Viewers' guide to UFC 154
A couple of months ago I read a story about a guy named Mark Weinman, a 50-year-old New Yorker. As a much younger man, he'd been a professional boxer, winning his first 11 bouts before dropping three straight and retiring in 1991.
Twenty-one years later, in September, he stepped back into a ring in Tampa, Fla., and knocked out someone named Elvis in 39 seconds.
If the middleweight who once billed himself as "The Hebrew Hammer" can make a successful return after two decades, why should a 19-month layoff affect Georges St-Pierre?
Well, there are several reasons, the biggest one being the most obvious: The UFC welterweight champion competes at a wholly different level than some club fighter does. His opponent in the main event of UFC 154, Carlos Condit (28-5), is skilled enough to seize on even the slightest hesitation or misstep on Saturday night in Montreal (10 p.m. ET, PPV).
During his long recovery from knee surgery, St-Pierre (22-2) has often spoken about how he's worked himself back into shape but how that's different than fighting shape. He has tried to simulate octagon conditions in his training, but he knows it's not the same. There's no one in his Montreal gym who has been going at him with the same ferocity that Condit will. There's probably no one there who could.
Yet along with producing ring rust, that same layoff also brings something more beneficial: rejuvenation. During a conference call with MMA media last week, St-Pierre spoke of his love of the fight game, a love he acknowledges he had lost before being sidelined by injury.
"What I realized the most is how much I missed it," he said. "It's like when you're in love with your girlfriend. When you're with her, sometimes you don't realize you love that person. But when you're away for a long time, you realize you love that person, you miss her."
So now we get to see what kind of valentine GSP sends to the sport he loves.
Condit knows that with GSP having been out of the octagon for more than a year and a half, the champ will be at his most vulnerable right at the start, before his gears can start wearing away the ring rust. That, combined with the echoes of all the bellyaching by fans following his stick-and-move win over Diaz, might make "The Natural Born Killer" especially determined to return to his killing ways right from the start. GSP has been talking about going for finishes more, too.
Neither fighter is being guided by his usual strategist, Greg Jackson, who has been sullied with an undeserved reputation as a play-it-safe trainer. Jackson is more about playing it smart. His absence will drag down the two men's combined fighting IQ, so we might very well see mistakes made and opportunities presented.