UFC 158: How Johny Hendricks lost out to Nick Diaz in the quest to face Georges St. Pierre

UFC Welterweight contender Johny Hendricks did everything possible to earn a title shot against Georges St. Pierre. Instead Nick Diaz is getting the shot and Hendricks has to face the tough Jake Ellenberger. Here's how it happened.

UFC Welterweight champion Georges St. Pierre will defend his title against Nick Diaz at UFC 158: St. Pierre vs. Diaz on March 16, 2013 at the Bell Centre in Montreal, Quebec, Canada. Going into GSP's UFC 154 title defense against Carlos Condit there were two other fighters lobbying for a shot at the champ: Middleweight champion Anderson Silva (who had Dana White in his corner) and contender Johny Hendricks.

Kevin Iole laid out the thinking behind each of the three possibilities. First Silva:

A fight against Silva would have made the most money, but after having been sidelined for 19 months by injury, St-Pierre understandably wants to remain active...

In order to fight Silva, who walks around at more than 220 pounds, St-Pierre would have had to bulk himself up considerably. He walks around between fights in the high 180s and said that if he chose to go up, it would not only take months to put on the needed muscle, but he likely wouldn't be able to drop back down to welterweight.

Given his desire to fight again as soon as possible, that ruled out Silva.

Then Hendricks:

The second option would have been for St-Pierre to defend the belt against Hendricks in what would have been a divisional No. 1 vs. No. 2 matchup. St-Pierre is clearly the top welterweight in the world and Hendricks has punched his way to become the No. 1 contender.

...

But Hendricks isn't yet the kind of draw that either Silva or Diaz are and for St-Pierre, he'd represent the lowest payday of the three options.

And finally, Nick Diaz:

Money, though, is precisely why St-Pierre is fighting Diaz. It's a much bigger fight than St-Pierre-Hendricks would be. A match with Diaz will generate a larger gate, sell more pay-per-views and gain far more media attention than a fight against Hendricks.
...
Undoubtedly, White and Fertitta laid out their pay-per-view projections to him for fights with Silva, Diaz and Hendricks. And, undoubtedly, the projection for a Hendricks fight was by far the lowest of the three.

St-Pierre has done enough in his career that he's earned the right to choose who he wants to fight. Hendricks is understandably disappointed, but he doesn't have the right to be angry. Were he in the same spot as St-Pierre, he probably would've made the same call.

Josh Gross restated the calculations going into the decision, with an emphasis on the odd charisma of Nick Diaz:

Why risk so much against Anderson Silva? Why dance with a steamrolling contender who hasn't moved the needle? Why do these things when fighting Diaz should produce plenty of interest, a quality payday, and assumes a clash of styles that sets up well for the champion? It had to be Diaz -- whom St-Pierre said he already has a blueprint to beat after watching Benson Henderson dismantle Nate Diaz.

Diaz also takes up so much space on the poster because he's compelling, particularly when stacked up against a bland St-Pierre. By showcasing the fighters the way Zuffa did, it speaks to the fact that there's not much overly interesting about St-Pierre. He's consistent. Consistently great, even. This we know and appreciate. And Zuffa has gotten about as much promotional mileage as it can out of airing footage of the man train. He's understated in his mannerisms, the way he speaks, and to the chagrin of many fight watchers, the way he goes about his business in the cage. That's certainly not always true, but it has been the trend. There's nothing wrong with that except it hasn't been terribly fun to watch.

Whether he means it to be this way or not, Diaz has never been accused of any of those things. He's demonstrative. He's unpredictable. St-Pierre doesn't so much dislike attention as he repels it. For as much as Diaz dislikes attention, he's often consumed by it, a magnet for controversy.

Dave Meltzer at the Wrestling Observer (subscription only) makes the case that although Hendricks definitely deserves a title shot, the way the UFC is booking the card is a very smart play:

Nowhere is it more true than in fight promotion that the squeaky wheel gets the grease. Hendricks being put on the show ends any talk that he would be sitting out a long period of time waiting for a title shot. It also puts the pressure on Diaz in some ways, because Hendricks already in training means that if Diaz screws up such as blowing off press conferences (he won't be blowing off any random drug tests most likely in Montreal because Quebec doesn't do out of competition testing), Hendricks will be right there ready as a sub.

The Hendricks vs. Ellenberger winner is likely to get the next welterweight title shot (Dana White said it would happen), and don't count Ellenberger out at all in such a match-up. As much as I don't like the idea of Hendricks having to win one more fight since a 14-1 record and consecutive wins over Jon Fitch, Josh Koscheck and Martin Kampmann should not only be enough to make him the clear-cut No. 1 contender, but should put him in strong contention for fighter of the year. This does give him a three month window to make himself a bigger name based on being passed over and thus when they get to his fight it's bigger. But the way Ellenberger matches up with him, Ellenberger absolutely has a shot at winning, particularly early since Ellenberger fades and Hendricks' conditioning has been a great weapon in close fights.

This way they get the Diaz fight that they've been trying to make for almost two years and have announced twice with it falling through each time, once due to Diaz no-showing two press conferences and being pulled and once due to GSP tearing his ACL in training. That should be big fight and in theory you would have the Hendricks fight be bigger by not happening first. But you are risking the Hendricks fight because Ellenberger is no gimmee. After all the injuries, they are now booking with obvious backup plans with both Ellenberger and Hendricks there if Diaz gets hurt, and with MacDonald, Condit and Hendricks there if GSP gets hurt as potential opponents for Diaz.

For his part Hendricks is already over it and focused on Jake Ellenberger as he told Sherdog:

"I've done my campaigning," Hendricks said. "I've done all I can do, and now that you have Jake Ellenberger in front of you, you can't keep dwelling on the past. Right now if I don't focus on Jake Ellenberger, then he could go out there and beat me just because you're focused on something totally different. You've got to know Jake Ellenberger is a tough fight. It sucks that you do all this work and you're not there, but guess what? It's not the end of the world. I'm still able to fight. If I win this one, then I know I'll be right where I was.

"[Ellenberger] has shown that he can knock people out, and whenever you have that kind of power, you have to respect it," Hendricks said. "You have to know, ‘OK, this guy is a heavy-handed guy.' ... That's what makes fighting people like that a little bit more of a challenge, a fun challenge, because no matter what happens -- it might be the second or third round -- you still have to worry about everything. It makes it that much more exciting."

Life is hard and it's not fair but I think GSP has made the choice that's best for him and it's still good for the UFC. For Johny Hendricks it means he's right there and will be ready to jump to the front of the line should Nick Diaz mess up (again) and get booted out of the title fight like he did in 2011 by skipping out on multiple press events before UFC 137.

What do you think? Is this the way you would have booked this card?

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