Georges St. Pierre says he has rekindled his competitive fire. | Photo: Sherdog.com
They say absence makes the heart grow fonder. Georges St. Pierre can relate.
Away from competition for 19 months following reconstructive knee surgery, the longtime welterweight champion will return to the cage for a five-round unification bout against interim titleholder Carlos Condit in the UFC 154 main event on Saturday at the Bell Centre in Montreal. Time spent on the sidelines forced St. Pierre to reassess his priorities.
“What I realized the most is how much I missed it,” he said during a pre-fight media call. “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.
“It’s the same thing in fighting,” St. Pierre added. “When you do it every day, the stress makes you forget you like it. When I got hurt, I was away for so long and I had to change my routine. I’m very pumped, and I’m glad to be back.”
St. Pierre, who turned 31 on May 19, will enter the cage against Condit on a streak of nine consecutive victories. However, he last appeared in April 2011, when he bested former Strikeforce champion Jake Shields by unanimous decision in front of more than 50,000 fans at the Rogers Centre in Toronto. The St. Isidor, Quebec, Canada, native had a stranglehold on the 170-pound division, until a serious knee injury swept him off his feet.
“I changed a lot of stuff in my personal life,” St. Pierre said. “I’m making things easier and more efficient. I’m not burned out. People used to say that I used to smile at press conferences, and, during the last two fights, I lost that fire, lost my smile. Now that I haven’t done this in a long time, I found it.
“Before in training, I was thinking, ‘I can’t wait to be on vacation and be done with this,’” he added. “Now, I want to get in the Octagon and leave with a finish and a victory. I want to enjoy every second of it. I want to have the experience and the chance to live every second of it. I’m happy to be back.”
St. Pierre sounds like a man who has never had a stronger grasp on the importance of enjoying one’s profession.
“I like what I do, but I forgot that I liked it,” he said. “If you don’t have fun doing what you’re doing, just don’t do it. I’m good at what I do because I have fun. It’s the best job in the world. It’s a great opportunity, and we’re very happy to do that.”
Before his injury, St. Pierre had come under increasing public fire for his inability -- or a perceived unwillingness -- to finish fights. He put away seven of his first 12 UFC victories by knockout, technical knockout or submission, including violent stoppages against Jay Hieron at UFC 48, Sean Sherk at UFC 56 and Matt Hughes at UFC 65. However, he has gone the distance in five of his last six outings, including four in a row. Critics’ screams have only grown louder, ignoring overtly dominant performances against Jon Fitch, Thiago Alves, Dan Hardy and Josh Koscheck.
“I think it’s a good thing to listen to critics to make yourself a better fighter, but no matter how good you are, someone always criticizes,” St. Pierre said.
“It’s not really [about] being in danger. I need to be more opportunistic and jump more on the opportunity. The critics are there to make me better. I don’t see it as a negative.”
In his return bout, St. Pierre faces a foe receiving none of those criticisms. Condit sports 26 finishes among his 28 professional victories, 13 by knockout or technical knockout and 13 more by submission. Since joining the UFC as part of the World Extreme Cagefighting merger the “Natural Born Killer” has blossomed into one of the world’s premier welterweights. Condit followed a disputed split decision loss to Martin Kampmann in his promotional debut with successive victories over Jake Ellenberger, Rory MacDonald, Hardy, Dong Hyun Kim and onetime Strikeforce champion Nick Diaz.
St. Pierre concedes that Condit poses a serious threat to his reign as welterweight champion, which dates back to his April 19, 2008 victory against Matt Serra.
“I’m always afraid when I’m going to fight, regardless of who I’m fighting,” he said. “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.”
St. Pierre has largely sidestepped the idea of a potential super fight with middleweight champion Anderson Silva -- an idea Ultimate Fighting Championship President Dana White has pushed in the weeks and months leading up to UFC 154.
“I always have pressure. That’s why everyone is calling me out,” St. Pierre said. “It’s important to me to focus on one fight at a time. The fight I want the most is against the best man, and that’s Carlos Condit. That’s the fight I want.”