Will “Rush” return to his previous form after surgery to repair a torn knee ligament? Even if he does, has an ever-improving division passed him by? Of course, St. Pierre can put all the doubts to rest by toppling interim welterweight king Condit. If St. Pierre does indeed reclaim his place as the top 170-pounder in the world, he will have no shortage of willing challengers. In fact, St. Pierre needs to look no further than the co-main event, which pits Johny Hendricks against Martin Kampmann in a battle of legitimate welterweight contenders. An impressive showing by either man could make him the next title challenger.
Here is a closer look at UFC 154 “St. Pierre vs. Condit,” with analysis and picks:
Sherdog Fantasy MMA: UFC 154 Free Fan Pick’Em
UFC Welterweight Championship
Georges St. Pierre (22-2, 16-2 UFC) vs. Carlos Condit (28-5, 5-1 UFC)
The Matchup: It has been more than a year-and-a-half since St. Pierre successfully defended his 170-pound title at UFC 129 against Jake Shields. Long regarded as one of the best pound-for-pound fighters in the sport today -- and perhaps the best welterweight of all time -- St. Pierre must now prove to the world that he can return to peak form following surgery for a torn anterior-cruciate ligament in his knee. Many athletes suffering similar injuries are able to return to active competition yet never fully resemble their former selves.
Modern medicine and rehabilitation have improved to the point where a blown-out knee no longer spells the beginning of the end for an alpha dog performer. St. Pierre can look at the case of NFL running back Adrian Peterson. The Minnesota Vikings star tore his ACL last December but returned to action in time for the start of the 2012 season; so far, he is among the leading rushers in the league. If anyone in the fight game can emulate Peterson’s comeback, it is St. Pierre.
Condit, meanwhile, captured the interim crown with a brilliant tactical performance against former Strikeforce champion Nick Diaz at UFC 143. Although Diaz fans might disagree, “The Natural Born Killer” clearly won the fight. He used kicks of various levels, worked the body with punches and was creative with various spinning and flying attacks throughout the five-round contest. Most importantly, he utilized movement and angles to perfection, never allowing Diaz to tee off with his trademark high-volume boxing. While some were disappointed with Condit’s approach to the fight with Diaz, it is his keen sense of awareness inside the cage that will help determine if he is to maintain his standing atop the welterweight division.
While Diaz’s style was tailor-made for Condit, St. Pierre has the skill set necessary to neutralize the New Mexican’s diverse striking arsenal. Condit rarely had to worry about the threat of the takedown from Diaz, but “Rush” will look to plant him on his back at every opportunity. Do not expect a repeat of St. Pierre’s victory over Shields, where the champion kept the fight standing for 25 minutes and battered his opponent with jabs, body kicks and overhand rights. Condit represents a far more dangerous adversary than Shields on the feet, but his lanky frame sometimes leaves him susceptible to being overpowered. This is problematic against St. Pierre, whose explosive takedowns are about as good as they get in MMA. Of course, all bets are off if the Canadian has lost a step after surgery.
Assuming the champion is the GSP of old, Condit must do everything in his power to escape when taken down. The Jackson’s Mixed Martial Arts product has an active guard and is more than capable of landing strikes from his back, but St. Pierre tends to smother his opposition once he achieves dominant position.
St. Pierre will work diligently to advance, but his ground-and-pound is effective from mount or in guard, and his grappling is underrated, as well. Condit showed he could sweep and return to his feet against Dong Hyun Kim at UFC 132, but St. Pierre is an entirely different animal. The constant threat of the takedown could potentially limit some of Condit’s diverse kicks, but he must be willing to take chances in order to stay upright. Despite the risk involved, Condit needs to attack St. Pierre’s legs with kicks, both to maintain distance and to slow his opponent’s shot. Once a rhythm is established and St. Pierre is concerned about defending Condit’s toolbox of attacks, then the WEC veteran can begin to open up.
St.Pierre is no slouch on the feet, and his accurate jab allows him to set up his shots when necessary. Condit, despite his track record for finishing fights -- he has 26 finishes in 28 victories -- is a cerebral fighter who understands the need to stick to a game plan. Here, however, that involves doing serious damage early to plant a seed of doubt in St. Pierre’s head. The challenger has never faced an opponent who is as good at imposing his will on others as St. Pierre, so it will take the perfect storm to pull an upset.
The Pick: Condit will be game, and he will give St. Pierre his most significant test in some time. However, a steady diet of takedowns and ground-and-pound will ultimately carry St. Pierre to a decision.
Next Fight » Martin Kampmann vs. Johny Hendricks