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Even in his absence, Georges St. Pierre is at the forefront of UFC 137

Winner of main event could meet St. Pierre next year

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Sam Morris

B.J. Penn and Nick Diaz face off during a news conference in advance of UFC 137 Thursday, Oct. 27, 2011.

UFC 137 News Conference - NY NY

B.J. Penn and Nick Diaz face off during a news conference in advance of UFC 137 Thursday, Oct. 27, 2011. Launch slideshow »

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Even though Georges St. Pierre pulled out of the UFC 137 main event with an injury, the promotion might as well have left his picture on the card’s poster.

The welterweight champion is still the central figure of the card. The two 170-pounders now headlining Saturday’s pay-per-view event at the Mandalay Bay Events Center, B.J. Penn and Nick Diaz, are fighting for the right to get closer to St. Pierre.

Although the winner won’t immediately become the No. 1 contender in the 170-pound weight class, he won’t be far behind.

“It’s a big deal,” UFC President Dana White said. “The winner of this fight, you definitely know what their position is in that weight division.”

One of the only reasons Diaz or Penn won’t be considered for an immediate title shot is because St. Pierre’s previously scheduled meeting with Carlos Condit is postponed until the champion recovers from an MCL sprain. White expects that to happen in five to eight weeks, meaning the bout could be re-scheduled for as early as February 2012.

St. Pierre has remained mostly silent since suffering the injury but did post an optimistic message to his twitter earlier this week.

“Feel good about how the recovery is going,” St. Pierre tweeted earlier this week, “can’t wait to get back to my training.”

Penn and Diaz can’t wait either. Both fighters have different but memorable histories with St. Pierre.

Diaz disrespected St. Pierre for years by hinting that he was undeserving of his widespread acclaim before the two were booked to fight each other earlier this year. The UFC dismantled the bout when Diaz disappeared and no-showed a press tour to hype the fight.

In the aftermath, Diaz insulted St. Pierre in a wide-ranging interview with MMAjunkie.com and accused him of not wanting to fight. Diaz described St. Pierre with multiple expletives and blamed him for not speaking out against the UFC changing the fight.

Diaz has backed off of those statements this week.

“I never felt like there was any bad blood,” Diaz said. “I think someone quoted him on saying he didn’t want to fight me before. That’s all. I thought maybe it would be a bad matchup for him, my style. That’s all I thought about it.”

Penn has already lost to St. Pierre twice. But the former two-time UFC champion refused to refer as the second defeat, which happened via fourth round TKO at the MGM Grand Garden Arena at UFC 94, as an actual loss.

In Penn’s mind, the bout was marred with controversy after a member of St. Pierre’s corner illegally rubbed the champion down with Vaseline in between rounds. When the Nevada Athletic Commission shot down a Penn appeal to overturn the bout to a no contest, he vowed to never fight in the state again.

Some have suggested that a third fight between St. Pierre and Penn is meaningless, but Penn has a radically different feeling for obvious reasons.

“With him being the welterweight champion, of course there’s intrigue in me taking that fight,” Penn said. “But that’s the last person I’m worried about right now.”

Neither Penn nor Diaz disputed St. Pierre’s standing at the top of the division this week. But they both believe they can beat him and snap his nine-fight win streak.

Only one of them will have St. Pierre within their sight after UFC 137.

“I feel like I had a good opportunity to beat the guy who is No. 1 in the world right now,” Diaz said. “But now I’m just going to have to push through here and see where it takes us.”

Case Keefer can be reached at 948-2790 or [email protected]. Follow Case on Twitter at twitter.com/casekeefer.

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