Georges St. Pierre will walk one of two paths Saturday night: (A) as the best welterweight in MMA, or (B) as a two-time failure.
With a win over Jon Fitch at UFC 87 in Minneapolis on Saturday, St. Pierre will solidify his status as the best in class, hands down. But if G.S.P. loses, he'll likely ink himself as a one-fight champion, a fighter who can win a belt, but can't defend it. After all, he won the welterweight title in Nov. 2006 after beating Matt Hughes, only to lose it to Matt Serra in his subsequent fight.
But St. Pierre and Jon Fitch, regarded as the top two fighters at 170 pounds, should come together for a competitive and technical five-round main-event title fight at UFC 87 in Minneapolis.
Fitch, 30, has typically produced methodical victories, while St. Pierre (16-2) has, recently, seemed more interested in running over opponents than racking up style points.
Tremendous athletes have tried their hand at MMA, but few excelled like the 27-year-old St. Pierre. Many talents have floundered under the weight of their egos, but he recognized early on that size, speed and power aren't enough to become the best. Mental sharpness is key, and entering the cage knowing he's prepared for any and everything thrown his way is, perhaps, his biggest asset.
For Fitch (17-2, 1 NC), talk of his impressive defensive skills, particularly when he's threatened by a submission, are often overlooked. Against St. Pierre, though, Fitch will need to worry more about deflecting and redirecting kicks, knees and punches than thwarting chokes or joint locks.
St. Pierre should be stronger than his opponent, but don't expect G.S.P. to work much in the clinch. Against Josh Koscheck -- a better athlete and wrestler than Fitch -- St. Pierre expertly dictated takedowns. He controlled the pace and easily handled Koscheck to win on points.
For Fitch to have any shot, he must prevent St. Pierre from running over him with powerful double-leg takedowns. If the challenger manages to slow St. Pierre, open counter attacks should be his reward.
Expect a technical affair. With neither fighter owning a significant edge in any tactical area, the pre-fight nod favors the bigger, better athlete: St. Pierre. Fitch will inevitably be pressured and attacked with takedowns similar to the ones that overwhelmed other top 170-pound grapplers.
In an interesting reversal of fortune, "El Matador" plays the part of the bull on Saturday.
Few fighters are as aggressive as Roger Huerta (21-1-1, 1 NC), and up to this point, he hasn't paid a severe a price for a style that borders on reckless. KennyFlorian (9-3), one of the most experienced lightweights in MMA despite his meager 12-bout pro career, could be the man to trip Huerta.
Florian, 32, will meet a pressure fighter whose fuel is confrontation. But the Boston College alum can offset Huerta's aggression by keeping a distance with proper footwork. If Florian succeeds, the emotional Huerta could easily fall into a trap -- either on his feet or the canvas.
As technical and intelligent as he is, Florian shares one of the best fighter-trainer relationships in MMA with Muay Thai specialist Mark DellaGrotte. Paying attention to detail and executing fight-specific game plans have become synonymous with Florian's camp.
Yet skill and physical attributes aren't the only things dictating a fight's outcome. As Huerta displayed against Clay Guida last December, the drive to win has been enough to lead El Matador to victory. If Huerta manages to extend his win streak to 19 on Saturday, the victory will likely stem from his ability to keep Florian out of his comfort zone.
Huerta, 25, will keep a fast pace in hopes that his opponent wilts by the end of the second or third round. That's a big gamble considering Florian hasn't shown signs of crumbling since 2005, when he lost at middleweight to Diego Sanchez in the first season of The Ultimate Fighter.
Florian, fighting at 155 -- 30 pounds below the middleweight limit -- has been as competent as they come in the past two years. Of course, few have been as explosive as Huerta.
While I wouldn't go as far to say Brock Lesnar is a more sophisticated fighter than Heath Herring given his mere two professional bouts, but Lesnar's performance against Frank Mir at UFC 81 certainly showed signs of an instinctive fighter -- one without fear, despite his status as a newcomer to the sport.
Lesnar (1-1) appears to have a tremendous edge over Herring, who has never been a great wrestler. Going up against a horrific opponent -- an enormous grappler who understands leverage and power -- Herring's only hope resides in his ability to scramble and save himself from one bad position after another.
If Herring (28-13, 1 NC) can't move around Lesnar, keep a distance and defend takedowns, he'll have to weather a heavy barrage of short, powerful punches and elbows when the fight hits the canvas.
The last time Herring faced someone who could ground and pound like Lesnar was against Fedor Emelianenko. Needless to say, Emelianenko chopped him up. Lesnar isn't as explosive as Emelianenko, but he shouldn't have any problem inflicting damage if he fights from the top for any extended period of time.
Herring must make it past a volatile opening round. Only then will he find out if Lesnar is equipped to fight for longer than one or two short bursts.