Never again. If his loss to Matt Serra in 2007 provided any lasting impact on Georges St. Pierre, it's that never again would he be cocky walking into fight. Never again would he consider himself unbeatable. Never again would he fail to take every possible step to ensure his readiness. Never, he's repeated like some mantra, again.
Dan Hardy will note that nowhere in there is the concept of "never again getting popped behind the ear." Mantras may slow a resting heart, or stabilize breathing, or set someone on a new course in life, but good luck hymning away the effect of a snapping left hook to the jaw. There are certain realities of the body that, like gravity, can't be chant, chant, chanted away. Thus the notion of a puncher's chance, and Hardy's strong sense that he can and will end the French-Canadian's reign.
Hardy, of course, faces his own realities Saturday in Newark, N.J., when the 27-year-old from Nottingham, East Midlands, England, steps into the cage against the UFC welterweight champion inside a sold-out Prudential Center.
How, many have wondered, can a fighter without a discernible wrestling pedigree handle an opponent that dominates every wrestler he faces?
Hardy punches hard, and always comes to fight, but if he can't stay on his feet long enough to do so, then what?
That's the basic point of the fight. St. Pierre can, and probably will, indulge Hardy on the feet. The corporation known as G.S.P. mixes up his game as well as anyone. He uses his jab better than most. He changes levels and attacks all parts of the body. And he delivers with enough power to end a fight, just ask Jay Hieron or Matt Hughes. Lately, though, St. Pierre puts people down and beats on them -- just ask Jon Fitch or B.J. Penn.
From his back, Hardy needs to employ an offensive guard and, having trained for several years with Eddie Bravo, he has the right style to make it interesting against St. Pierre (19-2). The rubber guard is very effective in putting the top man on the defensive by 1) keeping him close enough so he can't find room to attack and 2) occupying his mind with avoiding submissions rather than passing the guard. We don't know how good Hardy will be because he hasn't needed to show it yet.
Essentially, Hardy is undefeated over 13 fights the past three and a half years (a disqualification loss in Japan in a bout he was winning actually led him to sign with the UFC). Though St. Pierre, 28, painted "The Outlaw" as something other than a martial artist, that seems to be exactly who he is. It's one thing to pay dues at your local McDojo. Hardy, when he was 20, lived on a Chinese Shaolin monk commune for two months. He's always been a nomad about his martial arts, that's how he found Bravo, the creator of 10th Planet Jiu-Jitsu, in Los Angeles.
I don't doubt that he's skilled and experienced enough to have this fight right now. But St. Pierre is simply too good. He's the better athlete. He's the better fighter. Hardy (23-6, 1 NC) will come to that realization sometime around the second or third round, when everything he wants to do he can't.
One is a two-time UFC heavyweight champion. The other, undefeated, seems to be a man in a hurry.
Frank Mir and Shane Carwin meet for the interim UFC heavyweight title Saturday in a fight most expect will end within five minutes, which, if it went that long, would be a marathon for Carwin; the 35-year-old Coloradan has needed an average of 72 seconds to win 11 fights.
Cutting weight to make 265 pounds, Carwin, a former collegiate wrestler carved out of granite, is part of the reason Mir (13-4) has added so much size since last summer. This is a real test of Mir's mission to gain strength and explosiveness in the Lesnar era, though it's not like in his "smaller" days Mir wasn't pretty rough. While he's one of the most violent submission fighters in the history of MMA's heavyweight division, he can't afford to wrestle Carwin too much. Grappling is the fastest way to challenge your fitness, and at a minimum trading takedown attempts will activate all that new muscle Mir carries around. If he wants Carwin on the floor, the Las Vegan, a 15-fight UFC veteran, must be intelligent in how he goes about getting him there. And in most things, Mir considers himself smart.
Carwin is hardly perfect. He's green on the feet, this despite the facts of his record. He can appear stiff, and he won't move as well as his 30-year-old rival.
Still, lights-out power seems to be the biggest difference between the two, which is why I'm leaning Carwin.
Georges St. Pierre TKO Dan Hardy R3 Shane Carwin TKO Frank Mir R1 Kurt Pellegrino unanimous decision Fabricio Camoes Jon Fitch unanimous decision Ben Saunders Jim Miller TKO Mark Bocek R3 Nate Diaz TKO Rory Markham R2 Matt Brown unanimous decision Ricardo Almeida Rodney Wallace TKO Jared Hamman R2 Rousimar Palhares submission Tomasz Drwal R3 Matthew Riddle KO Greg Soto R2
There is an unbelievable amount of free MMA on television this weekend, and two events with zero oxygen headline HDNet and Showtime on Friday night.
Strikeforce Challengers heads to Fresno, Calif., with a good mix of prospects. I'm curious to see Ron "Abongo" Humphrey at light heavyweight, and the stateside debut of Andre Galvao. Best thing about it, Showtime's running a free preview the next few days.
HDNet's King of the Cage tour hits Reno. Welterweight prospect Quinn Mulhern (10-1) makes a quick turnaround after wins on Feb. 12 and March 6 to fight for the vacant KOTC 170-pound title against Koffi Adzitso (10-4), who has dropped his last two. Also Tony Lopez, 18-2 against mostly weak opposition, defends his heavyweight title against Tony Johnson, a prospect from American Top Team who wrestled and played football for Iowa State University. Veteran heavyweights Mike Kyle and Jon Murphy headline.
And don't forget, UFC 111 prelims on Spike TV features two interesting welterweights fights.
Strikeforce Challengers 7 Showtime, 11:45 p.m ET/PT Lavar Johnson vs. Lolohea Mahe Zoila Frausto vs. Miesha Tate Ron Humphrey vs. George Bush III Luke Stewart vs. Andre Galvao Justin Wilcox vs. Shamar Bailey
King of the Cage "Legacy" HDNet, 10:00 p.m. ET Mike Kyle vs. Jon Murphy Tony Lopez vs. Tony Johnson, KOTC heavyweight championship Quinn Mulhern vs. Koffi Adzitso, vacant KOTC welterweight championship
UFC 111 Prelims Spike TV, 9:00 p.m. ET Nate Diaz vs. Rory Markham Matt Brown vs. Ricardo Almeida
UFC 111 Pay-per-view, 10 p.m. ET Georges St. Pierre vs. Dan Hardy, UFC welterweight championship Frank Mir vs. Shane Carwin, interim UFC heavyweight championship Kurt Pellegrino vs. Fabricio Camoes Jon Fitch vs. Ben Saunders Jim Miller vs. Mark Bocek