This Saturday, we’re finally going to get to see UFC welterweight champion Georges St-Pierre compete again. St-Pierre is recovering from a torn ACL, an injury sustained last November. The last time St-Pierre competed was in April 2011 against Jake Shields, where he won by unanimous decision. Against Carlos Condit at UFC 154, St-Pierre will have the opportunity to answer a lot of questions.
I’m feeling conflicted about this fight. Under normal circumstances, I’d have no qualms about describing how St-Pierre would exploit Condit’s mediocre takedown defense, methodically pass his guard, and either win by lopsided decision or even submission. In this case, Condit’s biggest weakness aligns with St-Pierre’s biggest strength. But I can’t help but feel that St-Pierre isn’t going to be the same fighter he was before.
As a Minnesota Vikings fan, perhaps I should have more faith in St-Pierre’s abilities. After all, Adrian Peterson has not only come back from tears of both his ACL and MCL, but he’s currently leading the NFL in rushing yards, and averaging 5.8 yards per carry. If I didn’t know that Peterson had suffered that gruesome injury, I certainly wouldn’t know it from watching him play. Like Peterson, St-Pierre is a fantastic athlete. If anybody in MMA can come back from a torn knee ligament and still compete at a high level, it’s St-Pierre.
So I can definitely envision a triumphant return to form for the UFC welterweight champion. I can see the crowd in Montreal going nuts with every landed takedown, every landed strike, and anything that resembles an attempt at a submission. I can see an inspiring performance that will get fans buzzing. I can see the kind of victory that would make people like me ramble on about how we never should have doubted him, and that it was silly to think he might struggle because of the injury.
But it’s not just the injury. St-Pierre might only be 31 years old, but he made his professional MMA debut at 20. He might have only had 24 fights, but all 24 fights were against tough opponents with winning records. And the ACL injury is hardly the first injury St-Pierre has had to recover from. It’s just the latest. MMA is a punishing sport, and every fighter succumbs to the wear and tear at some point (although TRT helps).
Just as I can see St-Pierre performing like the fighter who has dominated the welterweight division for years, I can see St-Pierre struggling. I can see a fighter who no longer “explodes” into his takedown attempts, but forces them instead. I can see a fighter whose reaction time is just a bit slower than it used to be. I can see St-Pierre suddenly being tagged by combinations, and fans slowly worrying about what they see. Make no mistake about it: if this series of injuries has made St-Pierre less of an athlete, I can see Carlos Condit winning this fight.
My prediction: St-Pierre will win the fight, but it won’t be as easy as his wins usually appear. I think his takedowns will come with a little bit of struggle, he’ll get hit by more strikes than usual (but less than the Jake Shields fight), and he’ll end up winning by decision, but perhaps lose a round. In other words, St-Pierre will win the fight, but in a way that sends the signal that St-Pierre’s prime as a fighter has come and gone. Keep in mind that St-Pierre is good enough that he can decline as a fighter and still be the best welterweight in the world.
This fight represents a turning point for Georges St-Pierre. If he wins this fight in his typical dominant fashion, it will inspire confidence that he is truly back, and perhaps get fans excited at the prospect of potentially seeing him compete against Anderson Silva. If he wins in the manner I think he will, winning convincingly but not looking quite right, it will likely be a signal that St-Pierre is a much more vulnerable champion than he used to be. And if St-Pierre loses to Condit outright, it will shock the MMA community, sending some to prematurely call him “washed up” or “done,” and others into denial about his career decline. We’ll find out where St-Pierre truly is on Saturday night.