This Saturday night, the most popular fighter in the UFC makes his long awaited return to the Octagon. And while he may be the big favorite, history has shown us (and him especially) that no fight is over until it’s over. FanSided’s Elton Hobson looks at what GSP must do to ensure he beats Carlos Condit at UFC 154 in Montreal.
I’m betting more than a few fans looked at that title and said “I know the answer to this already – show up!”
Very funny. For all those fans, I’d like to introduce you to a fellow named Matt Serra. Way back when, he proved that even handsome, polite, seemingly invincible Canadians are vulnerable to the cruel hand of fate. Especially when that hand is curled into a fist and slammed into the side of their head.
I mentioned this already in a previous article breaking down Carlos Condit’s game plan for this Saturday’s UFC 154 title fight, but it bears mentioning again: I’m a GSP fan. Always have been, likely always will be. But I’m not a stupid GSP fan, nor am I a blind one. I still remember sitting there, slack jawed, as some pudgy guy from New York made odds makers look completely silly.
So make no mistake: GSP has a very real chance to lose this fight. And even if he wins (that is, gets his hand raised at the end of the fight) it might not be a victory in the sense GSP, Dana White, and millions of drunk Canucks are hoping for. GSP barely squeaking out a win against Carlos will do the same kind of career damage that Condit’s squeaking past Nick Diaz did for his career – only Carlos only has one “boring” fight in his recent resume, while GSP has several.
If the pride of Montreal wants to see both his hand and his stock rise this Saturday night, here’s what he’ll have to do:
Establish the takedown
Georges St. Pierre has been called plenty of things: a Kyokushin karate stylist, a BJJ player, a kickboxer, a jab artist and a points fighter. All true, in their own way, but one thing he’s always been – above and beyond all that – is a takedown machine.
In every single fight GSP has dominated since becoming champion, the difference maker has been his ability to control where the fight takes place. Against awesome wrestlers like Josh Koscheck and Jake Shields, GSP was able to shut down their takedown game almost completely. Against strikers like Thiago Alves and Dan Hardy, the takedowns came at will. GSP has one of the most diverse and deadly arsenal of attacks in all of MMA – yet his incredible wrestling skill stands head and shoulders above everything else.
Carlos Condit is nearly the equal of St. Pierre in terms of diversity of skill set, but one area the interim champ lacks in is wrestling. Sure, his strong BJJ game is usually enough to keep him out of danger on his back, but surviving against Rory MacDonald and surviving against GSP are (for the moment, anyways) two very different things.
GSP needs to establish the takedown early and often. He needs to use it to throw Condit off his rhythm and prevent him setting up big strikes. He needs to use it to put uncertainty in Condit’s mind, disrupt his gameplan, or even get himself out of trouble if that moment should arise.
If GSP can’t get the wrestling game against against Condit, his chances of victory drop significantly.
Be cautious in the stand-up
It seems fans swing wildly when it comes to evaluating GSP’s stand-up ability. When he lights Jon Fitch up, or makes Josh Koscheck’s face into some sort of prop from a zombie flick, he’s showered in praise. When he struggles to outbox Dan Hardy and give up some one-eyed rounds to Jake Shields, fans cringe.
Sadly for the “just bleed” crowd, I’m recommending GSP go the jab n’ dance route against Condit.
Carlos Condit is a seriously tough dude. In his UFC career thus far he has yet to be KO’ed or TKO’ed. And he hasn’t faced pillow punchers either – Dan Hardy, Martin Kampmann, Jake Ellenberger and Nick Diaz are among the hardest-hitters in the welterweight division. Carlos took every man’s best shot and while he may have been rocked – sometimes badly – he regrouped, came back, and won the fight.
I love me some GSP, but no way in hell does he hit as hard as any of the guys I just listed.
If GSP comes headhunting he could find success, and might even have Carlos back on his heels for a bit. But St. Pierre doesn’t have the chin nor the firepower to hang with a guy like Condit in a firefight – at least, I’m pretty sure he doesn’t. It’s certainly not his best path to winning in the stand-up.
So what is? In my opinion, it’s doing what he’s done so well since becoming champion: smart footwork, strong defence, establishing the jab and – wait for it – focusing on the takedown.
Cardio, cardio, cardio.
Aside from his wrestling, the one thing GSP has always been associated with is his limitless cardio. And when I say that, I’m not speaking figuratively. Think about the last time you saw GSP gas in a fight – if you’re having trouble, it’s probably because it’s never happened before, in any of his professional fights, ever.
That’s a solid record. But the combination of a bad knee injury, the rehab from said injury, and the 18 months on the shelf can throw a wrench into the works of even the best cardio machine.
Carlos Condit is a grinder. While he doesn’t have the legendary gas tank of St. Pierre, he’s no slouch in the cardio department either. Combine that with his mental toughness and tenacity, and he becomes a very dangerous opponent down the stretch. More than one of his opponents has discovered Condit’s durability in the closing moments of a previously close fight.
If you’re getting a theme here, it’s that I don’t see this fight ending quickly. Condit is too tough, and GSP hasn’t been a “quick finish” sort of fighter in years. So if he wants to win, he’ll have to command this fight down the stretch.
In years past, there would be no question that GSP could outlast Condit (or anyone else, for that matter) in a 5 round fight. But the long layoff casts doubt on St. Pierre’s gas tank, and if it isn’t 100% come Saturday night, he could be in for a long (or very, very short) night.
Back to basics: ground and pound
Plenty of folks complain that GSP’s recent fights have been “boring” and I’ve always disagreed. Not because I’m a superfan of GSP, but because I’m a superfan of MMA. Essentially, a fight has to work really, really hard not to entertain me. I’m just that kind of weird.
But there was one GSP fight in recent memory that left a bad taste in my mouth, and that was his title defense against Dan Hardy. Within minutes of that fight, it was clear St. Pierre outclassed Hardy in every single category. He could have chosen from a dozen different methods of finishing that fight. He could have mixed it up and attacked on all fronts, like he made his name doing.
Instead, GSP hunted for an arm submission like Brock Lesnar hunts for cute little animals with a giant freakin’ gun. Over and over again, he eschewed every other aspect of his game to try and tear the Brit’s arm off. He came close, damn close, but the end result was a unanimous decision win for St. Pierre, instead of the finish he really should have gotten.
For this fight, St. Pierre needs to put submissions on the back burner and focus on what he does best: ground and pound. Condit’s submission acumen is so great that I don’t see St. Pierre submitting him outright. He could very well notch a sub, but I see such a submission coming after GSP had set it up with strikes on the ground.
A stoppage via ground and pound is, to my mind, the most likely avenue to a stoppage victory for St. Pierre in this fight.
So I’m guessing by now that you’re seeing where I’m going here. To win, GSP needs to be GSP: he needs to have outstanding wrestling, endless cardio, a willingness to throw strikes from the top position, and to stay away from fighting into Condit’s gameplan. He needs to drag Carlos out of his game plan, pull him into deep water, and drown him.
If he can do this, I have no doubt the UFC’s most popular champion will get his hand raised in Montreal this Saturday.