In the aftermath of what turned out to be an epic pre-fight conference call for UFC 158, the stage is now set for the long-awaited showdown between welterweight champion Georges St-Pierre and his latest nemesis, Nick Diaz.
While the Stockton native can dispute his villain role in the promotional buildup of the bout, the simple truth of the matter remains. This title tilt is a classic "good guy versus bad guy" storyline.
In Diaz's defense and personal opinions aside, there is no escaping how the pieces of this puzzle were put together.
From St-Pierre handpicking Diaz as his next opponent due to an apparent lack of respect shown by the former Strikeforce champion, to the posters and promotional spots the organization has put together to hype up the fight, the manner in which this story has been built follows a script that has been played out for ages.
Call it anything you want: Hero versus Villain, Yin against Yang, Benevolence versus Malevolence—any way you switch the moving parts around, Diaz is the antagonist in this tale of face-punching, mixed martial arts goodness.
The man who reps the 209 area code to the fullest has obvious disagreements with his portrayal in the matter at hand, but facts remain the same.
With the presentation GSP has created over his impressive career, the Montreal, Quebec, native needs a menacing force to sell the big fight. While the UFC is the leading organization in the fight business, the promotion is also very well-versed in the entertainment business as well.
While St-Pierre is one of the most dominant champions in the history of the UFC, a collection of his "biggest fights" have come when the clean-cut Canadian had an opponent of opposite measure in the realm of perception. Diaz may be the latest villain to bristle the welterweight champion, but he certainly isn't the first.
Here is a look at the chapters St-Pierre has built up to this point.
To Become a Legend, You Must Defeat a Legend
The welterweight phenom made his UFC debut at 20 years old and got off to an impressive start. After defeating Jay Hieron and Karo Parisyan, "Rush" was on the fast track to championship gold. At the time of his ascension, the division was ruled by champion Matt Hughes, who was in the midst of a historic run in the 170-pound weight class.
Their paths would collide at UFC 50, and despite St-Pierre having success for the majority of the opening frame, a mistake in transition would lead to Hughes locking in a fight-ending armbar in the final seconds of the first round.
His loss to Hughes became a source of great motivation for St-Pierre as he set about his climb back to the top. The next five opponents would find themselves on the business end of St-Pierre's determination, and with his split-decision victory over BJ. Penn at UFC 58, the Tri-Star product earned a shot at redemption.
During the process of his road back to a title shot, the grudge match between the two welterweights began to materialize. They crossed paths on Season 4 of The Ultimate Fighter, and the reality show's cameras picked up the tension between the two fighters as Hughes repeatedly took aim at St-Pierre through attempted humor.
Their back-and-forth banter would provide a nice buildup to their rematch at UFC 65. St-Pierre was dead set on redemption, and in their second tussle, he needed less than two rounds to put Hughes away in dramatic fashion. The victory earned the Firas Zahabi-trained fighter his first taste of UFC gold as he overcame the first true obstacle of his career.
The Biggest Upset in MMA History Becomes a Catalyst for Greatness
As St-Pierre was basking in the glow of becoming a UFC champion, an unlikely foe was on the rise right under his nose. During St-Pierre's coaching stint on TUF, veteran Matt Serra was attempting to fight his way back into the UFC fold.
When the Ray Longo-trained fighter edged out Chris Lytle in the Season 4 finale, he not only earned another run inside the Octagon but the opportunity to compete for St-Pierre's welterweight title.
While many figured St-Pierre's first title defense at UFC 69 would be a successful one, Serra had other plans. In what became the biggest upset in mixed martial arts history, "The Terror" scored a shocking first-round stoppage victory over the young champion as he pounded out St-Pierre in the opening frame.
In the aftermath of the upset, details emerged of St-Pierre's lack of preparation for the bout. In a documentary titled The Striking Truth, the former champion admitted he did not take the challenge seriously. He vowed to never repeat the mistake and set about working his way back toward the title.
The opportunity would not come as quickly as he would have hoped. Serra struggled with multiple injuries, which delayed a rematch against St-Pierre. In the meantime, St-Pierre would score a victory over Josh Koscheck and best Hughes in their rubber match.
The win over the future Hall of Fame fighter earned St-Pierre the interim welterweight strap, but his true goal was to get another shot at Serra and the true welterweight crown.
With the rematch quickly approaching on the horizon, the New Yorker continued taking shots at St-Pierre's French-Canadian heritage. In an interview with MMA Mania, Serra unloaded on the the former champion labeling him "Frenchy" and "a liar."
Never one to hold his tongue, Serra also launched verbal slights at Canadians in general, which made their second fight at Montreal's Bell Centre all the more combustible.
Things would play out much differently in their second go-around. St-Pierre wasted no time in putting Serra on the canvas and battering the 33-year-old with ground-and-pound. After a landslide opening frame, St-Pierre sealed the deal on his unification bid when he unleashed a series of brutal knees to Serra's rib cage as the champion covered up on the mat.
The victory solidified St-Pierre's standing as the top welterweight fighter on the planet. It also served to validate his renewed career focus, as he once again rose to the occasion.
A Fight is a Fight, But This One Was Personal
With his victory over Serra in the rematch at UFC 83, St-Pierre's star power hit a new level. The shocking upset would be forever marked in the UFC history books, but the welterweight champion had done enough not only to put his career back on track but launch full steam ahead in the process.
After St-Pierre punished Jon Fitch for five rounds in his first title defense, it was unclear who the next challenger would be. One man looking to fill that role and get his own personal redemption was former welterweight champion turned lightweight juggernaut BJ Penn.
Their first bout was razor-thin, with Penn handing out a one-sided beating in the opening round. St-Pierre made the necessary adjustments over the next two rounds and ultimately came out on top on the judges' scorecards.
Following the loss and a defeat in his next outing against Matt Hughes, "The Prodigy" dropped down to the lightweight division looking to make a career resurgence. The result was a dominant run in the 155-pound weight class—a run so impressive that Penn not only became the UFC lightweight champion but the widely recognized best 155-pound fighter on the planet.
But if one thing about Penn has become crystal clear over the years, it is that Hilo's proudest son loves a good grudge match. Feeling he had unfinished business with the welterweight champion, Penn agreed to return to 170 pounds to face St-Pierre in a "clash of champions" at UFC 94.
The buildup to the rematch was epic as Penn used the platform of the UFC Primetime to unload a barrage of verbal assaults and threats in St-Pierre's direction. Penn covered the full spectrum of insults as he accused the welterweight champion of steroid usage and insulted the Tri-Star leader by telling Zahabi to "go f*** himself."
Penn's insults put a hyper-charge into the bout at UFC 94, making the showdown one of the year's most highly anticipated fights. Unfortunately for the former two-divisional champion, his words only served to elevate St-Pierre's motivation. From the opening bell, GSP set about dismantling the undersized Hawaiian.
Over the four-round affair, St-Pierre pummeled Penn relentlessly, putting the lightweight champion on the canvas and unleashing a nonstop flow of ground-and-pound. By the end of the fourth round, Penn's will to fight was broken, and his corner called a stop to the fight before the fifth frame began.
While Penn's camp would file a complaint with the Nevada State Athletic Commission over St-Pierre's alleged use of Vaseline to "grease" between rounds, NSAC took no official action on the matter.
"Grease Gate" certainly cast a cloud over St-Pierre's dominant victory at UFC 94, but it provided yet another example of the Canadian champion's ability to elevate his game when faced with an opponent who embraces the villain role.
Need a Villain? Call Josh Koscheck
The former NCAA Division I wrestling champion has never had a problem being the "bad guy" in the UFC fold, and his bristled approach was a perfect fit opposite St-Pierre.
Following a rough patch that saw the TUF alum in a pattern of "win one, lose one," the Dethrone Base Camp leader finally found traction in the welterweight division as he put together an impressive three-fight win streak over Frank Trigg, Anthony Johnson and heavy-handed slugger Paul Daley.
The win over "Semtex" earned Koscheck the chance to face St-Pierre for the welterweight title. With the UFC knowing the type of buildup that can happen when a villain-type is involved, the organization booked St-Pierre and Koscheck for coaching roles on Season 12 of The Ultimate Fighter.
Over the course of the show, Koscheck did his best to get under St-Pierre's skin. Despite putting in a solid effort, Koscheck's attempts were easily dismissed, garnering nothing more than the occasional eye roll from the champion. St-Pierre shrugged off Koscheck's barbs, knowing he would have the opportunity to settle things inside the Octagon.
When their rematch rolled around at UFC 124, the champion displayed a new tool in his skill set, using a stiff jab to stunt any offense Koscheck could muster. By the end of the first round, the No. 1 contender's right eye was swollen from the damage absorbed, and it was a situation that only became worse as the fight went on.
The bout ultimately went to the scorecards, where St-Pierre earned a lopsided unanimous-decision victory. For his troubles, Koscheck not only notched a second loss at the hands of St-Pierre, but he suffered a broken orbital bone that would sideline him for a large portion of 2011.
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