There are a lot of reasons nobody should be surprised when Georges St-Pierre's trainer Firas Zahabi pushed the idea of a fight with Nick Diaz ahead of Johny Hendricks.
However, when Zahabi claimed St-Pierre wanted the fight because he felt Diaz was the rightful No. 1 contender, well, that didn't sit well with Hendricks' camp.
"I think most of us inside the industry, we all understand why GSP wants to fight Diaz," said Mike Dolce, who works with Hendricks on strength, conditioning and nutrition. "GSP wants to punch Nick Diaz in the face. We get that. But that doesn't make Nick Diaz the No. 1 contender. That's why I have an issue with what Firas Zahabi said. We are friends and I respect him, but Nick Diaz isn't the No. 1 contender. He hasn't beaten anyone in the division. Johny Hendricks has beaten three top five guys, or certainly three top 10 guys in a row, to get the shot."
Really, few agreed with Zahabi's logic, which was that Diaz (26-8, 1 no-contest) could have gotten the decision over Carlos Condit in their Feb. 4 fight, which made Condit the interim champion and the top contender at that time. The loss to Condit ended an 11-fight winning streak for Diaz. Diaz was plucked from Strikeforce, where he was the welterweight champion, for an immediate match with St-Pierre. But instead, after being pulled from the title fight for disciplinary reasons, Diaz defeated B.J. Penn via decision before the Condit loss.
The fight with Condit was certainly close and competitive. Condit won on all three cards and had more significant strikes in four of the five rounds. But, as has been the case with Diaz in a lot of his career, he can be his own worst enemy. UFC was willing to give Diaz another shot at Condit after the loss since St-Pierre still had a long time on the shelf.
But Diaz tested positive for marijuana for the second time in Nevada. His subsequent one-year suspension ended thoughts of giving him the second opportunity.
Hendricks knocked out Jon Fitch on Dec. 30, in just 12 seconds. He followed with a split-decision win over Josh Koscheck on May 5. Then he knocked out Martin Kampmann on Nov. 17 in 46 seconds. He was told he would get a title shot at the St-Pierre vs. Condit winner when he beat Koscheck. But then, given how long he'd have to wait, was convinced to put his spot in line at stake against Kampmann which turned out to be the best thing for him. If anyone viewed the Fitch win as some sort of a fluke, putting Kampmann out that quickly told a different story and opened a lot of eyes coming out of one of the year's biggest shows.
"If Georges wants to make money, I get it," said Dolce. "If he wants the money fight, then he should fight Anderson Silva. I get it. That's the biggest money fight. If Georges wants to defend the welterweight title, he has to defend it against Johny Hendricks, because he's the No. 1 contender. If he wants to do a three-round fight with Diaz to settle their beef, he can bring him to Montreal for a sparring session or Georges can fly in to Stockton if he wants to beat up, or try to beat up Nick Diaz.
"If Georges is going to fight, the money fight goes to Anderson, he can fight Diaz in a grudge non-title fight, but if he defends the welterweight title, it has to be against Johny Hendricks. It's the only thing that makes sense."
Dolce also feels that not only has Hendricks proven to be the top contender, but he also matches up better with St-Pierre than anyone else in the division. In particular, he feels that the people who expect St-Pierre to do his usual game of taking down opponents at will and keeping them there, that they will see a very different fight than they expect.
"Johny spends half of his training time in Oklahoma, training with (Oklahoma State coach) John Smith, the most decorated American wrestler ever. Johny's wrestling is better now then when he won two Division I national titles. Georges St-Pierre can't think he's just going to take down Johny Hendricks. In the past, Johny has let his wrestling slide in fights because he's trying to be exciting for the UFC. But when he's in a title fight, he's going to fight more conservatively and make sure he's going to get the belt. Georges St-Pierre is a great wrestler, but he's not going to take down Johny like he took down Carlos Condit. He's not going to be able to do what he's done with other guys. And he has to deal with Johny Hendricks' KO power. He may have the best KO power in the division. Not only did he knock out Fitch and Kampmann, but he knocked out Amir Sadollah (in 29 seconds), and Duane Ludwig, a K-1 level striker, couldn't knock out Amir in three rounds.
"Georges St-Pierre couldn't put Fitch away and Thiago Alves couldn't put Kampmann away and he was landing clean shots on him, so that's a serious test for Georges St-Pierre."
He also says Hendricks' jiu jitsu game, which he's not known for, can match St-Pierre's.
"His jiu jitsu is spectacular," said Dolce. "You take a world-class wrestler, get them training with Marcelo Garcia and Marc Laimon, and they bring in top -tier talent to their gym. Johny's offensive and defensive Jiu Jitsu is excellent. He hasn't shown it because he looks to knock people out. Let's just say Georges can get him down. His ability to get to his feet and scramble is great. NCAA champions can't keep him down. I think in a Jiu Jitsu match, he can go move-for-move with Georges, and put Georges in trouble. And Johny has a gas tank. For Martin Kampmann, he was training eight five minute rounds. He was training with the idea that if GSP or Condit got hurt, he thought he might be asked to take the main event so he got ready for five rounds."
Diaz does have his edge if you throw records away, in the sense he garners a visceral reaction from people with some who love him and others who hate him. He's also had more time in the MMA spotlight to make a name. Even though both men are 29, Diaz started in UFC the first time at the age of 20 and was a star pretty quickly after that. Hendricks, the NCAA champion in 2005 and 2006 at Oklahoma State, didn't really open any eyes until the Fitch win, beating a guy that many had considered No. 2 in the division for many years.
"Johny's a Southern gentleman, a sweetheart," said Dolce. "He's not going to be sticking double middle fingers, he's not going to attack Georges on twitter. He's going to be spending his time with his family, and training."
But even with that they believe St-Pierre wants, Dolce says he expects St-Pierre vs. Hendricks for the title in the spring.
"I don't see St-Pierre moving to 185," said Dolce. "I don't see that fight (with Silva) happening. I want to see Anderson Silva against Jon Jones. Georges St-Pierre is a 190 pound guy. Anderson Silva is a 220-pound guy. It'll still sell pay-per-views, but Georges doesn't want that fight. He's not trying to make it happen. He's going to defend his belt at 170. I think they (St-Pierre's camp) want Diaz. They went to settle some grudge, but I also think they don't want to tangle with Johny. That's my opinion. Why else would they put out these statements in the press?"