Photo: Esther Lin / MMAFighting.com
Georges St. Pierre will be returning to the UFC Octagon this Saturday at UFC 154, but is a fight with Carlos Condit too much to ask of the welterweight superstar this soon after a knee injury?
Several months back I spent a lot of time discussing the fact that I wasn't a particularly big fan of Georges St. Pierre vs. Carlos Condit. Actually, that's not right. I'm a fan of the fight, I'm just not a fan of the fight right now.
St. Pierre has been out of the cage since April 30, 2011. When he steps in this Saturday that will be the 567th day since that UFC 129 bout with Jake Shields. To put that in perspective, that's only 28 days shorter than the 595 days that Frank Mir sat out after the motorcycle accident that nearly ended his career.
I'm not suggesting that GSP's return is going to look nearly as horrible as Mir's did, but simply that I have my reservations about bringing a guy back off a year-and-a-half layoff following a significant injury and saying "now, go fight the best possible opponent at your weight."
In the majority of cases of elite level athletes it takes until the second year after a surgery like GSP's to recover to something near 100%, and in sports like football or basketball there are situations which allow for the return to be gradual. When Derrick Rose returns to the Chicago Bulls he isn't going to be on the floor for 40 minutes. They're going to bring him in and let him test out his knee for shorter shifts until he trusts it and can do all the things he used to do.
While Adrian Peterson is having a freakish season, putting up amazing numbers less than a year after a serious MCL/ACL injury and surgery, he's far more the exception than the rule. Many elite running backs, wide receivers, defensive ends..etc. talk about having to learn to trust their knee again and not guarding.
Jon Gelber talked about GSP's recovery in an article at Bleacher Report:
Therapists focus first on hamstrings and then work their way up to strengthening quads. The quads are the first to go, even before surgery, so it’s important to keep up quad strength before and after surgery. The quadriceps are important as stabilizers of the knee, because when they contract, they help keep the tension off the ligaments by keeping the knee aligned. They also help stabilize the ACL from being stressed with sudden lateral movements or change of direction. By nine months to one year, most athletes can get back into their sport.
However, studies have shown that even NFL players only get up to 80% of their original quad strength back one year after ACL surgery.
GSP has done everything right to recover from his surgery. He had a good surgeon, good therapists, and has good genetics. However, an injured knee is never the same as an uninjured knee. Surgeons do their best to bring people back, but sometimes it takes up to one year to get back to playing sports, and even two years before an athlete feels normal, even in professional elite athletes. GSP certainly fits in that category, so the question remains if he is returning too soon.
My worry isn't that he's returning too soon, it's that the fight with Condit might have made more sense were GSP afforded a tune-up fight. I know the whole thing about "no easy fights in the UFC" and that GSP is still the UFC champion so, to some people, that means that anything other than fighting the best possible opponent would be some sort of betrayal of his station in the sport. And I'm also aware that the UFC has missed out big title fights that they'd like to have pursued over the past two years and wanted to cash in on this one.
But we simply don't know how GSP will feel in the fight and I'd like to see him overcome some of those issues in a more reasonable situation.
No amount of sparring matches the same level of trust and comfort of being in a full fight. In sparring, if you feel concerned about a position or something doesn't feel right, you can stop at any point, it's also a lot easier to avoid situations you don't want to be in during sparring than it is in the fight.
Maybe Georges is 100% and will fight as well as he ever has, he's a -350 favorite for a reason. But I just would hate to see a loss that comes because GSP was thrown into to a situation with too many adverse conditions just because he was the #1 fighter in the world 18 months and a traumatic knee injury ago.