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UFC welterweights: Who's next?
The main event of Saturday night’s UFC 154 in Montreal will only solve one question in the crowded welterweight division: Who is the true champion: longtime belt-holder Georges St-Pierre, coming off a 19-month layoff due to injuries, or Carlos Condit, who captured the interim belt in St-Pierre’s absence?
After that, the division is as full of unanswered questions as any division in the UFC.
In theory, the winner of Saturday night’s intriguing co-main event, which features former two-time NCAA wrestling champion Johny Hendricks and his raw knockout power against the tough Danish submission artist Martin Kampmann, ought to determine a direct path to the next welterweight title bout.
But for whoever wins, there are many scenarios that could upend what seems would be an obvious shot at the title.
“You never know what will happen,” Hendricks told FOXSports.com. “You can’t worry about things you can’t control, you know what I’m saying? I gotta beat Kampmann first. It feels great, being here, being on the co-main event. If I can get a shot at (the title), that’s awesome. It means everything. I’ve been trying for this for 5 ½ years. It’s been a long, hard road, and I’m almost there.”
Almost there, but remember: Kampmann and Hendricks both have been almost there before. In 2009, Kampmann was due to face Mike Swick at UFC 103, and the winner was to get a title shot against St-Pierre. But Swick pulled out of the fight due to injury, Paul Daley replaced him, and Kampmann’s fight was no longer considered a No. 1 contender fight. (No matter, Kampmann lost in the first round.) A year later, Kampmann lost a controversial split decision to Jake Shields, and Shields was given a title fight against St-Pierre.
As for Hendricks, who has only lost once in his professional mixed martial arts career, he thought his last fight, a split-decision victory over Josh Koscheck in May on a nationally televised FOX fight, would earn him a shot at the title, or at least at interim belt-holder Condit.
Let’s play through a few scenarios of what could happen in the welterweight division. Say St-Pierre wins his seventh consecutive title defense Saturday night. If that happens, you better believe UFC president Dana White will put the full-court press on both St-Pierre and Anderson Silva for a 2013 superfight (either at Cowboys Stadium in Dallas, Rogers Centre in Toronto or a soccer stadium in Brazil) that would determine the best pound-for-pound fighter alive. Even if St-Pierre loses that fight, though, he’d still be the welterweight titleholder. Which means that the winner of the Kampmann-Hendricks fight would either have a long wait to get a shot at the title, or they’d be forced to take another non-title fight in the interim.
Or, say Condit upsets St-Pierre. In theory, the winner of the No. 1 contender fight between Hendricks and Kampmann should get first dibs at Condit, right? This is where things get tricky. First and foremost, St-Pierre’s long reign at the top of the division (not to mention the fact he’s the biggest pay-per-view draw in the UFC) means he deserves a shot at a rematch as soon as he wants it. But let’s say he doesn’t want it, at least not right away. There’s a long line of deserving welterweights waiting to get a shot for that belt. Nick Diaz, who lost a unanimous decision to Condit in February, will be allowed to fight again in February 2013 after a one-year suspension due to a positive test for marijuana metabolites. Giving the trash-talking Diaz, who was angry at how judges scored his loss to Condit, another shot at Condit would be a fight that would sell. Nate Marquardt, the current Strikeforce champion, would immediately jump into discussions of a welterweight title shot if he returns to the UFC in 2013.
And how about this doozy scenario: say Condit beats St-Pierre Saturday night, and say that 23-year-old Rory MacDonald, St-Pierre’s protégé and one of the most up-and-coming fighters in the UFC, beats BJ Penn in the UFC on FOX fight in December. How could Dana White reject that storyline: St-Pierre’s young understudy trying to wrest St-Pierre’s old title away from Condit, exacting revenge for his friend and mentor?
It’s enough to make your head spin.
“I try not to think of it like that,” Kampmann told FOXSports.com about looking at the title implications of Saturday night’s fight. “There’s no need to put extra pressure on yourself. I just focus on the task at hand.”
He might not think of it like that, but UFC fans can’t help looking ahead. There are some other great storylines heading into the UFC 154 co-main event: If Hendricks beats Kampmann and ascends to the welterweight throne, he’d be one of three men to both win an NCAA wrestling championship and a UFC belt. The others are Brock Lesnar and Mark Coleman.
And another bit of intrigue: Kampmann’s wife is 8 ½ months pregnant back in their home in Las Vegas. Their second son is due Dec. 6. Kampmann isn’t worried about his fight night being disrupted by news that his wife’s in labor: “She had a doctor’s appointment the other day, and the doctor said the baby has turned but hasn’t dropped yet,” he said.
It all adds up to what ought to make a great co-main event fight Saturday night – but still a murky picture of the future of the welterweight division.