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UFC 158: GSP vs. Diaz

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The moment Nick Diaz has been craving arrives Saturday night in Montreal at the Bell Centre, where he will take on Georges ‘Rush’ St-Pierre for the Ultimate Fighting Championship’s welterweight title.

As of Friday afternoon, most betting shops had St-Pierre (23-2 MMA, 17-2 UFC) as a -500 favorite with Diaz available for a +400 payout (risk $100 to win $400). The oddsmakers are expecting this fight to go the five-round distance (-240 odds), while gamblers can earn a +180 return if the bout doesn’t go to the judges (risk $100 to win $180).

St-Pierre returned to the cage from an ACL tear to knock off Carlos ‘The Natural Born Killer’ Condit in the main event at UFC 154 on Nov. 17. GSP won a unanimous decision (50-45 twice, 49-46) as a favorite in the -330 range. VegasInsider.com scored it 49-46 for the champ, who has successfully defended the 170-pound strap seven times since winning it nearly five years ago.

The eighth defense might be GSP’s most difficult.

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Diaz (27-8-1 MMA, 7-5 UFC) will be returning to the Octagon for the first time in more than 13 months due to a nine-month suspension for testing positive for marijuana following his UFC 143 loss to Carlos Condit for the interim welterweight title.

Diaz is a hardened mixed martial arts veteran with incredible cardio, a ridiculous chin, sick jiu-jitsu and top-level boxing. As usual, though, St-Pierre will have a considerable strength advantage and superior wrestling.

Diaz has been talking trash galore, calling GSP a mother fu***er about 60 times during last week’s media conference call. The Stockton, California, native suggested GSP does steroids at yesterday’s media event.

Diaz has even gone so far as suggesting that GSP is going to try and take him down and hold him, a strategy that he thinks should result in a penalty if MMA rules were more conducive to exciting fights. In other words, he’s challenging the champ to try and beat him in any other way than takedowns and elbows from the top.

Is Diaz in GSP’s head? That’s debatable but there’s zero doubt that St-Pierre has never expressed such distaste for an opponent.

During the two media events in the last eight days, St-Pierre was clearly challenged not to lose his cool. Only B.J. Penn before their second fight has been able to get under GSP’s skin like this, but that outcome (his corner throwing in the towel after Round 4) didn’t go Penn’s way.

Before losing to Condit in a decision Diaz vehemently disagreed with, the former Strikeforce welterweight champ had won 11 consecutive fights, including a brutal beatdown of Penn at UFC 137. GSP has 10 consecutive fights and hasn’t tasted defeat since losing to Matt Serra on April 7 of 2007.

Dana White had to instantly step in between the two fighters at Friday’s weigh-in. GSP told Joe Rogan afterward, “I can say whatever I want, but I’m going to walk the walk [Saturday] night.”

Diaz weighed in a 169, while GSP tipped the scales at 170.

Prediction: The likely result in this bout is GSP executing takedowns, delivering damage from the top with elbows and grinding out a decision win (his last five fights have been decision victories). However, from a betting perspective, there are entirely too many variables in play to even consider risking a -500 price (risk $500 to win $100) on the champ. This is definitely a fight where you take Diaz or you pass. I am going to make a small play on Diaz for the +400 payout. We saw GSP get caught by a headkick from Condit and he was fortunate to recover when he was in serious trouble. One edge you have to give Diaz is stamina and this is probably the first time GSP has ever been in a fight with a foe that has an edge in the cardio department. Diaz is also dangerous from off his back with submissions so even if GSP takes the fight to the ground with takedowns, he has to be extremely careful. Everyone raves about Diaz’s boxing, but he doesn’t have a clear-cut advantage over GSP on the feet. St-Pierre’s striking has vastly improved over the last 2-3 years thanks to his work with Hall of Fame trainer Freddie Roach, so it’ll be interesting to see who gets the best of whom if/when they get into boxing exchanges. Again, I’m not recommending any sort of uncomfortable risk on Diaz, but I’m not passing on a talent like Diaz catching these underdog odds.

There are six welterweight bouts on the 12-fight card. In the co-main event, Condit will meet Johny ‘Bigg Rigg’ Hendricks, who is a -140 ‘chalk.’ Condit is the plus-110 underdog (risk $100 to win $110).

Hendricks (14-1 MMA, 9-1 UFC) has won five straight fights since suffering his lone career loss by unanimous decision to Rick Story in December of 2010. In the process, he has taken home three KO of the Night bonuses. Hendricks needed only 12 seconds to put Jon Fitch to sleep with a powerful left and in his last outing, he knocked out Martin ‘Hitman’ Kampmann in just 46 seconds.

Hendricks has become a KO artist but he comes from a wrestling background. Hendricks was a four-time All-American wrestler at Oklahoma St., so he is clearly a better wrestler than Condit and will also enjoy a strength advantage in the clinch.

But Condit (28-6 MMA, 5-2 UFC) has better jiu-jitsu, more big-fight experience and a more diverse striking game on the feet. Condit was the World Extreme Cagefighting welterweight champ and defended that strap three times.

When the WEC merged into the UFC, Condit lost his first bout by split decision to Kampmann. But he went on a serious roll from there, winning five straight fights against the world’s best in the 170-pound loop. Condit’s victims included Jake Ellenberger, Rory MacDonald, Dan Hardy, Kim Dong-Hyun and Nick Diaz.

Condit fought valiantly for 25 minutes against GSP, hurting the champ with the aforementioned headkick in the third round. But St-Pierre’s superior wrestling was the difference.

With that said, it’s not as if Condit hasn’t had success against wrestlers. His win over MacDonald is a prime example of that. Also, we should note that Condit hasn’t been knocked out in 34 career pro fights.

Prediction: I love this fight and have no clue how it will turn out. Pass.

Ellenberger (28-6 MMA, 7-2 UFC) was rapidly closing in on a title shot before Kampmann rallied to score a second-round KO over the Omaha product at TUF 15 Finale. Ellenberger bounced back to capture a unanimous-decision victory over Jay Heiron at UFC on FX: Browne vs. Bigfoot back in October.

Ellenberger was originally going to face Hendricks on this card but when MacDonald pulled out of his fight with Condit due to an injury, the UFC was forced to make changes. The promotion moved Hendricks into the co-main event against Condit and set Ellenberger up against Nate Marquardt.

Marquardt (32-11-2 MMA, 10-4 UFC) was cut by the UFC after testing positive for testosterone in 2011. The former middleweight contender decided to drop down to 170 and won the Strikeforce welterweight belt with a fourth-round KO of Tyron Woodley. Marquardt was unable to defend his title, though, losing a unanimous decision to Tarec Saffeidine on Jan. 12.

Most books have Ellenberger installed as a -170 favorite, while Marquardt is a plus-140 ‘dog.

Prediction: I like Ellenberger to win by knockout in the second round.

**B.E.’s Bonus Nuggets**

--The UFC announced Monday night that James Te Huna will replace the injured Ryan Bader and face Glover Teixeira on the main card at UFC 160. Te Huna is on a four-fight winning streak and has won in five of his six Octagon appearances. Teixeira is 3-0 in the UFC and hasn’t tasted defeat since 2005.

--With Alistair Overeem pulling out of his UFC 160 fight against Junior dos Santos, the former heavyweight kingpin will now face Mark Hunt. 5Dimes has JDS as a -460 ‘chalk’ with Hunt available for a +320 payout (risk $100 to win $320).

--5Dimes has Michael Bisping listed as a -190 favorite vs. Alan ‘The Talent’ Belcher for their UFC 159 showdown. Belcher is a +150 ‘dog.

--In a light heavyweight matchup at UFC 161, 5Dimes has Dan Henderson (-120) vs. Rashad Evans (-120) as a pick ‘em.

--Anderson Silva is a -325 favorite for his middleweight title defense against Chris Weidman (+250) at UFC 162 in Vegas on July 6.

  
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