Viewers' guide to UFC 154
Georges St-Pierre returns after a 19-month layoff on Saturday at UFC 154
GSP, the UFC welterweight champ, fights interim titleholder Carlos Condit
Martin Kampmann and Johny Hendricks are scheduled for the co-main event
A couple of months ago I read a story about a guy named Mark Weinman, a 50-year-old New Yorker. As a much younger man, he'd been a professional boxer, winning his first 11 bouts before dropping three straight and retiring in 1991.
Twenty-one years later, in September, he stepped back into a ring in Tampa, Fla., and knocked out someone named Elvis in 39 seconds.
If the middleweight who once billed himself as "The Hebrew Hammer" can make a successful return after two decades, why should a 19-month layoff affect Georges St-Pierre?
Well, there are several reasons, the biggest one being the most obvious: The UFC welterweight champion competes at a wholly different level than some club fighter does. His opponent in the main event of UFC 154, Carlos Condit (28-5), is skilled enough to seize on even the slightest hesitation or misstep on Saturday night in Montreal (10 p.m. ET, PPV).
During his long recovery from knee surgery, St-Pierre (22-2) has often spoken about how he's worked himself back into shape but how that's different than fighting shape. He has tried to simulate octagon conditions in his training, but he knows it's not the same. There's no one in his Montreal gym who has been going at him with the same ferocity that Condit will. There's probably no one there who could.
Yet along with producing ring rust, that same layoff also brings something more beneficial: rejuvenation. During a conference call with MMA media last week, St-Pierre spoke of his love of the fight game, a love he acknowledges he had lost before being sidelined by injury.
"What I realized the most is how much I missed it," he said. "It's like when you're in love with your girlfriend. When you're with her, sometimes you don't realize you love that person. But when you're away for a long time, you realize you love that person, you miss her."
So now we get to see what kind of valentine GSP sends to the sport he loves.
68: Takedowns in his 18 UFC fights, the most by anyone in the fight promotion's history. He's also No. 1 in takedown accuracy, at 77.3 percent, and is No. 2 at stuffing opponents' attempts (88 percent).
997: Significant strikes in his UFC career, most by any fighter. He lands at a rate of 53.4 percent.
568: Days it will have been since his last fight (unanimous decision over Jake Shields on April 30, 2011) when he steps into the octagon Saturday night.
9: Decisions among his 17 UFC wins, including his last four bouts.
8: Title defenses since beating Matt Serra in December 2007 to recapture the welterweight belt.
26: Opponents he has stopped (13 knockouts, 13 submissions) in his 28 career victories, a finishing rate of 93 percent. His eight finishes in 11 UFC/WEC bouts are tied for second among welterweights.
0: Knockouts he has suffered in 33 career fights.
68: Leg kicks he landed on Nick Diaz in his last fight, a UFC record. In a fight that incongruously produced the rhetoric that Condit ran the whole time, he managed to land 151 significant strikes, the third most ever landed by a UFC welterweight.
13: Wins in his last 14 fights, the lone loss coming against Martin Kampmann via split decision in 2009.
0: Defenses of the interim belt he won in the Diaz fight in February. Condit chose to put the belt on a shelf and wait for St-Pierre, which calls into question the need for an interim belt in the first place.
What we should expect: If we could turn back the clock and have this fight be fought when it initially was supposed to have been, in October 2011, we'd have a pretty good idea of what to expect. St-Pierre would strike with Condit just long enough to go for a takedown, at which point Georges' grappling control would test Carlos' ability to fight off his back. It'd likely be a grind-it-out fight. We might still see one of those even now, but maybe not.
Condit knows that with GSP having been out of the octagon for more than a year and a half, the champ will be at his most vulnerable right at the start, before his gears can start wearing away the ring rust. That, combined with the echoes of all the bellyaching by fans following his stick-and-move win over Diaz, might make "The Natural Born Killer" especially determined to return to his killing ways right from the start. GSP has been talking about going for finishes more, too.
Neither fighter is being guided by his usual strategist, Greg Jackson, who has been sullied with an undeserved reputation as a play-it-safe trainer. Jackson is more about playing it smart. His absence will drag down the two men's combined fighting IQ, so we might very well see mistakes made and opportunities presented.
Why we should care: I suppose it's possible, with the sport gaining new fans via its network TV exposure over the past year, that there are folks reading this who've never seen Georges St-Pierre perform. But most of us have a good enough memory to think back to when GSP was as dominant a fighter as there has been in the UFC. Will he still have that special something after spending 19 months out of the octagon? We'll see. And we'll also get to see the welterweight championship be put on the line and a spot on the pound-for-pound Top 3 be at stake.
"I like playing the role of the spoiler. There are a lot of people in the sport and in the media that I think are overlooking me as an opponent for Georges and looking towards a superfight with Anderson maybe. I don't feel like Georges is overlooking me, but I'm excited to get in there, do my thing and, you know, hopefully change a lot of plans."
--Carlos Condit during a media conference call last week that focused more on a potential GSP-Anderson Silva superfight than on Condit's challenge
"I'm always afraid when I'm going to fight, regardless of who I'm fighting. I'm going to be fired up and I'll fight the best that I can. I will leave everything out there. That's something I can promise to everybody."
--Georges St-Pierre during the conference call
"I felt a lot more pressure fighting in my hometown. And he's coming back off an injury. He's the man. He has the status. I have nothing to lose. I can just go in there and perform to the best of my ability."
"All my fights have pressure, no matter who I'm fighting. I'm always fighting for world titles. I'm used to fighting big fights and fighting at home. I perform at my best in those moments."
Welter wait: You might say the co-main event is a four-rounder. Martin Kampmann and Johny Hendricks will do battle for their scheduled three rounds, or whatever portion of that 15 minutes the winner needs to finish the job. Then comes Round 4, in which said winner watches the main event and scouts his next challenge. UFC president Dana White hasn't committed to giving the Kampmann-Hendricks winner a title shot, but what else is he going to do? Reward Nick Diaz with a shot at the belt immediately upon his return from a Nevada suspension? I suppose stranger things have happened -- hello, 205-pound challenger Chael -- but expect Martin and Johnny to go at it like there's a 170-pound belt on the line.
Questions? Comments? To reach Jeff Wagenheim or contribute to the SI.com MMA mailbag, click on the E-mail link at the top of the page.
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