For fans of combat sports, we are in the midst of an incredible run where, on back-to-back weekends, (arguably) the top pound-for-pound boxer and (arguably) the top pound-for-pound mixed martial artist step into their respective fighting homes to do battle. At this Saturday's UFC 129, Georges St. Pierre faces #3 ranked welterweight Jake Shields. Somewhat amazingly, next Saturday it is Manny Pacquiao facing #3 ranked welterweight Shane Mosley. At their widest, the gambling odds for both fights had the favorite near -600, although the odds for Shields vs. St. Pierre have narrowed closer to -400.
Beyond the surface similarities, the true danger for both fighters is that they fail to deliver on their true potential and are upset by a lesser fighter. Fantastic boxing scribe T.K. Stewart addressed the Pacquiao side of the coin:
For all intents and purposes and except for several weeks a year, Pacquiao has moved on to a life that doesn't involve boxing. Congressman in his native Philippines, philanthropist, father, husband and celebrity pitch man, the world's top ranked boxer has made it clear he isn't going to be stepping into the squared circle too many more times before calling it a career.
He's beaten about everyone - except for the reluctant Floyd Mayweather, Jr. - and now it seems Pacquiao is simply hanging around the game to show up a few times a year, collect multi-million dollar paydays and pound just about anybody that steps in front of him into a pulp.
But with that career strategy there is danger. When a boxer continually meets guys in what Teddy Atlas calls "gentleman's agreement" fights where there is some danger of losing - but not really - he more often than not becomes complacent and is upset in stunner.
Boxing history is littered with great fighters that suffered shock losses at the peak of their powers. It wasn't the man in the opposing corner that caused the loss; it was their own lack of focus.
The obvious huge difference here is that St. Pierre is not living the same distraction filled life as Pacquiao. While Manny has turned his boxing career into a career in politics and even music, Georges would seem to be fighting the idea of ever getting comfortable by expanding his training into nearly uncharted areas for a fighter such as gymnastics.
Also, Shields is a fighter in the prime of his career while Mosley is clearly in the twilight of his own. Still, "Sugar" Shane is a man who was counted out by most as he prepared to face Antonio Margarito before laying a shocking beating on the then champion. He also was able to badly stun and almost drop Floyd Mayweather Jr. in the second round of their tilt last May, a moment that should remind everyone of his status as a legitimate threat in the boxing game.
Georges St. Pierre will never forget the April 7 night when Matt Serra took away his welterweight title in a shocking upset. St. Pierre claimed that the complacency monster caught up to him that evening. A claim, as we all remember, that led to a rare "this is personal" rematch between St. Pierre and Serra.
Jake Shields has won fifteen consecutive fights, an achievement which should not be overlooked. Still, on paper this is not exactly a fight that he has any business winning. St. Pierre is far better on the feet, he has had little trouble with the shots of better wrestlers than Shields in the past and I have trouble seeing Jake pulling off a submission in the unlikely event that he does manage to get an advantageous position.
It all comes down to if St. Pierre enters the cage focused and fully aware that anything can happen in a fight. For Pacquiao and St. Pierre, the most dangerous men they'll be in with are themselves.