On December 7th, 2011, a date which will live in infamy a date upon which some lame stuff happened but probably didn’t quite compare to the violent inception of the United States’ involvement in the deadliest war in recorded history, UFC welterweight champion Georges St. Pierre blew out his ACL while training for a bout with Nick Diaz. Fast-forward almost a year and GSP is set to make his return in his hometown of Montreal, this time against interim welterweight champion Carlos Condit. But much like a year ago, the focus is on GSP’s knee. Has it healed completely and will it hold up against Condit’s leg kicks? Will GSP possess the same degree of athleticism that he’s been able to rely on in the past? Will GSP lose because of it?
In short, probably not. This isn’t to say Condit has no chance to win. To the contrary, he’s the most formidable challenger GSP has faced since Jon Fitch, and he’s got a better chance to win. He can match St. Pierre in striking, and if he’s taken down he possesses an active guard. His jiu-jitsu probably isn’t capable of submitting St. Pierre, unless the latter is already stunned with strikes, but it may be enough to get up off his back should he be taken down. Best of all, Condit has a clear target to go for: GSP’s knee. St. Pierre can claim his knee is fine all he wants, but it’s unquestionably a weakness that Condit will seek to exploit for the entire fight.
Furthermore, it’s hard to tell what St. Pierre will step into the ring. Will he be hesitant to engage and overly tentative? (GSP’s critics just jumped up and shouted “But he already is!”) If he gets backed up consistently he’ll get tagged, and there’s no telling how he’ll react to that. GSP isn’t all athleticism and explosiveness, but these traits undoubtedly give him a decided edge over virtually all of his opponents — and after 19 months out of the Octagon, he may not look like the same fighter. There are a large number of legitimate questions that surround St. Pierre’s return, and there’s no real way to answer them until we see him in action Saturday night.
That said, I don’t think they all need to be answered to favor St. Pierre. Whether the label of “cautious” is legitimate or not when it comes to his fighting style, GSP absolutely prefers to stack the deck in his favor. It’s unlikely that he’d take the fight if he felt he wasn’t ready for it physically. Even if he’s not the same freak physical specimen he was before — although the UFC Primetime episodes seem to dispute this — St. Pierre is an excellent tactician and possesses more than enough skill to overcome any athletic adversity. He outwrestled Thiago Alves with a pulled groin and outboxed Jake Shields with one eye. Granted, Condit is better in both departments than either fighter I just mentioned, but my point is, GSP’s proven he can overcome physical adversity before.
While Condit may be the most complete fighter St. Pierre has ever faced, so is GSP the most complete fighter Condit has ever faced. In particular, Condit has never faced a wrestler on GSP’s level. The last time Condit competed against a high-ish level wrestler was against Rory MacDonald, and he lost the first two rounds before knocking MacDonald out with only 7 seconds left in the fight. Condit’s certainly improved since then, but GSP’s wrestling will test him in a manner he’s never had to deal with before. Even if it does stay standing, Condit may find success limited due to GSP’s jab, which is one of, if not the best in MMA. GSP essentially beat Josh Koscheck with this punch, and while he won’t be able to do that with Condit, he should be able to effectively limit his arsenal and set up his own takedowns.
Like I said, Condit’s got a decent chance at winning this. He has the cardio to match GSP’s, and he’s got a better shot at finishing the fight. But ultimately, GSP should be too much for him. He’ll keep him off balance with the jab, take Condit down when he attempts to kick, and should score from the top position throughout the fight. It probably won’t end via stoppage, which will fuel GSP’s haters even more, but this speaks more to Condit’s toughness and technique than GSP’s lack of finishing ability. Expect the king of the wet blankets (and the welterweight division) to unify his crown.