In an Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) performance that was a clear-cut decision win that fell short of dominant, Georges St. Pierre left no question that he was the better fighter Saturday night (March 16, 2013) in beating Nick Diaz inside the Bell Centre in Montreal, Quebec, Canada. As the UFC 158 main event coursed into the final three rounds, Diaz had some moments as the champion tired, but ultimately could not get his offense untracked on the feet or the mat.
With the win, St. Pierre notched his eighth title defense and his sixth straight by decision. Diaz had a few bright spots over the second half of the fight standing, but St. Pierre -- eminently prepared -- ultimately shut him down in every phase of the game, winning 50-45 on all three judges' cards (watch video highlights here).
In the co-main event, Johny Hendricks took a hard-fought unanimous decision of 29-28 across the board against the game Carlos Condit, whose third-round surge made their Welterweight contest the best fight on the pay-per-view (PPV) main card (watch video highlights here). Marked by intense standing exchanges and a tightly contested battle of wills on the mat, Hendricks' win positions him for a likely shot at St. Pierre's title.
Here's a closer look at the competitors from Saturday's card in Montreal, with the UFC 158 Report Card.
Heavy-handed, aggressive and calculating, Ellenberger put together a brilliant performance in KO'ing tough veteran Nate Marquardt in the first round (watch video highlights here). After getting the worst of some early exchanges, Ellenberger dialed in on the proper range and drilled Marquardt against the cage with a pair of big punches, then pounced for a highlight-reel finish. Once a rising contender prior to his rollicking knockout loss at the hands of Martin Kampmann, "The Juggernaut" resurrected a lot of the hype behind his campaign for a title shot, reminding fight fans of the reason(s) he's such a dangerous opponent.
Originally slated to face Hendricks on tonight's card, Ellenberger made some big noise. A match against rising welterweight Demian Maia would be a natural, and produce another solid title challenger, or at least a top contender.
Georges St. Pierre: B
St. Pierre is the master of the well-crafted gameplan, and tonight was a textbook reminder of how effectively he executes within that envelope. After testing the standing waters early, he transitioned to readily available takedowns in the first two rounds, steering clear of Diaz' trademark roll into knee bar setups, and judiciously picking shots on the ground.
It wasn't the kind of overwhelming beating and physical statement that GSP's made against other victims of his five-round drubbings, but he knew Diaz' strengths enough to defuse them, especially on the mat. The ground sequences essentially resembled a black belt against a purple, with Diaz consistently outworked and outpositioned, and hard-headedly trying the same setups, which were telegraphed, especially against a jiu-jitsu ace like GSP.
However, over the second half of the bout, GSP's takedown attempts were markedly less effective, and he looked tired for much of the stretch run. Georges showed his world-class jab and bashed Diaz repeatedly with it, but never once put the granite-chinned challenger in danger. The Diaz match was something St. Pierre needed to deal with and put behind him, and he left no questions en route to a 50-45 sweep on all the cards. Still, though, it would have been more of a statement had he delivered more knees to the body on the mat, and thrown more authority into his shots standing. Perhaps his respect for Diaz' ability mitigated that, but he did well enough to get the W and keep the belt, and at the end of the day, that's what matters.
Nick Diaz: B-
Showing his trademark toughness and unbreakable spirit, Diaz looked fairly good over the second half of the bout, but could never get his standing offense untracked outside of a few good spurts. Since that was essentially the crux of a winning strategy, he got steamrolled here. Still, Diaz showed why he's such a feared opponent, making St. Pierre shoot for takedowns late in the fight whenever the challenger started to get effective on the feet, and he seemed to have better stamina at the end.
Diaz has a ton of ability and is as durable as any fighter in the game. That's why his post-fight announcement that he will probably walk away is a real loss to the sport. Who knows if it was post-defeat ennui creeping in, or it's merely something Nick will change his mind on, but the guy has a ton of opportunities in front of him.
He's never been shy about stating his dislike for the sport and the attendant irritations that come with competing on the big stage, and maybe he really will walk away. Only Diaz knows what's best for him, but if he does leave the game, he's had one hell of a career. But honestly, the guess here is that the competitive fire in him keeps Diaz swinging and scrapping. He was born to do this, and despite the hassles of promotion and all that, it's a real void to fill, especially when the money is better than ever.
Johny Hendricks: B
Hendricks showed a lot of maturity tonight, picking his spots early against Condit and knowing when to push and when to pull back. And his big-time left hand power is pretty much the most potent weapon in the division, as even the granite-chinned Condit was left in retreat after eating some of Johny's monster crosses in the first stanza.
Hendricks positioned himself well to avoid Condit's eminently tricky guard game, but if there was a red flag that emerged in terms of challenging St. Pierre it was this - Condit escaped to his feet several times after getting taken down, whereas against GSP, he was essentially planted to the mat for endless stretches. He also got pounded a ton on his back, where Hendricks could mount limited-at-best offensive. Hendricks also looked lost while being forced to back up, though he remains deadly effective coming forward.
If Hendricks is going to beat St. Pierre, it will be on account of his left-hand bombs, not wrestling, as he simply doesn't have the wrestling and jiu-jitsu to dominate GSP. But given that there's nobody else in the division warranting a shot as much as he does, he's got the long-awaited change to show why he's better. And after tonight, he should have a lot of confidence after besting Condit, who's a very tough contender with a ton of experience.
Carlos Condit: B
Wily, resilient, and creative, Condit survived Hendricks' opening-rounds artillery to make a series of subtle adjustments to ultimately have the upper hand at the bell. Using his well-rounded standup, and a brilliantly subtle guard game, Condit got taken down endlessly, but also popped back to his feet after solid bottom work, and outstriking Hendricks much of the time despite being on his back. While he lost the decision, this was the exact kind of performance to vet Condit as a tough challenge for any welter in the world - and the rematch that was supposed to happen with Rory MacDonald tonight should be a lock for both men's next bout, as Condit did nothing to suggest he isn't going to give MacDonald one hell of a tussle.
Chris Camozzi: C+
Hard-nosed and game throughout, Camozzi was outgunned in the first half of a closely-contested bout against Nick Ring, but he hung tough, striking, pressing and pushing the pace en route to a split decision of 29-28 across the cards. Camozzi isn't athletically gifted and has somewhat rudimentary striking, but heart and persistence carried him to the victory here, his fourth straight in the Octagon.
Mike Ricci: C+
In the pay-per-view opener, Ricci looked laconic and disinterested here, picking spots and appearing completely in control when he wanted to assert himself, particularly with his quick hands, only to lag and linger and let the awkward but persistent Fletcher creep back into the bout. It's hard to tell what Ricci's problem was, as Fletcher's attacks were terribly telegraphed, and he presented little threat on the feet or the ground. In the third, Ricci woke up and pressed hard over the final minute with a takedown and some effective ground work on the bloodied Fletcher, but this was a flat performance in his home country, against a limited opponent that wasn't brought in as an accident - Fletcher was the perfect setup fight for Ricci to score an impressive knockout, and instead, he blew it. You can bet the UFC won't be serving up any more pancakes for Ricci, because he dropped the ball here.
Nick Ring: C-
With superior standup in the first two rounds, Ring faded badly over the last stanza against Camozzi, breathing visibly out of his mouth with his technique eroding terribly. It's hard to gauge Ring's ability because at times he looks elite, and at others, he'll look very pedestrian. Conditioning is a big factor and his simply is a huge question mark. After dropping the decision, Ring needs to up his preparations accordingly, because his better athleticism and striking should have carried him to a win tonight. As the great Carl Gotch said, "Conditioning is your best submission hold." Ring should remember that, because he shouldn't have let the third round get away from him in a bout he had won.
Nate Marquardt: D
Blitzed out in one round by the heavy-handed Ellenberger, Marquardt was on the tough end of a heartbreaking loss tonight. At 170 pounds, he's still a potent force, especially if he can perform as well as he did against the then-unbeaten Tyron Woodley in Strikeforce. However, tonight was a rough setback and a rare KO loss for the normally durable "Nate the Great." Going back to the drawing board will mean a lower level of opponent and a good opportunity for him to put some wins together, albeit likely while being positioned as a steppingstone by the UFC.
I was hard on Fletcher in my preview of UFC 158 and he didn't do anything to dissuade me from the conviction that he's a subpar talent who is in the promotion solely because of geographic reasons. He's game, willing and athletically limited, and while the UFC's announcing team of Goldie and Rogan is quick to remind us Ricci trains with GSP and Rory MacDonald, it's impossible to imagine either of them not destroying a limited guy like Fletcher. Which is where Ricci's comparisons with them should end. Fletcher gawked and did some kicking and hung in there, but honestly, he's probably one of the worst fighters on the UFC's roster. I've seen far better talent at Gladiator Challenge. Call him Michael Bisping Ultra-Lite -- he'll stay around while they milk every bit of United Kingdom promotional mojo out of him.
For complete UFC 158: "St. Pierre vs. Diaz" results, coverage, video and everything else you can handle click here.
Jason Probst can be reached at twitter.com/jasonprobst