Georges St-Pierre won’t be in the Octagon by himself on Saturday night.
No, really. This won’t be a one-man show. There’s going to be another guy in the cage with him, I promise you.
One can’t tell from all the pre-UFC 154 buzz — which has focused on what’s being called the most anticipated comeback in UFC history, as well as on GSP’s legacy, not to mention on the single most valuable surgically repaired right knee in mixed martial arts — but Georges St-Pierre will actually have an opponent in the fight in GSP’s hometown.
His opponent’s name is Carlos Condit; Carlos Condit is a bad, bad dude and one hell of a fighter; Carlos Condit has most assuredly earned his shot to take his interim UFC welterweight belt, which he gained during GSP’s 19-month layoff, and turn it into a unified, real belt.
And that’s the last time you’ll hear the name Carlos Condit in this column.
Because when a man known as one of the greatest mixed martial artists of all time suffers a career-threatening injury, which is to the same knee he pushes off with when he does his world famous takedowns, and that fighter finally makes it back to the Octagon after a long and arduous rehabilitation journey, the focus is on that fighter.
It’s no slight on St-Pierre’s opponent. Not at all; I wouldn’t be surprised if GSP’s opponent takes him the distance like he did Nick Diaz in February. I wouldn’t be surprised if he pulls off the upset. It’s just that, when the biggest pay-per-view attraction in the UFC disappears for close to two years and then finally makes his return in his hometown of Montreal, that’s the story. Period.
There’s a reason St-Pierre was once named the Sportsnet Athlete of the Year three years in a row in hockey-mad Canada.
So pardon me (and the rest of the mixed martial arts world) if we focus more on the new ACL in GSP’s right knee than on his opponent’s fearsome striking ability.
“I’m 120 percent ready to go,” St-Pierre said at Wednesday’s news conference in response to a question of whether his knee felt 100 percent. “I wouldn’t be here if I wasn’t 100 percent. I’m a proud competitor, and I wouldn’t be here if I didn’t feel ready. … If I would be afraid, I wouldn’t be stepping up into the ring.”
There’s no doubt St-Pierre feels ready. He’s a single-minded trainer, one of the most focused in his sport. You better believe he’s spent most of the time since his injury in late 2011 getting his body and mind ready for this fight.
And the way he says it, the knee injury may have actually helped him become better.
You read that right: Georges St-Pierre, at age 31, feels he’s a better fighter than Georges St-Pierre at 29, when he was coming off the most recent victory in his six-fight title defense streak.
“The fact I had to slow down when I was healing (helped)," St-Pierre said. “I’ve changed a lot of things in my life, and I found a fire, a new fire I didn’t have before. I’m more pumped up than ever.
“I’m different than I was before; I’m a more improved version. My last fight was my worst fight. I was burned out, mentally and physically, and I don’t feel that now. You see me here, a smile on my face.”
This is supposed to be the part where we throw in a quote from St-Pierre’s opponent, something showing how much he admires what GSP has done for the sport. Something like this: “He’s cemented a legacy as the best welterweight in the world, and that’s what I want. But all admiration aside, I’m coming to take that from him.”
But this story is not about GSP’s opponent. This story is about GSP, the man who is coming back from a devastating injury and trying to prove to himself that he’s still the best in the world.
He knows being in fighting shape is a whole lot different than just being in shape. He knows the world will be keeping an eye on that right knee, and studying how the new and supposedly improved Georges St-Pierre of 2012 matches up with the Georges St-Pierre who was one of the best ever.
“I’m always nervous for a fight. I’m always scared. That’s what keeps me sharp,” he said on Wednesday. “For sure I’ll have butterflies. The key is to make those butterflies fly in formation.”
He paused for a moment, smirked the confident smirk of a champion and said, “I feel like a poet today.”
On Saturday the world will see if he still feels like something else: a fighter.