By: Jamie Penick, MMATorch Editor-in-Chief
When Nick Diaz returns from his year-long suspension in February of 2013, the welterweight division will be a bit more fleshed out than when he last fought. UFC Welterweight Champion Georges St-Pierre and Interim Champ Carlos Condit will square off next month to determine the Undisputed UFC Welterweight Champion, Martin Kampmann and Johny Hendricks will battle in a possible No. 1 contender bout, and several others will be getting themselves in line behind them.
Where does that leave Diaz? Well, that's a question with a number of possibilities, and it's going to depend upon the outcomes of the fights in place as well as other scenarios that could come into play. For starters:
If Georges St-Pierre defeats Carlos Condit...
The UFC has three options. 1) GSP fights Anderson Silva in a much talked about super fight. 2) GSP fights the Kampmann-Hendricks winner in the next UFC Title bout. 3) The UFC books Nick Diaz's return against Georges St-Pierre for the title.
The third option is the longest shot for Diaz's next fight, but it's not entirely out of the realm of possibility. The UFC wanted a GSP-Diaz fight from the time they brought him into the organization, having that fight not take place because of Diaz's missed press conferences prior to UFC 137 and GSP's injuries prior to UFC 143 may be enough to have them take advantage of timing at that stage.
Again, it's the least likely option to discuss here, but it certainly could be possible. If St-Pierre fights Silva in his next bout, that opens up a few lines of discussion for Diaz's next fight as well. First amongst them would be a rematch with Condit. The first fight was extremely close, and snapped a significant unbeaten streak for the former Strikeforce Welterweight Champion. It's a fight the UFC can definitely sell upon his return, and a fight that could make a lot of sense. If St-Pierre doesn't fight Anderson Silva after defeating Condit, and instead fights the Kampmann-Hendricks winner, then Diaz-Condit is definitely a very realistic option. Things are changed up a bit, though, if the fight goes differently and:
Carlos Condit defeats Georges St-Pierre
If Condit captures the Undisputed Welterweight Championship, then a fight between GSP and Diaz becomes a more realistic possibility. GSP may be in line for an immediate rematch, which would put a damper on that. If that's the case, Diaz against the Kampmann-Hendricks winner in a number one contender fight would be the logical move. But if an immediate rematch isn't in line, the Diaz-GSP fight fans have wanted to see for some time is the fight that could make the most sense.
The other possibility for GSP in a loss is to still take on Silva in a super fight, but that's not necessarily a realistic option if he's not the Champ, as the super fight may lose some of its appeal. Either way, those four names are the likeliest of potential opponents for Diaz's return. However, if the UFC has different ideas, there are at least three other names who would make for good fights and/or tough challenges to advance Diaz or the victors up the ranks in the division. Those options are:
The one time Welterweight Title challenger is coming off a highly impressive win over Erick Silva, and wants to move back towards the top end of the division. Though his striking game isn't amongst the best in the division, and he's prone to getting hit in fights, he's also one of the premiere grapplers at 170 lbs. Diaz's takedown defense has never been his strongest suit, so the fight itself would be a very intriguing clash of styles.
Fitch's former AKA teammate put his own name into the hat for a fight with Diaz, claiming Diaz's trainer Cesar Gracie made the call out for a Super Bowl weekend encounter. That's not a likely spot for his return given his suspension runs through two days after that event in Las Vegas, but a fight with Koscheck could still be an interesting option. He's a better striker than Fitch, and he's a good wrestler in his own right. Considering Diaz will have been out of action a year at that point, it's a fight a little lower down the ladder that could be less intense a challenge as some of the other possibilities.
Fresh off a win over Jay Hieron to bounce himself back from a loss to Kampmann, Ellenberger's the other name that could make sense for Diaz. He's not as big a name as either Koscheck or Fitch, but if the UFC doesn't go any of the previously named routes for Diaz's next bout, Ellenberger's the best of the rest.
Ultimately, we have to see how UFC 154 plays out before we can get a real sense of what route the UFC wants to go. But there isn't really a shortage of options for the organization once those fights take place next month. Diaz's place in the welterweight hierarchy is going to depend upon what the UFC feels his worth is after a year out of action and a loss to Condit. The higher they feel he still is, the better matchup he's going to attract, and depending on what happens with Condit and GSP and afterward, he'll be able to re-implement himself into the mix.
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