After just over 18 months since his last title defense, Georges St. Pierre is set to once again defend his Welterweight title against Interim champion Carlos Condit at UFC 154. St. Pierre last appeared at UFC 129 in a close decision victory over Jake Shields. Shields became the first fighter to steal even a single round from the champ in years, even if he was widely criticized for what appeared to be deliberate pokes to GSP's eyes.
Twice since UFC 129 in April 2011, St. Pierre has been expected to defend his throne. But, at both UFC 137 and 143, the Canadian superstar was forced from the scheduled bouts due to injury. Prior to his involuntary hiatus, St. Pierre was widely argued as either the #1 or #2 pound-for-pound fighter presently competing in MMA. Yet, because of his layoff and the impressive performances of Anderson Silva and Jon Jones in the meantime, he has dropped to at best #3 in that argument. In fact, he's no longer even ranked as the top fight in his division because of his time off.
Heading into UFC 154, Georges has a lot to prove to regain his former place at the top of the MMA food chain. Even before his UFC 129 fight, St. Pierre was widely criticized for his inability to finish clearly over matched opponents. Although, several theories have abounded, no one has figured out what held GSP back from being the destroyer of men that led to his stardom. Today, we'll take a look back at the pre-UFC bouts that set the foundation for "Rush" to conquer the UFC Welterwieght division.
Ivan Menjivar - UCC 7: Bad Boyz
GSP made his professional debut with the premier Canadian MMA organization of the time, the Universal Combat Challenge. At UCC 7, St. Pierre was welcomed to the fight game by Ivan Menjivar. Although the "Pride Of El Salvador" now competes as a UFC Bantamweight, Menjivar was riding a 4 fight win streak into the bout with three finishes. Despite the glaring size disadvantage Ivan had no problem bringing the fight to Rush. The two exchanged takedowns, sweeps, escapes and ground and pound for almost 5 minutes. Then, in a call that completely baffled the commentators, the in-ring official stopped the match as St. Pierre was throwing violent punches from Menjivar's guard. It seems Ivan was trying to say "I'm OK" as GSP punched him, but the referee mistakenly took the exclamations as a verbal submission. Despite the odd circumstances of the conclusion, St. Pierre still displayed many of the traits that would lead him to the top of the sport. Even the he was taken down, he showed great balance while defending Menjivar's attempts. He landed on his feet after being lifted over Ivan's shoulder as well as a very close attempt at a Fireman's Carry. He also displayed flashes of his creative striking acumen, aggressively throwing Superman punches and spinning back kicks. Finally, as seen in the GIF, he didn't hold back at all trying to smash Ivan Menjivar's face with ground and pound.
Justin Bruckman - UCC 10: Battle For The Belts 2002
6 months after his debut, Georges St. Pierre returned to the UCC ring to face Justin "Loaf" Bruckman in his second bout. At the time, Bruckman was on a 3-fight streak and holding the UCC Welterweight title. The only mark on his record up to that point was a rematch loss to David Loiseau who would go on to challenge Rich Franklin for the UFC Middleweight championship. Despite, Bruckman's experience advantage, Georges made him look like a rank amateur from the opening bell. He opened with a quick takedown and muscled his way past Justin's guard. Although Bruckman was able to escape St. Pierre's mount, that would be the most success he saw the entire fight. GSP took him down again almost immediately with a doubleleg while Loaf had and over/under clinch. Georges quickly passed guard again on his way to locking up an armbar from mount. St. Pierre definitely had a solid debut beating Iva Menjivar, but this was his breakout performance. Throughout the 4 minute bout, GSP made the champion look completely impotent.
Travis Galbraith - UCC 11: The Next Level
After another 6 months, Georges St. Pierre defended his Welterweight tile at UCC's next event. In true regional promotion fashion, Travis Galbraith was making his promotional debut when he stepped up to contend for GSP's title. Galbraith had a career record of 5-1 heading into the bout and was most likely unprepared for the devastating potential of GSP. At least, I would hope that's his defense as Rush tore through him in completely devastating fashion. Similarly to his fight with Bruckman, GSP landed a quick and early takedown against Galbraith. From there, St. Pierre showed a perfect combination of patience and aggression as he systematically broke down Travic Galbraith's defenses. After the initial double-leg, Travis made some attempts to attack from his back. However, GSP remained composed as he set himself up to advance position. By the time he gained side mount, Galbraith had no way to withstand St. Pierre's devastating elbows.
Thomas Denny - UCC 12: Adrenaline
In his fourth matchup, Georges met the most experienced fighter he had faced thus far with the least amount of time to prepare. When he stepped into the ring against the former P4P fighter, Denny had already completed 19 professional fights in his career. Even though his record didn't reflect complete dominance, that kind of experience is hard for any inexperienced fighter to overcome. Denny's experience and composure served to give St. Pierre his biggest problems to date. After clinching up early, Denny lasted about 90 seconds before landing on his back with no defense for a GSP takedown. Georges once again patiently passed to side control leaving Denny to spend the rest of the round trying to survive the disadvantageous position. The second round showed Georges once again dominating Denny essentially from bell to bell. Despite, GSP's general domination, however, Denny still forced him to showcase more parts of his MMA game. In both rounds, Denny tried to frustrate St, Pierre's creative striking by putting him on the defense in the clinch. Additionally, Thomas was almost entirely defensive from his back, forcing GSP to be more aggressive as he advanced position and attempted to ground and pound en route to a second round TKO.
Pete Spratt - TKO 14: Road Warriors
It was 10 months after he beat Denny that Georges St. Pierre got the fight that would earn him his shot in the UFC. By November 2003, UCC had rebranded to TKO Major League MMA and Pete Spratt was standing across the ring from St. Pierre.
Before facing GSP at TKO 14, Spratt had gone 1-1 in the UFC and, in his most recent performance, finished Robbie Lawlor at UFC 42. Much like St. Pierre's last opponent Thomas Denny, Lawlor had a much more experience although he had a less than perfect record. Even though Georges had effectively and very convincingly defeated all of his previous opponents, his performance against Spratt was the most one-sided of his career thus far.
St. Pierre opened up the match with an explosive double-leg takedown. From there, he dominated the rest of the fight from top position as he threw heavy ground and pound and threatened with submission attempts.
The closest Spratt came to establishing anything offensive was escaping from GSP's back control into his guardl. It didn't take long, however, for GSP to sweep into mount and set up for the finishing sequence. UCC/TKO had already established a relationship of sharing talent at this point and the Canadian promotion did a great job of building up GSP for his UFC debut against Karo Parysian.