After a nineteen month layoff between fights longtime UFC welterweight champion Georges St. Pierre makes his long awaited return to the Octagon this Saturday night in Montreal when he meets interim title holder Carlos Condit. Join me as I examine four major questions looming over the fight...
1) How will GSP be affected by nineteen months on the shelf and a surgically repaired ACL? When we talk about Georges St. Pierre being "back" we may want to temper our expectations. It's entirely possible GSP will walk into the Octagon on Saturday night and pick up right where he left off as the most dominant welterweight on the planet. At the same time, it's not outside the realm of possibility his best days could be behind him.
Simply put, a torn ACL ain't no joke.
Athletes like to use cliches such as "better than ever" and "as good as new" to describe how they feel after coming back from a serious injury, but this is often a misnomer. When it comes to the ACL - which serves to stabilize the knee during sudden movements - many competitors are never able to return to their peak form after an injury. As Dr. Jonathan Gelber M.D. wrote in excellent article discussing St. Pierre's injury on FOXSports.com, "an injured knee is never the same as an uninjured knee."
For a fighter like GSP who relies so heavily on wrestling and quick, explosive movements even a slight deficiency in his knee could have serious repercussions on fight night. It might be the difference between a completed takedown or a stuffed one; between circling away from a Condit roundhouse kick or having it land upside his temple.
Another potential hurdle St. Pierre may have to overcome is the nineteen month layoff between fights. That's enough time for a baby born on the night GSP defeated Jake Shields to have gone from a sweet bundle of joy to a restless ankle bitter scampering through the house and terrorizing the family cat. Sure GSP has logged countless hours sparring in training camp over recent months, but will his reaction time be what it once was when the pads come off and the punches and kicks are coming at him with bad intentions?
All that being said, this is still GSP we're talking about. If past is precedent he's going to go into this fight and find a way to exploit Condit's weaknesses, nullify his strengths, and leave the rest of the welterweight division scratching their heads trying to figure out just what they have to do to beat this guy.
Whatever the case may be we'll find out the answer soon enough, which is part of what makes this fight so intriguing.
2) So what happens if Carlos Condit actually, y'know, wins? A Condit victory on Saturday remains a distinct possibility despite the common assumption St. Pierre will once again prove why he's the best in the world at 170 pounds. While GSP has yet to give us a reason to pick against him, to a certain degree the same can also be said for Condit.
The Natural Born Killer's lone loss since 2006 was a split decision he dropped to Martin Kampmann at his UFC debut back in April of 2009. Since then Condit has gone on to amass a very respectable win streak over the likes of Jake Ellenberger, Rory MacDonald, Dong Hyun Kim, and Nick Diaz. In other words, he's no slouch. Throw in the fact Condit is facing GSP when the champ is fresh off the most trying setback of his career and you have, if not a sure fire recipe for an upset, at least a convincing case for one.
If Condit does play the spoiler on Saturday, what happens next will depend in large part on how he pulls it off. The UFC will be able to book a rematch that will do a monster buyrate if Condit should knock GSP out in the first round, finish him in a back and forth affair, or - perhaps best of all - win a close decision.
However, if St. Pierre doesn't look like the GSP of old and Condit controls the fight, then what happens next is anybody's guess. Does the perfectionist St. Pierre even want to continue if he believes he can't perform at his best? Ultimately I don't think it's likely GSP would retire after a single loss, but it's tough to imagine him being content with life as just another contender at this stage in his career.
Of course the elephant in the Octagon here is that a Condit victory wreaks havoc with plans for a St. Pierre/Anderson Silva superfight next year. The UFC could still market the superfight even if St. Pierre lost, but it wouldn't be anywhere near the blockbuster it's sure to be if both men go into it as the champion of their respective divisions. Condit has mentioned being open to the idea of fighting Silva, but unfortunately that's a dream fight nobody outside of the Natural Born Killer's immediate family sees when they go to sleep at night.
3) Just what is Anderson Silva's deal with all this crazy talk about not fighting next year? Will he or won't he step into the Octagon to challenge GSP if the champ retains his belt? That is the million-plus buyrate question. Dana White insists the two generational talents will get it on in a stadium next Spring, but Silva is being predictably unpredictable and saying he's just in town to film an action movie with buddy Lyoto Machida - one can only hope under the beneficent tutelage of sensei Steven Seagal - and that while he's in the area he figured he'd just check out the fights as a fan.
As near as I can tell there can only be one of five things going on in Silva's head right now.
- He woke up one morning last week, noticed the wind was blowing south, and suddenly the thought popped in his head to eschew the biggest payday of his career in order to spend an entire year chasing butterflies.
- He's trolling Dana just for the hell of it.
- He feels putting all the pre-fight focus on himself and GSP is disrespectful to Condit.
- He's throwing us all a red herring.
- He's playing hard to get as a negotiating tactic.
Of these options I think number five is the most likely, with the probability decreasing as you count backward to one. Silva has a history of saying one thing and then doing another as soon as enough zeroes are added to the end of his check - see the second Chael Sonnen fight for example - so one way or another expect some kind of fireworks between the Spider and GSP. Assuming the latter gets by Condit that is.
4) How stoked are Dana and Lorenzo that GSP is returning to PPV? In a word: very. There simply isn't a bigger PPV draw in the UFC than St. Pierre. His last two fights - against Josh Koscheck at UFC 124 and against Jake Shields at UFC 129 - both drew 800,000 buys according to MMAPayout.com Blue Book. To put that in perspective the only show to beat those numbers since St. Pierre has been out of action was the blockbuster Anderson Silva/Chael Sonnen rematch at UFC 147 that did 950,000 buys. The only other fight in the neighborhood during that time frame was the Jon Jones/Rashad Evans grudge match at UFC 145 which came in at 700,000 buys. Or to put it in even starker relief, the average PPV buyrate during St. Pierre's absence was 390,000 buys. It isn't often a star comes along who can draw over 400,000 buys above average just by having his name on the marquee, but that's just what St. Pierre is.
One thing worth noting is that pay per view buys have been slightly down since the move to FOX. Some attribute this to the traditional UFC Countdown specials being buried on the low-penetration FUEL TV, whereas others think it's a consequence of the injury epidemic that has ravaged card after card this year. Another viewpoint is that MMA just simply isn't as hot as it was a couple years ago. The PPV number St Pierre's return draws after a year and a half away from the sport and coming off three weeks of UFC Primetime build on FX will help answer at least some of these questions.
One thing is certain for the UFC though: when you're in the Georges St. Pierre business, business is good.
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