Amid a week of particularly gloomy headlines the mixed martial arts world enjoyed a precious -- if not altogether unexpected -- breath of crisp, clean air on Tuesday, as Georges St. Pierre announced via social media that he’s been medically cleared to return to the cage at UFC 154 in November.
On Wednesday, St. Pierre did us one better. "I'm taking a few days off," he posted on his Twitter account. "Training camp starts next week."
If that news doesn’t warm your callused, cauliflower-eared heart just a bit, you might as well admit once and for all that you don’t have one. It’s been nearly nine months since the UFC’s iconic welterweight champion tore the ACL in his right knee while training for a fight with Nick Diaz and the mere idea of having him back provides the sport with a much-needed a glimmer of optimism.
We haven’t seen St. Pierre in the cage since April 2011, which in MMA years is about a decade. The last time he fought -- a dominant decision victory over (cough) Jake Shields -- the UFC’s broadcast deal with Fox was just a glimmer in the eyes of its corporate fathers, few people had heard of an obscure, 1-0 fighter named Ronda Rousey and ESPN the Magazine was still a month away from proclaiming Brock Lesnar the sport’s highest paid athlete.
So yeah, you could say a lot has changed since GSP’s been away and very recently it seems as if much of it has been for the worse.
The UFC is still beset on all sides by an ongoing “injury bug” and just last week for the first time in its history the organization was forced to cancel an upcoming pay-per-view event. As a result, the company’s light heavyweight champion is still reeling and doctors remain unsure when his public image might recover. How long does it take to get over being tossed under a bus, anyway?
In other unrelated-but-related developments, the top heavyweight contender is still on the shelf after a positive drug test; the middleweight champion isn’t interested in fighting the division’s No. 1 challenger; the lightweight title picture is only now about to emerge from a blue period typified by disputed outcomes and rematch after rematch; the bantamweight champion is also recuperating from a blown-out knee and a titlist at flyweight has yet to be crowned (not for lack of trying).
Not to go all Bonnie Tyler on you, but right now it sort of feels like MMA needs a hero. At the very least, it needs something halfway good to happen and St. Pierre appears perfectly fit to be a catalyst for positive change, even if the sport at large wants to wait to see him walk to the Octagon without a cane before fitting him for tights and a cape.
The ACL remains among the body’s trickiest soft tissues and GSP’s pedal-to-the-metal return is bound to raise questions about his overall readiness. Many athletes who’ve been through the same devastating injury have said their confidence was the last thing to come back, and there’s simply no telling how that or any number of other factors might affect St. Pierre as he prepares to jump directly back into the deep end of the pool. He’ll get no warm-up fight, no chance to test that surgically repaired wheel in a live fire situation before he puts his legacy on the line against interim champ Carlos Condit. In some ways that seems unfair. In other ways, it’s perfectly fitting.
Win, lose or draw, the fact that one of the UFC’s best known champions and biggest PPV draws is -- knock on wood -- returning to action gives the company and the sport at large a chance to approach the end of the year on a high note. Any way you slice it, that’s good news.
UFC 154 is booked for Nov. 17 in Montreal, which is just 79 days from today.
Not that we’re counting or anything.