Friday, November 16, 2012

Looking for a Fight: UFC 154 Part II

There's been an air of happiness and calmness to GSP leading up to Saturday night. (Getty)
If you missed it, Part I of this two part Looking for a Fight looked at the return of GSP. Part II will look ahead to the action Saturday night.

During the open workouts to the media Georges St-Pierre sat in the ring, legs crossed, and a smile on his face.

During the press conference, in a stylish suit, GSP fielded answers wearing that same smile and even when continually deflecting questions about the seemingly set in stone super-fight against Anderson Silva should GSP win, he smoothly side steps the question like a slow overhand right.

This is what you'd expect out of 6-time defending welterweight champion. Maybe not what you'd expect out of a 6-time defending welterweight champion coming off of major knee surgery and not competing inside the Octagon for 19 months.

But as surprising as it was finding out GSP had "lost the fire" that drove him to be champion, the picture become clear that something has changed in the champ while he was rehabbing.

Looking to test out the rewards of his rehab on Saturday night is interim champion Carlos Condit. For a guy with a belt around his waist and a 14-1 record over the same time GSP was carving out his 170 lb legacy, you'd think he'd be able to nab some headlines himself, but Condit won't go out of his way to be a part of a tale he can frankly, only ruin.

When Condit's not fighting, this is basically what is going on in his head. (facebook.com)
A win for Condit Saturday night would destroy Silva v. GSP, would crush the Canadian audience in attendance at Bell Centre as well as the larger GSP fan base watching live on PPV, and depending on how he won could cast a significant doubt in GSP as to whether he may even want to continue fighting.

The last potential outcome of a Condit win may be a little far fetched, but it's unfair to cast all these negative aspersions on the interim champ for a couple of reasons. First, Condit is a great fighters and person. To say there's hardly been any trash talk leading up to this fight is an overstatement. There's been none I've heard except each fighter say they expect to win and expect to finish the fight and make it exciting. That's headlining a fight talk 101. There's no doubt Condit would be a great ambassador for the UFC as champion. He might lack some of the marketing flair GSP has, but the guy works hard, comes from a great family, and puts on exciting fights. The more fans get to see Condit as an individual fighter and not the guy trying to beat GSP, the more they'll come around.

Second, losing to Condit wouldn't be all that surprising even if GSP was healthy. If you look at GSP's last several fights, there hasn't been a fighter with championship pedigree that is excellent in every facet of mixed martial arts. Sure there's BJ Penn, but 170 lb BJ is different from 155 BJ. I'd say the last true test he had with a fighter as all-around dangerous as Condit was Matt Hughes in 2007. Sure each fighter brought a different challenge that posed a threat to GSP, but Condit is able to bring a lot of different things to the table making it more difficult for GSP to adjust and attack a weakness. Of course on top of that, he's also dealing with his knee and ring rust and those pesky butterflies. I'm not buying GSP as a 3-to-1 favorite like Vegas does just because that line undermines the level of fighter Condit is.

Condit has been in championship fights before and hasn't fizzled in them. There seems very little that can shake either of these guys, less it's each others fists or shin bones.

Which brings us back to the ebullient GSP. He's just been walking around with a vibe about him that makes you feel like he hasn't left, and that there's nothing wrong or different at all. From my memories of GSP pre-Jake Shields/Josh Koscheck/Dan Hardy there was a focus that bordered on nervousness to put on a big show and finish the fight. Continue that downward spiral he says he was on of just beating an opponent and moving on to the next one. This time, removed of those pressures as people are more focused on his knee and more importantly, happy having him back and fighting; GSP doesn't need to overthink things and feel burdened with anything other than the fight. I think that's something he hasn't felt in a while and it shows.

BREAKDOWN

Speaking of butterflies, I haven't had any for a UFC main event in quite some time. I like both fighters a whole lot, and it's hard not to let my superior fandom of GSP and my curiosity in seeing if Silva v. GSP would actually happen cloud my judgment for thinking about Saturday night.

In a UFC fight, things can go either way in the blink of an eye, but when I try to be objective, I see more paths to victory for GSP than Condit.

While both fighters come out and execute a game plan as well as any fighter in the UFC stable, I've seen GSP do it time and time again. His physical tools along with an almost systematic breaking down of his opponents has been successful time and time again to the point where GSP has had his way with many opponents.

Condit executed a great game plan against Nick Diaz that was smart and safe, but it's when he is a more aggressive fighter that he is at his best. Condit has a strategy, but his ability to throw a diverse striking set against his opponents is what can give him an advantage against GSP, who will most likely be starting slowly - as he usually does and to get comfortable back in the Octagon.

So if Condit goes aggressive, which most people say he will, how does he attack his opponents? He will throw kicks and combos to close space and get in striking distance. The problem with that against GSP is due to GSP's karate background he is much more comfortable further away from his opponents (a la Lyoto Machida) than a fighter with either a more traditional Muay thai or boxing striking background. This means Condit will most likely have to find a way in other than kicks because at that distance GSP can easily see them coming and take Condit to the mat.

If Condit comes in with punches, then GSP can keep him at bay with his jab and movement. The observation at that point is how will GSP counter strike Condit to enforce his game plan? No one could possibly know what that plan is other than it won't be a kick boxing match. He judo toss Condit until he taps or throw up spinning pile drivers like it's Streets of Fury or something. I'm a believer that this fire GSP has found will equate to a more dangerous fighter.

I'm not overly concerned about subs by either fighter. Both have adequate BJJ skills, but more importantly their ability to avoid submissions is world class. When GSP takes Condit down, Condit is dangerous off his back, but GSP is too good to be caught in something; less he gasses late in the fight.

I expect both fighters to come out, not slow, but with a strategy they look to implement. Condit will have a more aggressive strategy, but I expect GSP to be ready and ride that through the first round; settling down both fighters for round 2.

This will be my favorite for fight of the night as I expect a see saw affair in the toughest fight for either opponent. If the fight ends early it'll be a Condit win as I'm not sure GSP can finish Condit. So with that said, I'm saying split decision victory for GSP. Welcome back.


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