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GSP still top dog but UFC welterweights getting better

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The Canadian Press
8/29/2013 11:47:04 AM
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INDIANAPOLIS -- The faces told the story in the post-fight news conference.

There was hardly a mark on Carlos (The Natural Born Killer) Condit other than a small abrasion around his right eye. Martin (The Hitman) Kampmann's face looked like someone had taken a giant can-opener to it, with fresh stitches peaking out below and above the chunky sunglasses wrapped around his shaved head. A trickle of blood glistened from the stitches below his right eye as the news conference wore on.

The only discomfort Condit showed was an occasional wince as he flexed his hand -- probably from overuse.

According to FightMetric, the sixth-ranked Kampmann led 6-0 in takedowns but Condit had a huge 100-35 edge in significant strikes. And by the time referee Herb Dean stepped in 54 seconds into the fourth round, Condit's surgical strikes had broken Kampmann and left his face a bloody mask with a gash below his eye and another on his forehead above the bridge of his nose.

Wednesday's win at Bankers Life Fieldhouse reaffirmed the second-ranked Condit's perch high among UFC welterweight contenders after back-to-back losses to champion Georges St-Pierre of Montreal and No. 1 contender Johny (Bigg Rigg) Hendricks.

GSP and Hendricks square off at UFC 167 in November. No. 3 Rory (Ares) MaDonald, a native of Kelowna, B.C., who fights out of Montreal, meets No. 9 (Ruthless) Robbie Lawler on the same Las Vegas card.

While St-Pierre has held the 170-pound title since April 2008, making eight straight title defences, the welterweight division is beginning to look a little more than just GSP's personal playground these days.

Once it looked like St-Pierre had cleaned out the decision. Now the top 10 is looking more vibrant. GSP is still the top dog but the division is showing signs of life.

Condit (29-7) remains a threat -- a durable, smart, evolving fighter who is working on closing the few chinks in his armour.

"He's one of the best in the world," said UFC president Dana White.

Former Strikeforce welterweight champion Tarec (Sponge) Saffiedine, the No. 8 contender forced to drop out of a July bout with Lawler due to injury, has said he wants to meet the Condit-Kampmann winner.

No. 4 Demian Maia, a jiu-jitsu ace who is 3-0 since dropping down to 170 pounds, is due to meet former Strikeforce middleweight champion Jake Shields, a top grappler himself, in October.

Matt (The Immortal) Brown has turned heads recently, entering the rankings at No. 10 after his sixth straight win. White said Wednesday that he has a bout for the hard-nosed Brown in mind but wouldn't say more other than "it's a perfect fight for him."

No. 7 Nick Diaz remains on the sidelines but his retirement after a loss to a March loss to St-Pierre -- which followed a defeat at the hands of Condit -- may be temporary. No. 5 Jake (The Juggernaut) Ellenberger has some work to do in the wake of a disappointing performance in a loss to MacDonald in July.

Outside the top 10 lurks Tyron (The Chosen One) Woodley, who is due to face veteran Josh Koscheck at UFC 167 next. And Brandon (Rukus) Thatch turned heads in his UFC debut Wednesday, posting his 10th first-round win. Unbeaten Kelvin Gastelum, winner of Season 17 of "The Ultimate Fighter" as a middleweight, also looked sharp in his first outing at welterweight.

The pretenders to the crown still face a stiff task in trying to dethrone the 32-year-old St-Pierre, who has won 11 straight since an April 2007 loss to Matt (The Terror) Serra -- a defeat avenged a year later when GSP reclaimed his title.

The Canadian leads the UFC in significant strikes (1,153), total strikes landed (2,398), takedowns landed (84) and takedown accuracy (75 per cent). His career fight time (five hours three minutes 12 seconds) ranks second to B.J. Penn by just 39 seconds.

St-Pierre, a dead-cert future Hall of Famer, is also third in significant strike defence (75.1 per cent). With a team of elite coaches led by Firas Zahabi and a work ethic second to none, St-Pierre is still a force to be reckoned with as long as his hunger remains.

Living with a target on your back for more than five years isn't easy, especially in a sport that demands so much gruelling training between fights.

Next up for St-Pierre is Hendricks, a former NCAA champion wrestler with a sledgehammer for a left hand.

While St-Pierre and his team craft game plans to blunt their opponents' strengths and allow the champion to control the fight, Hendricks breaks people with his heavy hand.

His 10-1 UFC resume includes finishes of 12, 29, 40 and 46 seconds.

Still, Condit picks St-Pierre to win in November.

"Hendricks is obviously a very dangerous guy, he can end the fight with one punch," said Condit, a former WEC and interim UFC champion. "But I think Georges St-Pierre is too technical and also Hendricks has shown that he fades towards the end of the third (round). Now he's got two extra rounds to go. I think Georges is going to probably take control towards the end of the fight and come out on top."

As for Condit's future, he said he was leaning towards a rematch with Hendricks as his preferred next challenge "just because our fight was so close."

There was only pain for Kampmann (20-7). Hampered by slow starts in some previous fights, the Las Vegas-based Dane came out like a rocket and gassed out in the second round.

White wondered about Kampmann's strategy, asking why he didn't vary his tactics after landing four takedowns in the first round.

"I said 'When's he going to let his hands go?' He's one of the best strikers in the business. And now he's already got Carlos worried about the takedowns. Why not throw some punches?" White asked.

It's back to the drawing board for Kampmann, knocked out in 46 seconds by Hendricks last November. A well-rounded, quality fighter, he has stumbled in the face of elite opposition.

Condit, he agreed, was the better man Wednesday.

"I think I solidified myself as a contender," said Condit when asked where he thought he stood in the division after Wednesday's win. "I'm still maybe a fight away from another title shot, I hope."

UFC 167 will play out the next piece of the welterweight puzzle.

NOTES -- Part of the upper deck at Bankers Life Fieldhouse was curtained off, an apparent acceptance of the difficulties in staging a televised show on a Wednesday night. The show drew a modest 5,950, down from the 15,811 that attended the UFC 119 pay-per-view show at the same venue in September 2010. White said Wednesday was the choice of his television partner Fox, calling it a challenge they will make work ... The UFC now shifts to Milwaukee for UFC 164 on Saturday when Benson (Smooth) Henderson defends his lightweight title against Anthony (Showtime) Pettis.

Carlos Condit (Photo: Josh Hedges/Zuffa LLC/Zuffa LLC via Getty Images)

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(Photo: Josh Hedges/Zuffa LLC/Zuffa LLC via Getty Images)
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