It hasn't been simply UFC President Dana White who has missed UFC welterweight champion Georges St. Pierre. The entire MMA community wasn't the same without him and there's clear anticipation about how he'll look when he enters the cage on Saturday night.
The sobering truth is GSP missed a year of his prime dealing with a serious knee injury. While he's an incredible athlete with top medical care, there's just no telling ahead of time whether he'll be the same GSP who competed roughly 18 months ago.
Can the Canadian welterweight king resume his perch atop the MMA world? Will the Team Takedown representative in Johny Hendricks make good on the promise of his career by getting past the ultra-talented Martin Kampmann?
I answer these questions and many others with my predictions for Saturday night's event.
What: UFC 154: St. Pierre vs. Condit
Where: The Bell Centre, Montreal, Quebec, Canada
When: Saturday, the four-fight Facebook card starts at 6:20 p.m. ET, the four-fight FX card starts at 8 p.m. and the five-fight main card starts on pay-per-view at 10 p.m.
The truth is we really don't know what to expect from GSP after surgery, but I'm going to try. My hunch is that even a slightly diminished GSP is still better than a ready Condit. I'm also going to assume GSP wouldn't take this fight if he wasn't reasonably confident in his own abilities.
What I don't know is if any of those assumptions are true. They may well be false and Condit may end up shocking the world. It's all a gamble really. Again, though, the key to me is that even if we grant GSP is not now what he once was, that's still probably enough to get the takedown when needed, control position and either do enough damage or attempt enough submissions/execute positional advancement to at least take a decision. We'll see.
Pick: St. Pierre
If Martin Kampmann had a slightly better chin and wasn't hit quite as much as he is, he'd be arguably the best welterweight in the world. Of course, he does get clocked more than he should and his chin is not ideal, so it's sort of a nonsensical thought. But what I'm driving at is that Kampmann's weaknesses are real, but so is his immense talent in many, many dimensions of the game. More to the point: Kampmann doesn't get the credit he deserves in part because he has created so many memories of losing fights after being hurt or simply looking vulnerable.
And that's going to be an issue with Hendricks. The guy hits hard and hits often. He has all the tools to put Kampmann away with authority. But part of me believes Kampmann, while hittable, has developed really strong recovery instincts in addition to improving his overall striking skills. You saw that on display against Jake Ellenberger. I don't suspect Hendricks will fade quite like Ellenberger does in fights, but I do believe over time Kampmann will have done enough to earn the decision nod.
I want to pick Carmont and part of me feels like he's being given Lawlor as a test of his relative placement in the division as well as what he can actually offer against an opponent who is going to test his takedown defense over and over. I suspect Lawlor will have some success both with the takedowns and threatening submissions, but Carmont's takedown defense has not historically been terrible and he obviously packs a punch. There might be some M-1 grappling moments between the two when one fighter is hurt and the other is overzealous, but Carmont's ability to inflict damage is probably the difference maker here.
I've been a believer in Garza and to an extent I still am. The problem is he's so inconsistent and streaky. He's also very much a high risk, high reward fighter, especially early in fights. Hominick isn't the fighter he once was, but he's also not completely shopworn at this point either. If he can survive an early attack from Garza, he'll break him down thereafter. Garza will want to match Hominick technique for technique and that'll be his undoing.
Philippou has really been coming into his own in the UFC of late. As it relates to Ring, I believe either Philippou's outside boxing or physical, bruising style on the inside or the clinch will be more than Ring can handle.