Georges St. Pierre ranks among mixed martial arts' most dominant champions for several reasons. His record, both in terms of winning percentage and victories against the best available opposition, is as good as anyone's. And over his reign, which includes nine straight wins, six in defense of the UFC 170-pound title, the 31-year-old pride of Montreal has rarely been in a close fight.
This Saturday, for the first time since April 2011, St. Pierre (22-2) steps into the cage with his belt on the line. And this Saturday, for the first time since the last weekend in 2007, there's a decent chance he won't be champion anymore -- at least, that's how I see St. Pierre's contest unfolding with UFC interim welterweight champion Carlos Condit.
I'm picking the 28-year-old Condit (28-5) to win, and feeling pretty confident about it, too.
So why does he pull off the upset?
Condit has never been better
If not for a split decision loss to Martin Kampmann in his UFC debut (one of the best fights of 2009, by the way), Condit would roll into this fight having won 14 straight over the past six years.
He's fully matured as an athlete, and is well suited for the moment. Championship fights provide their own difficulties, and while this is far and away the most important belt he could win, Condit's experience in title contests is rich and undoubtedly valuable.
Condit won't step into the cage in St. Pierre's hometown and get spooked. I can't imagine that happening, anyway. And so long as Condit is there mentally Saturday, the rest should just happen. Make no mistake about it, Condit needs the best effort of his life.
Everything I've seen from him over the years, especially the past couple, says he's come up the right way, put in his time, won titles and understands championship pressure.
Bottom line, Condit won't be shy against St. Pierre, which is fairly important because he can't afford to be.
Not talking about the between-the-ears kind here.
Pressure (noun): the continuous physical force exerted on or against an object by something in contact with it.
Pressure (verb): attempt to persuade or coerce someone into doing something.
Condit will attempt to persuade or coerce St. Pierre into losing by continually exerting physical force on the French-Canadian champion.
Other than the curveball against Nick Diaz, Condit is a notorious pressure fighter. He moves forward, presses the action, and looks to finish -- the true goal for fighters like him. He has come through 26 times in 28 wins.
Condit, therefore, appears naturally inclined to go after it this way, and against St. Pierre's cautious tendencies, it's also the smart thing to do. The challenger needs to pressure St. Pierre into exchanging, into discomfort, into thinking and doubt. Over a 25-minute fight, this attitude would make an enormous difference for him.
Condit's arsenal is deep. He's not just a boxer. He can do much more than kick. He's solid off his back and will catch submissions from anywhere.
There's never a moment in a fight against Carlos Condit when his opponent can feel safe. Never a moment. His Muay Thai is more than threatening. He's technical and wild, throwing anything from standing elbows to jumping knees, all from the same stance, all in a split second.
He hurts people. This isn't a pitter-patter fighter. Condit can crack, and while I'm not suggesting St. Pierre suffers from a questionable chin, I will say that Condit can put down anyone.
If he's forced to his back, which is almost a sure thing against St. Pierre, Condit's jiu-jitsu mirrors his striking. He goes for submissions, and can boast of finishing 13 of them.
Styles make fights. St. Pierre's grappling and takedowns are so off-the-charts dominant that it's a given he’s going to assert himself. Even Condit's camp concedes this point. The question is, will the challenger force St. Pierre to work for his gains?
Condit has a bad habit of keeping his head in target range. He'll have to keep moving to throw off St. Pierre's targeting, because once the champion is locked in, he'll pick apart anyone. But other than that, his movement is good, he'll check a kick, and can counter if the mood calls for it.
Mostly I'm thinking of the times when Condit is on the floor. His long legs, eager guard, and slick (re)positioning lead me to believe that St. Pierre won’t have a lot of luck landing significant strikes.
St. Pierre is a grinder. He'll go after the same weakness until it cracks or exposes something more enticing. I don’t think he'll manage to do something similar against Condit.
The wild cards.
Is St. Pierre fully recovered from the ACL tear? (He seems to be, but if he’s a hair off, a half-step slower, less dynamic, that sets up as a huge factor.)
Is there a shred of doubt in his mind about performing at his peak? (St. Pierre admitted to mental weakness in the past, leaving open the possibility of it creeping back into the picture.)
Without Greg Jackson in his camp for planning and support, how will St. Pierre be affected on fight night? (He's a thinker, and that can betray the man. A routine that's worked so well for so long has been disrupted, that could be a big deal in the end.)
I don't know about any of these things. No one will until fight night. But let’s say none of them come to fruition, that St. Pierre is 100 percent ready to fight, prepared in every possible way. I still believe, at a minimum, that Condit will provide the best test the champion has faced in years.