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Even after making Josh Koscheck, Jon Fitch and Thiago Alves look like they don't belong in MMA, there's still the idea that Georges St. Pierre isn't the best fighter working: He hasn't been finishing, is unable or unwilling to put himself at enough risk to get that hostile, and therefore takes a backseat to fireball-throwing Anderson Silva. (Or, if you're feeling really numb in the head, Jose Aldo.)
Never mind that all three of those opponents are barely ever put away; never mind that Silva had his own run of distance fights with Thales Leites and Demian Maia, or that Silva's celebrated "move" to 205 included a fight with James Irvin. St. Pierre, whether he's finishing or not, has displayed the most complete understanding of MMA to date: He can wrestle at a level that embarrasses NCAA champions and can strike with enough efficiency to harm others without coming to harm himself. There's not much more you can ask of an MMA fighter.
I like definitive endings as much as anyone. It provides closure and it's exciting and it looks terrific on a hype reel, but there comes a point when both fighters and fans realize that value can't be completely wrapped up in violent finishes: walking into Koscheck's right hand and losing status that's taken years to build is not an even trade. (Muhammad Ali winning as many fights by decision as he did by stoppage in the 1970s didn't seem to bother anyone.) St. Pierre is exceptional not only for the skills he brings, but for what he risks -- a profile as an all-time great.
Next for St. Pierre:Jake Shields, which would more or less shut down an entire division for the first time in the history of the sport.
Next for Koscheck: Treading water until St. Pierre folds to the pressure of heading to 185.
Next for Stefan Struve: The winner of January's Tim Hague/Matt Mitrione fight.
Next for Jim Miller: Creating a new lightweight contender against George Sotiropoulos.
Can St. Pierre excel at 185 pounds?
Win or lose against Silva or Vitor Belfort, St. Pierre stands a far greater chance of taking damage as a middleweight fighter than he ever would at welterweight: the takedowns wouldn't always be there, and the punches would carry force he hasn't experienced.
St. Pierre has discussed the move not in terms of a novelty, one-off fight, but as a "permanent" shift in his career. And while that's wise thinking -- yo-yo fluctuations in weight are rarely good for fighters -- it opens him up to some very unfavorable matchmaking. St. Pierre can probably take down Silva; he would not take down Chael Sonnen. For a fighter who prides himself on clean fights with minimal harm suffered, the weight shift is almost a quality of life issue. No wonder he rarely smiles when talking about it.
What will it take to beat this guy?
Koscheck showed sharper wrestling than in their first fight, stuffing several St. Pierre takedown attempts and nailing one of his own. But a swollen eye and an almost immediate discomfort in the fight warped that game. As St. Pierre is one of the division's best wrestlers, shutting him down that way no longer seems like a valid approach.
The Thiago Alves that showed up against John Howard on Saturday -- fit to fight and technically impressive -- might give St. Pierre problems he couldn't present in their first fight; someone absolutely reckless in his stand-up approach might be able to win a game of Russian roulette. But the nature of St. Pierre's status means that few people who ever get the opportunity to face him will have a club fighter attitude. Maybe someone needs to develop one.
Is it time to pay attention to Struve?
Losses against Junior dos Santos and Roy Nelson helped smother any serious talk of Struve being a title contender. But two sets of numbers are worth considering: he's 6-foot-11, and he's only 22 years old.
Struve has rung up five victories in addition to those two losses, one of which came in his UFC debut (against dos Santos). Learning how to use that long frame isn't something a man barely out of his teens is going to have mastered right away, and it's clear he's not interested in being a reach fighter with no ground comprehension: he swept Sean McCorkle to erase a bad spot of trouble and followed it up with a TKO win. It's not impossible he'll fight dos Santos again in a couple of years, and under more favorable circumstances.
• MMAJunkie.com reported that the expected live-gate record didn't happen: Attendees at Montreal's Bell Centre spent $4.6 million, short of the $5.4 million brought in by a Tito Ortiz/Chuck Liddell grudge match in Nevada in 2006. April's event at the Rogers Centre will probably bust that number, and there's always Cowboys Stadium, but you'll need a lot of fans to run ahead of the $8.8 million Manny Pacquiao's admirers spent on last year's fight with Miguel Cotto.
• Viral marketing went awry after the UFC announced fans could vote on fight of the night, in which athletes would split a $200,000 bonus check based on texts. This system didn't work several years ago, when fans would "score" rounds in a way even Nevada judges found appalling, and it didn't work here: St. Pierre and Koscheck were awarded the bonus when most felt a prelim bout between Matt Riddle and Sean Pierson deserved it. Ignoring the sloppy nature of that bout and the precision of St. Pierre/Koscheck actually being more impressive, this system will forever be warped by name recognition and good prelims being buried on tape delay.