Return of the Rush
Be advised Carlos Condit: UFC Welterweight Champion Georges “Rush” St-Pierre is returning to the Octagon at UFC 154 on November 17 a new man.
Here’s a scary thought: UFC Welterweight Champion Georges St-Pierre, unbeaten and largely untouched for the past five-and-a-half years, has been struggling to find motivation in the cage. That’s right. “Rush,” the French-Canadian phenom who is generally considered—at worst—one of the top three pound-for-pound fighters in the world, hasn’t been operating at peak levels.
“I lost the fire, and I just didn’t have as much fun as I used to,” says St-Pierre. “My last couple of fights, I was getting tired. It was like I lost the fi re. I had a lot of pressure. I was over-trained, and I think that was a big issue.”
Of course, St-Pierre has been winning despite his apparent lack of mental focus. He currently boasts a nine-fight win streak, and the shocking 2007 effort from Matt Serra is St-Pierre’s lone blemish in his last 16 trips to the Octagon. Were it not for Anderson Silva’s incredible UFC run, St-Pierre would likely be in consideration for the title of “Best Fighter of All-Time.”
But MMA is often an out-of-sight, out-of-mind world, and St-Pierre has been on the shelf since an April 2011 win over Jake Shields. He was expected to face Nick Diaz in 2011, but the mercurial Californian was scratched from the bout in favor of Carlos Condit when Diaz no-showed a pre-fi ght press conference. St-Pierre then suffered a torn ACL and was forced out of that fight, which ultimately allowed Condit to decision Diaz for the Interim UFC Welterweight Title.
St-Pierre now faces Condit in a title unifi cation contest at November’s UFC 154 event in Montreal. While Condit has been saddled with the Interim tag, St-Pierre believes his own time out of the cage means the “Natural Born Killer” deserves the title of champion.
“In my contract, I’m supposed to defend my title once a year,” St-Pierre says. “I have not defended it for more than a year, so of course Carlos is the champion. I haven’t fought for a long time. It’s up to me to come back and prove to everyone that I can regain the title. But for now, Carlos is the champion. When the injury happened late in 2011 and I found it was an ACL tear, I knew it was going to be a long rehab, and I knew I basically had to give away the title. I felt like this from the very beginning.”
During his time away from the sport, St-Pierre has undergone reconstructive surgery on his knee and endured aggressive rehabilitation in an effort to rebuild the joint. But St-Pierre says the rehab has done more than simply bring him back to full physical strength—he’s feeling mentally re-energized, as well.
“It’s been a very long time, and I’ve been changing a lot of things in my training,” St-Pierre says. “I think the reason I got hurt was mostly because I was over-trained. But now, I feel like I’ve been reborn. It’s a new beginning, and I’m very anxious to get back into the Octagon. I’m training smarter, and I’m more efficient. I also have more fun doing it. I think that’s the key to this whole thing—having fun. I figured out that when you have fun, you’re better at what you do. The whole reason I started doing martial arts was because I had fun and I loved it.”
St-Pierre, a consummate professional whose methodical approach to everything, from his time in the gym to his time with a microphone, does sound reinvigorated. Smiles are flashed more frequently, and he again seems excited to talk about fighting rather than simply obligated. It’s a new energy he believes will translate to the Octagon, as St-Pierre promises to bring a more exciting approach to his fights.
“I need to be more opportunistic,” St-Pierre says. “I should be fighting with less defense and less precaution.”
Condit is unquestionably a legitimate threat to St-Pierre and brings an impressive five-fight win streak to the cage, as well as a mark of 13-1 in his past 14 fights. He’s also an extended teammate of St-Pierre, as they both fight under famed coach Greg Jackson’s extended umbrella. Of course, St-Pierre trains largely with Firas Zahabi of Montreal’s Tristar Gym, while Condit’s daily work takes place in New Mexico.
The two have generally avoided working with each other over the years, as both anticipated the matchup at some point in their respective careers. Because their training interactions have been limited, St-Pierre says he’s not concerned about any potential advantages his opponent may have in terms of tactical knowledge.
“Carlos knows me, and I know him,” St-Pierre says. “We never trained together, but he knows my strengths, and I know his. He’s going to try and fight his fight, and I’m going to try and fight my fight. I’m going to focus on what it takes to win, and that’s what I’ll try and do.”
A former World Extreme Cagefighting Welterweight Champion, Condit does have a healthy following in the sport, but he’s nowhere near the status level of St-Pierre, who UFC president Dana White has repeatedly claimed is the biggest pay-per-view draw in the sport. Still, St-Pierre is more than familiar with his opponent’s abilities, and he insists he has a healthy respect for Condit’s skills.
“Carlos is very, very dangerous because he adapts very well to any kind of situation,” St-Pierre says. “He’s a different fighter than all the guys that I’ve fought…he likes to create his opportunities in a fight. He likes to create chaos, and from there he finds his opportunities. This fight is going to be a nasty fight. It’s not going to be a beautiful fight. It’s going to be hard, and I’m very ready for that.”
St-Pierre’s future spot in the UFC Hall of Fame is already secure. As Canada’s finest mixed martial artist, he shoulders the weight of an MMA-crazed nation, and his record alone speaks to his quality as a fighter. But this fight represents St-Pierre’s first fight as a 30-something-year-old athlete, and he’s looking to rebound from an injury that has ended other athletes’ careers.
GSP hasn’t finished an opponent in regulation since 2009, and there are a number of young guns who want nothing more than to solidify their legacy in the sport by beating the legendary St-Pierre. In many ways, it’s a crucial crossroads for the longtime champion. Can he silence the critics and re-assert his stature as an MMA legend, or has his competition caught up to him during what will wind up as a 19-month layoff?
An energized St-Pierre seems to think it’s the former, and he is unquestionably excited about the opportunity to show his own evolution as a fighter.
“It’s never good to get hurt, but I think the fact that I got hurt forced me to step back and change my life, change my training program, and make it better,” St-Pierre says. “I made improvements, and I now I have more fi re. I want to do it, and I want to have more fun. I found the fire again. For me, the most important thing is to get back and be able to be healthy. Right now, I’m healthy, and I’m blessed that I’m able to do what I love to do for a living. I’m just very glad to be back. I changed a lot of stuff in my training and my life, and I’ve never been so pumped up to step into the Octagon again.”
While Georges St-Pierre’s dominant UFC run has often left fans wondering is there is viable competition remaining for him to face at 170 pounds, his time on the sidelines following an ACL tear has allowed several new contenders to step up in the division.
St-Pierre meets Interim UFC Welterweight Champion Carlos Condit in the main event of November’s UFC 154 event, and the night’s co-feature between Johny Hendricks and Martin Kampmann is expected to determine the next challenger to the crown.
St-Pierre admits he’s been keeping an interested eye on the division during his time on the sidelines, and he’s excited to challenge a new crop of contenders.
“I think it’s very interesting right now,” St-Pierre says. “There are new contenders in the welterweight division. It makes me very excited to get back in the cage.”
St-Pierre didn’t want to look past his bout with the alwaystough Condit and consider what might lie ahead with the winner of Hendricks vs. Kampmann. However, he was willing to share a few possibilities for how he believes the fight may shake out.
“If it’s a short fight, like a finish in the first round, I think it’s Hendricks,” St-Pierre says. “If it’s a long fight, I believe Kampmann will win. But I think they’re both the top contenders, and I think it’s going to be very interesting to see what happens on November 17.”
Both Hendricks and Kampmann have looked impressive in recent outing and are unquestionably deserving contenders. However, if St-Pierre is able to get through Condit, fans may instead call for GSP to face Nick Diaz, the outspoken former Strikeforce Welterweight Champion who was expected the challenge for a title at 2011’s UFC 137.
It’s a bout that once very much interested St-Pierre, too, but he said he’s not trying to force the matchup right now—especially considering Diaz came up short in a February matchup with Condit. Instead, he will let the division play out over the next several months, and if Diaz is eventually brought to the table, he’ll happily oblige.
“I wanted to fight Diaz mostly because it was a fight that everybody wanted to see,” St-Pierre says. “But now, Carlos beat Nick, and people want to see me fight Carlos Condit. I think if everything goes well, the winner of this fight may end up fighting Nick Diaz. But who knows? I’m focusing on Carlos Condit right now. That’s the only thing in my head.”
MAKING TOUGH DECISIONS
While you’d be hard-pressed to find anyone willing to question Georges St-Pierre’s fighting abilities, the UFC Welterweight Champion has taken some criticism for a run of five decisions in his past six fights. St-Pierre admits he was missing a little bit of the drive necessary to finish high-level opponents, but he also believes that he’s often been in the cage with foes not necessarily looking to do anything other than see the final bell.
“Sometimes, you break a guy mentally before you break him physically by a knockout or submission,” St-Pierre says. “Mentally, he accepts the outcome. He’s not fighting to win anymore. He’s fighting for survival. It’s the instinct of a human being. We don’t want to get beat up. We fight for survival. Even though you know you’re going to lose, you fight for survival.”
St-Pierre declined to name any specific opponents to whom he was referring, but he was willing to single out one fighter in particular who did not adhere to that approach. Perhaps surprisingly, it was an oft-criticized welterweight who fans sometimes contend isn’t capable of putting on crowd pleasing affairs.
“There is one guy I remember who fought to win until the very end, and that’s Jon Fitch,” St-Pierre says. “He never gave up. He didn’t fight not to lose. He was trying to win the whole time, and I could feel it.”
Now, St-Pierre wants to ensure he’s that type of fighter, as well. A safety-first mentality just won’t cut it. He wants to put opponents away inside of the distance, and he insists he now realizes exactly what that takes.
“My last fight with Jake Shields is a good example,” St-Pierre says. “I did get poked in the eyes, too, but I tried too much for the knockout. I tried too much for the big right hand. I did pretty well the first round, the first two rounds, but then I tried to over-commit. I had a lack of patience, and I wanted to go straight for the knockout instead of picking him apart. Knockouts come when you don’t expect them to come.”