapping him in the face like he did against Condit. If St. Pierre cracks mentally at any point and leaves an opening, it could end poorly for him.
Bottom Line: Regardless of where there fight takes place, it should be amazing. Diaz is going to be attacking whether he's on the feet or stuck off his back. He is all about constant offense with elbows, submissions, punches et cetera. St. Pierre is likely going to try to neutralize him in every way possible, but that only goes so far. Even if St. Pierre takes him down for five straight rounds, expect some really fun exchanges. This is going to be a good one.
Who will come out on top at UFC 158? Tell us your predictions in the comments below!