UFC 129 St-Pierre vs Shields on April 30, 2011 in Toronto, Canada. (Photos from Al Bello/Zuffa LLC/Zuffa LLC via Getty Images) via UFC.com
Today's shocking news that UFC welterweight champion Georges St. Pierre is injured and out of UFC 143 leaves a lot of questions to answer. How will the Nick Diaz vs. Carlos Condit interim title fight play out? How will the UFC deal with the loss of one of its biggest stars? And I'm sure Nick Diaz will demand we ask if GSP is ducking him. All of these are important questions, but to me the big one is this:
Has Georges St. Pierre just lost the best years of his career?
According to Dana White, the champion will be out of action for 10 months. Add in training time to get back in shape and we could be looking at early 2013 for a St. Pierre return. He already has not fought since UFC 129 in April and his defeat of Jake Shields. So now, we could be looking at a near two year gap between fights for St. Pierre.
In the world of sports, and for a fighter in his prime, those two years are an eternity. St. Pierre will have to come back against either Condit or Diaz (or, potentially, some other challenger who wins the belt in the meantime), which will be a serious test for a fighter with such ring rust. And it is not just time off that is an issue - it's time off with a serious injury. We've seen fighters come back from big, injury-filled lay-offs and just not be the same. Shogun Rua, Frank Mir, Thiago Alves - there's a large list. Can St. Pierre do what he has done so many times before - prove that he is on a different level and win in the face of this adversity? It will be a tough road.
Beyond just his immediate return, there is also the question of GSP's long-term run at the top. He fought Shields at the age of 29, and will return at 31 (or 32 if the recovery takes some time). Those are prime years of athletic peak that St. Pierre has had taken away from him. He already has 9 years of experience and 24 fights under his belt. Even without this injury it was fair to ask how much longer he could stay at the very top. Now, the question becomes even more important.
As the leg injuries accumulate, and the years stack up, is it possible that we have seen the end of St. Pierre's run of dominance? Will it be that time and injury - those two enemies of all - have dethroned one of the top two fighters of this era? Obviously, it's too early to say. But when he comes back, I know we will all be watching closely to see if the St. Pierre that has dominated the division for 4 years is still here, or if that fighter is a thing of the past.