Occupy The Throne – Edition #37

In this edition of Occupy The Throne, Samer Kadi and I examine the return of Georges St. Pierre.

Jeremy Lambert: With a cloud of doubt surrounding him, Georges St. Pierre reminded the world why he’s one of the best fighters on the planet this past Saturday when he defeated Carlos Condit. Heading into the fight, many thought that if GSP was going to lose any time soon, it would be following an 18-month layoff that included ACL surgery. Instead he turned in another masterful performance against an extremely dangerous fighter.

The fight was not without drama though as Condit dropped the champion in the third round with a head kick and swarmed on him, looking for the finish. That moment proved how unforgiving this sport can be as, despite dominating the first two rounds and looking in complete control, even the smallest mental lapse can end a fighter’s night. To St. Pierre’s credit, he recovered and left no doubt in the minds of the judges or fans as to who the better fighter was.

With the king now back on his throne, the rest of the welterweight division can fall in line. Prior to St. Pierre and Condit squaring off, Johny Hendricks made another big statement by knocking out Martin Kampmann and solidifying his status as the #1 contender. But before Hendricks can get his title shot, a bigger fight could be on the horizon as St. Pierre vs. Anderson Silva, in what would unquestionably be the biggest fights of all-time, appears to be within striking distance.

Samer Kadi: Since the very moment St-Pierre’s scheduled fight with Carlos Condit became official, any excitement about his return was accompanied – and at times overshadowed – by legitimate concern about the ACL tear he suffered late last year. After all, by all accounts, serious ACL injuries generally take longer to heal, and a decent portion of pundits believed the welterweight champion’s eagerness to get back inside the cage could have gotten the better of his sense of judgment.

Moreover, even if St-Pierre was fully healed, an eighteen months layoff is not something an athlete can just effortlessly shake off, let alone a prizefighter competing in one of the most unforgiving sports in the world. Georges St-Pierre however, is not any athlete. He is, at worst, the second greatest mixed martial artist to ever grace the sport, and his showing against Carlos Condit did nothing but enhance that claim.

While there were at times issues of timing, particularly when circling out of pressure, if you never knew about the Canadian’s layoff, it would have been near impossible to spot any significant differences in his game. For someone who has been out for such an extended period of time, St-Pierre was as close to not-skipping-a-beat as he could have realistically been. Most impressive was his willingness to be a fraction more aggressive in his approach without ever sacrificing his patient, calculating, and cerebral style – a feat that is all the more astounding when assessed in the context of his injury.

The third round scare cannot be overlooked, as Condit floored St-Pierre with a well-placed high kick. However, it was an issue of a mental lapse by the champion who made the mistake of dropping his hands and resetting too early, thinking that his opponent’s combination was over, coupled with the challenger’s brilliance and unpredictability in catching GSP by surprise with an off-balance high kick.

Nevertheless, what most people will take out of that moment is St-Pierre’s ability to recover and dominate proceedings right until the final horn, proving once again that, if there was ever any doubt, he is a once in a life time athlete.

Jeremy Lambert: The knock on the long time welterweight champion has always been that, “he’s too soft, he’s afraid to get hit, he has no heart, etc….” Those knocks were put to bed this past Saturday. Not only did he return from a devastating injury without missing a beat, but he survived the biggest scare of his title reign and didn’t let it affect his performance one bit once he regained his composure.

While I’m sure GSP would’ve loved to not have the head kick happen, it certainly made the fight more memorable. Without it, it’s a 25-minute GSP domination where he displayed all of his skills, not unlike the majority of his title defenses. But the knockdown put some drama into the bout and made “Rush” appear human.

For pretty much his entire title run, GSP has been bulletproof. Outside of some dubious scorecards against Jake Shields, the man had never lost a round since regaining the title at UFC 83. Besides some ill-advised “gut feeling” predictions, no one really thought St. Pierre would lose to the men put in front of him, which says a lot about him as a fighter, because he wasn’t fighting mid-level fighters. He’s been fighting the best guys in the division, with the exception of Dan Hardy, every time he’s stepped into the cage. While he may not finish his opponents, he’s never left doubt as to who the better fighter is as he’s throroughly dominated the competition.

GSP wasn’t bulletproof prior to UFC 154. People didn’t pick Carlos Condit because they had a “gut feeling” or wanted to be a contrarian, they picked Condit because he had a legitimate chance at walking out of Canada as the unified champion. And what did St. Pierre do? He proved to the world why he’s the greatest welterweight of all-time and the second best fighter of all-time. He left no doubt as to who the better fighter was on Saturday night.

That begs the question, who can beat this guy? As I mentioned last week, Condit was a tough match-up for GSP even if the champ was on a normal schedule heading into the fight because of his skills. The fact that GSP was coming off an injury and a long layoff made Condit all the more dangerous. And it didn’t matter. If “The Natural Born Killer,” with so many factors working in his favor, couldn’t do much against the Canadian, what hope does anyone else in the division have?

Samer Kadi: Very few fighters in the division pose an interesting test for St-Pierre at this point in time. It doesn’t help that he’s dispatched most of them with relative ease, and as of now, he has no more than two potentially intriguing fresh match-ups in the division, one of which against a fighter coming off a loss. That man of course, is the ever polarizing Nick Diaz. That fight however, is only interesting due to Diaz’s personality and willingness to perhaps extract St-Pierre’s edgier side in the pre-fight build-up, which we’ve seen glimpses of when the Montreal native specifically requested to square off against Diaz following the latter’s win over BJ Penn and subsequent callout of the champion.

Stylistically, the match-up couldn’t have been worse for Diaz. His flat-footed volume punches style plays right into St-Pierre’s hands. Diaz makes a living out of cutting off the cage, forcing fighters to backpedal, and overwhelming with a near baffling amount of punches. However, not only is St-Pierre’s striking arsenal well-equipped to deal with that due to his jab, movement, and kicks, but his already unstoppable wrestling will be even more imposing due to Diaz’s mediocre takedown defense. A submission from the bottom is just as unlikely considering St-Pierre’s grappling eats offensive guards for breakfast, and shuts down any potential activity from the bottom.

The other – and far more deserving – man potentially awaiting St-Pierre at welterweight is Johny Hendricks, fresh off yet another quick day at the office against a top welterweight. On the surface, Hendricks’ great wrestling base and punching power arm him with better ammunition than many of St-Pierre’s previous opponents. That of course, is not entirely accurate, nor is it likely to be enough. Not only is the champion a far more dynamic – and flat out better – wrestler in an MMA context, but his striking is considerably more technical. Hendricks’ predictable and somewhat one-dimensional pattern of moving forward and set up that bullet of a left hand is unlikely to cut it against a fighter of GSP’s caliber.

Of course, that does not in any way imply that a fight between Hendricks and St-Pierre shouldn’t happen. After all, the former absolutely earned his shot. However, when a potential biggest fight in MMA history is on the line – pending St-Pierre’s approval – Hendricks can wait.

Jeremy Lambert: A few weeks ago we wrote about potential super fights and the ingredients needed for them to come together. Silva vs. St. Pierre is upon us. Anderson and Dana White want the fight, with the latter already starting to promote the fight on a date in May. The ball is in the welterweight’s court now. While GSP has always hesitated on the fight, stating that he would take a year off to put on the weight, he seems to be coming around to the idea as of late.

We all know that he won’t commit to the fight until he’s healed up from UFC 154 and has talked things over with his team, but the timing is right for this bout. Both men are arguably at their peaks right now, which seems odd given Silva’s age and GSP’s injury, and they have nothing left to prove in their respective divisions. If GSP and Silva can agree on a weight, there’s no reason why this fight shouldn’t happen and there’s no reason why fans shouldn’t be clamoring for it.

In fact, it’s rather odd that some fans aren’t clamoring for a fight between the two greatest mixed martial artists of all-time. We should be thankful that a fight of that magnitude is nearly done. But that’s a different column for a day of thanks.


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