Last night Georges St. Pierre returned to the Octagon following a 19 month absence, and put in an electrifying performance against Carlos Condit in one of the best moments in MMA this year. GSP for the first time since the Matt Serra loss looked vulnerable, as Condit floored him with a head kick early in the 3rd round. Unlike the Serra fight, GSP survived Condit's onslaught and ended up winning the round on two of the judges' scorecards. The rest of the fight was mostly vintage GSP dominance as he took down Condit with ease, and bloodied him up with hard elbows and ground-and-pound. It's the first time that I can recall of Condit's WEC and UFC days that his face was a complete mess.
Obviously with GSP winning the immediate reaction is to think about a superfight between him and Anderson Silva. It's been discussed for a much longer period of time than anything to do with Jon Jones fighting The Spider. Dana White has made a concerted effort to publicly state he'd get one of the two to happen, and on Friday stated that if GSP won he'd fight Silva in May. While St. Pierre was content to rest-up (per his interview with Joe Rogan), Anderson said he'd be happy to fight GSP next.
The pessimist in me says GSP doesn't want this fight and we won't get this dream matchup, but if it doesn't happen it's not the end of the world. I've always believed that welterweight is one of the stronger divisions in MMA, and I still think that now more than ever there are legitimate challenges for St. Pierre at welterweight. I include the following as credible title contenders:
- Johny Hendricks. Not that Dana White's arbitrary declarations of #1 contender are to be taken seriously 100% of the time, but Hendricks has earned his title shot. His KO power is off the charts, and while hurting Martin Kampmann isn't hard, sending him to sleep truly is. I know Hendricks has alternated fascinating KOs with narrow decision wins like against Josh Koscheck and Mike Pierce, but he's shown the ability to stop elite welterweights with one shot. The key weakness for Hendricks is that he only has 63% takedown defense, and that's not exactly the most inspiring statistic against an elite wrestler like GSP.
- Jake Ellenberger. Like Hendricks, he has dynamite KO power. Even better, Ellenberger hasn't been taken down since his debut against Carlos Condit. However, he has a terrible habit of fading in fights where he can't get the early finish. Realistically he needs 1-2 top 10 victories to get a title fight, as the Martin Kampmann defeat knocked him down a peg or two. Here's an interesting fact that hasn't been pointed out - The last time GSP fought a southpaw was Frank Trigg. It's something that he hasn't had to train for and Ellenberger and Hendricks are both hard-hitting southpaws.
- Nick Diaz. Another southpaw. He's the best boxer (particularly his body shots) of the 4 welterweights I've listed and it's not even close. Diaz also has fantastic cardio and a more active submission game than Condit (although Nick didn't show that against Carlos). He keeps a constant, pressuring offensive attack that could pose problems for GSP. While it's very likely that St. Pierre could take down Diaz repeatedly and hold him there, Diaz poses a formidable challenge on the feet with his precision striking.
Carlos Condit. By becoming the first man to knockdown GSP since Matt Serra and putting in another trademark entertaining fight, he absolutely has the chance to earn a rematch down the road. Perhaps a rematch with one of Kampmann, Ellenberger, or Diaz could springboard him right back into the title picture.
Even if we don't immediately get GSP/Silva, the challenges for St. Pierre at welterweight are still there, and they shouldn't be ignored.