Thursday, November 15, 2012

Looking for a Fight: UFC 154 Part I

It's no coincidence that GSP's return is also the return of the big main event. (

It's been 19 months since Georges St-Pierre stepped into the Octagon. A small span of time in the grand scheme of the UFC, but leading up to UFC 154 Saturday night at the Bell Centre in Montreal, Canada, it's a wonder that the UFC survived without him.

As per usual, the UFC landscape has changed over the past year and a half, but it's clear that the impact of it's biggest star (sorry, Jon Jones, fans hate you a bit too much to wrestle that title from GSP) and biggest draw can still sculpt valleys and mountains like a great glacier, cutting to the heart of what makes the UFC so great and what fans pine for during every pay per view. The best of the best putting on a show. Fighters that masterfully blend all aspects of martial arts into a dominant and awe inspiring performance.

In what has been mostly an injury riddled and disappointing year for the UFC, GSP is shining a very bright light as 2012 comes to a close. So far he's been able to provide an intriguing comeback story (complete with "I've go my fire back" quotes!), set up a great fight between himself and interim champion Carlos Condit that can and is single-handily carrying a pay per view that will easily surpass 600K buys, starred in one of the most entertaining UFC Primetimes in a long time, led to rumors of an Anderson Silva v. GSP mega-fight at Cowboys Stadium and everything that goes along with that (mainly will Anderson enter the ring should GSP win on Saturday to what beach will Anderson be sipping mai thais on during his "vacation"...even though we all know his posturing is just free publicity for his movie with Steven Seagal).

So for Part I of this two part Looking for a Fight, let's focus on GSP, because basically there isn't a person in the fight world right now that can't do anything but that. Sorry, Carlos, I'll get to you soon.

The surprising story line that emerged from GSP's rehab process isn't that his rehab was tough, that he faced some self-doubt; as these are all things that I'm sure most top level athletes will go through, but rather that GSP frankly has stated that in his last couple of title defenses he was a much more dour GSP. He became engulfed by the business side of fighting, viewing each match-up as a chore rather than a chance to compete. This makes everything about being a fighter more arduous. Training, strict dieting, sparring, the aches, the pains, and knowing that every morning you wake up, you'll be going to sleep maybe a little better but a lot more frustrated.

I found an interesting take on this part of the process (training and the day to day grind as opposed to the actual fight itself) in Grantland's piece yesterday about Rembert Browne's trip to NFL HQ to visit the set of NFL Red Zone. The always seeming caffeinated host of Red Zone Scott Hanson (he doesn't drink coffee!) mentioned this:
Deion and Sapp and all those guys will tell you, when they played, you didn't need to pay them for Sunday. You pay them to come to practice every day and do film work and all that other stuff that was kind of drudgery. Game day they would do for free. This is the fun stuff.
That's it right there.

When athletes or a person with a seemingly glamorous position say they'd do this for free, they probably would. The this being playing on Sunday, acting in a movie, or whatever. The payment part comes from the droll of training and mentally preparing and sitting in a trailer memorizing lines. That mundane stuff is where payment is owed. Getting to go out there and perform your craft, to put it on display, that's the payoff for all that work.

GSP had lost even that. There was no payoff for him. It was just knock one down and move onto the next one. And knowing what we know about GSP, it wouldn't be a big leap to suggest that being one of the top pound for pound fighters on the planet, being the undisputed welterweight champ, to take on each day with those kinds of expectations and pressures, sure that along with the business side of things could squelch any man's flame.

The knee injury is what freed GSP of these burdens. It broke him from his routine of train, press conference, fight, win, train, press conference, fight, win - and gave him that always powerful "perspective on things."

Due to that injury, he had to deal with the possibility that he'd never be the same guy again. That he'd lose even a portion of that athleticism that made him such an elite fighter against all types of opponents. His agility and explosiveness allowed him to implement his game plan with expert precision in order to become a truly dominant mixed martial artist.

Also, as he witnessed from afar, the UFC trucks along. An interim title was set up between Condit and Nick Diaz. Coincidentally, it was Diaz who essentially took the title shot back from Condit after Diaz trash talked his way to GSP and certainly made Georges show some fire.

Training for that fight is when he tore his ACL, and sent him down a different path with new challenges.

For the first time since he entered the Octagon in 2002, there was no clear path for him. He was either focused on winning fights, getting to the title and defending the title. Now, he was in some kind of champion limbo. Not quite fighting for the championship, but not quite fighting to win it back. He had to prove to himself that he wanted to get back in the cage. He had to prove to himself that he still has the drive and fire to be not one of the greats, but the greatest fighter at 170.

When GSP comes out of the tunnel with his customary karate gi on Saturday night, he would have proven to himself he found those things in his year and a half journey back to the UFC. Internally he knows. That fire is burning bright and his butterflies are flying in formation. Now, he'll be out to prove to everyone else that the best GSP possible is back, and he'll do it in one of the toughest fights of his career.

Tomorrow in Part II, the fight breakdown...

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