The exact same question was answered by Matt Serra at UFC 69 in Houston, Texas after winning The Ultimate Fighter season 4 gave him a chance to fight the UFC's welterweight champion Georges St. Pierre. Serra was a heavy underdog in the bout, but his heavy hands managed to catch St. Pierre early in the fight and end it after a quick scramble. Now, Georges St. Pierre is back in the driver seat at the top of the division after avenging his loss to Matt Serra and defeating the best of the best in Josh Koscheck, Jon Fitch, Matt Hughes, and B.J. Penn.
Now, another unique challenger stares in the face of the champion, who looked invincible after dismantling the talent B.J. Penn at UFC 94. Thiago Alves (16-3) came onto the scene back in 2005 with a loss to Spencer Fisher at UFN 2, but he has easily been one of the most improved fighters in the UFC since then. After losing to Jon Fitch at UFN 5 back in June of 2006, Alves went on a tear through the division defeating John Alessio, Tony DeSouza, Kuniyoshi Hironaka, Chris Lytle, Karo Parisyan, Matt Hughes, and Josh Koscheck. Seven straight wins -- including three over some of the most elite fighters in the division -- have certainly more than earned Alves a title shot.
What does Alves offer that past challengers didn't? The one weak spot in Georges St. Pierre's game has always been his chin. After the enormous upset win by Matt Serra over St. Pierre, it sometimes seems that St. Pierre is reluctant to engage in standing exchanges. His game plan has often revolved around putting the best wrestlers in the division on their backs. Against Jon Fitch, an opponent with excellent wrestling, St. Pierre resorted to using quick footwork and peppering shots to punish him before going for the shoot. The thing about his recent string of opponents is that none are really known as threats to get the KO standing.
Some would say B.J. Penn had the best overall chance of putting St. Pierre down with a quick overhand, but St. Pierre perfectly executed a clever game plan by wearing him down with take down attempts before exchanging with a tired Penn. Then GSP put Penn on his back and pounded on him till he broke. Alves is an entirely different beast. Alves truly has a chance to bring the knockout at any given moment in this fight, and his explosiveness coupled with his Muay Thai skills can be a dangerous combination for St. Pierre.
St. Pierre will need to look out for the flying knee if he intends to shoot on Alves, and he'll also need to avoid the heavy, heavy leg kicks by Alves. One of the things that impresses me about Alves' fighting style has been his use of his power in every aspect of his game. He lands huge leg kicks that probably do more damage in less quantity than most fighters can output over the course of a fight. One look at his physique will tell you a story of how easily he can knock someone out with a well-placed punch, but I think his dynamic stand-up skills coupled with that strength are the bigger story.
This match has all the premonitions of a potential upset. Alves is a guy that has the tools to pull it off, but the most interesting question becomes whether Alves can withstand the onslaught that St. Pierre will deliver if St. Pierre manages to put him on his back. St. Pierre has become the absolute best wrestler in MMA by pure determination and work ethic. He has solid technique, the ability to continually put you on your back and keep you there, and punishing ground and pound that even made B.J. Penn quit.
Could one take down by St. Pierre spell disaster for Alves? It's possible, and there in lies the biggest question... who will strike first? Can Alves land the big shot before St. Pierre brings him into his own world? I'm going with St. Pierre in this fight because I believe it's going to be a punishing performance by St. Pierre if Alves gets taken down even once. St. Pierre's control on the floor is astounding, and Alves will be in for a world of hurt if he is put on his back.
In retrospect, I think this might be the best bout on the card for the simple fact that Alves actually has a chance against a champion who looks immortal after crushing B.J. Penn. Alves will want to strike while St. Pierre will probably want to avoid the knockout blow and go to the ground. A classic clash in styles coupled with the lingering questions about St. Pierre's chin and Alves' ground game make this an even more intriguing battle. We should all be looking forward to this one.