Welterweight picture is simple calculus

March, 6, 2013
3/06/13
3:01
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Mindenhall By Chuck Mindenhall
ESPN.com
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Benson HendersonMike Roach/Getty ImagesBenson Henderson is fighting Gilbert Melendez in the spring, but has an eye in the 170-pound division.

In 2013, the year of the “superfight” and new-fashioned division jumping in the UFC, anything is possible.

How possible? A simple, timely text can shake up an entire division for the better part of a year. Ask Ricardo Lamas, who should have been the next featherweight for Jose Aldo if Anthony Pettis, ten pounds and 1,000 decibels his superior, wasn’t the quickest Blackberry draw in the Midwest.

When Dana White got the buzz that night, it played out like this: Merit, shmerit. This game deals in duckets.

Imagine that: Diaz-Ellenberger is the potential title fight nobody is talking about.

Now Pettis-Aldo is slated to take place in far-off August. Jon Jones versus Anderson Silva has been speculated about for New York (or Brazil [or Dallas]) in November (or December), even though Silva is fighting Chris Weidman in July, and Jones has a fight with Chael Sonnen in April. Apparently Sonnen can be looked right past to the “superfight” everybody wants. In fact, Jones/Silva is the only true superfight right now that is super enough to make rational people superstitious. Nobody wants to jinx it, except a couple of pesky wrestlers who stand in their way.

Then there’s UFC lightweight champion Benson Henderson, who is talking about bouncing up to welterweight to face Georges St-Pierre, even though he has a fight with reigning Strikeforce champion Gilbert Melendez this spring, and GSP fights Nick Diaz next weekend.

That idea has since been shot down by White but, what, is Melendez a hologram? It used to be that media and fans were always thinking two steps ahead. Now the fighters are, too? This is fantastic. (I have to admit -- it’s fun to align in such foolish behavior!).

At least the scenarios get simpler from here, so let's look ahead. On March 16, at UFC 158, the welterweights will come into focus. It’s really black and white. The three top fights on the card are 170-pounders. St-Pierre, who we are assured has a dark chamber in his psyche that nobody (especially that inconsiderate Nick Diaz!) can possibly fathom, headlines the event.

All revolves around him beating Diaz. If he defeats Diaz he could fight anyone from Johny Hendricks to Carlos Condit to Jake Ellenberger to Silva, this summer, this fall, or this winter. The line snakes around the block. Hendricks more than deserves the shot, particularly if he beats Condit that same night. He has been deserving for what feels like years. If Hendricks and St-Pierre both win, that fight seems obvious.

In 2011, maybe. In 2013, not so fast.

That’s because people like Silva and Henderson happen to exist. Though Silva is now booked to fight Weidman at UFC 162, he can't help but still hover over St-Pierre in 2013. Now with a new contract, it's possible he courts that St-Pierre fight sooner rather than later. St-Pierre would have to be coaxed into agreeing, of course, which is never a given.

In other words, even if all goes to plan and both GSP and Hendricks win, Hendricks could find himself on the outside looking in. Yet again. If that were the case, maybe Hendricks could fight Rory MacDonald next, who was scrapped from the card when he got injured. He was supposed to face Condit.

And speaking of Condit, he could emerge as a dark horse in the St-Pierre sweepstakes. If he takes care of No. 1 contender Hendricks, he has some ammo. After all, the first fight had that fleeting moment when Condit came unnervingly close. And if Diaz pulls the upset over St-Pierre and somehow makes it out of Montreal in one piece, same thing -- Diaz-Condit II is viable (unless the fight results in a scorecard nightmare and St-Pierre/Diaz II has to be played back immediately). If Condit wins and somebody texts Dana White to jump the line to GSP, you’ve still got the Condit-MacDonald vendetta to sort out. No scenario is without a silver lining.

There are other factors. Ellenberger is on the card fighting Nate Marquardt, who two years after trying to debut at 170 pounds in the UFC finally gets his chance. One of them -- namely Ellenberger -- could factor into this title discussion, too. Much like an 8-7 NFL team heading into the final regular season game in a tight Wild Card race -- Ellenberger is mathematically alive, but needs help. He needs an emphatic showing and some smiling fortune, such as Johny Hendricks losing. The UFC might jump him to the top to avoid rolling back Condit-GSP II too soon in that case (even though Ellenberger lost to Condit narrowly in 2009). Unless Diaz wins, that is, and Condit faces a long medical suspension in victory.

Imagine that: Diaz-Ellenberger is the potential title fight nobody is talking about.

What’s at stake come March 16 in this makeshift welterweight grand prix? Feels like plenty. But in 2013, “what’s at stake” has turned into a versatile question. There is no obvious answer. And if you ask White beforehand, you’re likely to get his go-to response for most things yon: We’ll see what happens.

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