Iain Hepburn | November 14, 2012
The last time I saw Georges St Pierre, he’d spent the best part of an hour bending a young British MMA fighter into shapes the human body’s not designed to reach.
Dan Hardy’s unlikely title challenge against St Pierre – one of the pound for pound greatest in MMA’s modern history – had been a one-sided encounter throughout its five rounds, as the Quebec native had dominated the Brit from the get-go.
He walked into the press room in Newark’s Prudential Centre looking like he’d just had a light training session, not a five round title match. He talked about his frustration at not being able to finish off the fight, despite looking for a host of submission attempts off his disturbingly bendy opponent.
Since then, St Pierre has defended his UFC welterweight title just twice – both decision victories. His match against Josh Koscheck in December 2010 won fight of the night, were once again he dominated his opponent yet proved unable to find a effective finish – even after leaving Koscheck with a swollen eye and broken orbital bone for most of the bout.
Against Jake Shields four months later, it was the same story. Another five round decision, another dominant performance, headlining the largest event in UFC history – in front of a sold out 55,000 crowd in Toronto.
St Pierre has become a fighter who wins decisions comfortably rather than spectacularly. But he’s also become a fighter who hasn’t fought for a long time. That April 2011 win is the most recent entry in his 22-2 record.
He was due to fight a year ago, in a bout that became mired in chaos. Originally set to face Nick Diaz, the notoriously flaky Californian failed to turn up for any of the media events organized around the bout. Frustrated, UFC’s president Dana White dumped him from the bout and parachuted in Carlos Condit instead.
Two weeks before the bout, GSP suffered an injury in training. Their fight was delayed, then eventually scrapped altogether as it emerged St Pierre had damaged his ACL and would be out for almost a year. Instead, Condit was scheduled to fight Diaz, the man who lost out on a title shot in the first place. An interim UFC welterweight title was put up for their bout – with the winner to face GSP once he was fit.
Condit won by decision in three rounds, and has spent the last nine months cooling his heels on the sidelines waiting for St Pierre to return. Meanwhile St Pierre goes into the unification bout with just two fights in the last two years and a belt that has gone undefended in more than 18 months.
It will be interesting to see what all this has done to St Pierre. Even before his injury he seemed content to use his skill to win a fight at his own pace, rather than risk it all with a potentially explosive moment of action.
The Hardy and Shields fights epitomized the modern GSP – his ability is generally good enough to outstrip anyone in the division, and since his shock loss to Matt Serra in 2007 has never looked in danger of defeat.
But in his press conferences and interviews he’s talked, often, of wanting a dynamic finish and apologizing to fans for not delivering the explosive KO they may be wanting.
And the unification fight is on home soil, too – literally, taking place in Montreal. Will the presence of a home support, that ring-rust and the memories of the boos see a different GSP enter the cage in the Bell Centre on Sunday morning? Or has that layoff only exacerbated the caution previously seen from ‘Rush’?
While we wait for the answer, here’s the man himself with his own thoughts on his comeback bout: