Given that he's one day away from the fight that has a good chance to define his entire career, Carlos Condit has surprised a lot of people this week in Montreal with how he's come across as completely stress-free compared to most big show main eventers.
Condit (28-5), the UFC's interim welterweight champion, faces Georges St-Pierre (22-2), the welterweight champion, on St-Pierre's home turf at the Bell Centre in the main event of Saturday's night's UFC 154.
While Condit has been a championship caliber fighter for years, he is facing someone who is one of the five greatest fighters in the history of the sport and its biggest drawing card. St-Pierre is a national hero in Canada, voted by Canadian Sports fans by Rogers Sportsnet as that country's athlete of the year in 2008, 2009 and 2010.
But even with what the Quebec native has accomplished in the sport, he's the one everyone is asking the questions about after coming off right knee reconstructive surgery.
Even though he's only 28 years old, three years younger than St-Pierre, Condit is in his 11th year as a pro fighter, and has never lost a championship match. He was World Extreme Cagefighting welterweight champion from 2007 until the division was moved to UFC in 2009. He would have faced St-Pierre years ago, but he lost a close split decision to Martin Kampmann in one of the best fights of 2009. In such a talent-rich division, it took him years to get back to the top. But the Kampmann loss is the only blemish on Condit's record dating back to the summer of 2006, which in this sport, is a lifetime ago.
Most impressively, of his 33 pro fights, he's won 26 via finish with an even balance of 13 knockouts and 13 submissions. He's won 79 percent of his fights via finish which ranks him third, behind only heavyweights Cain Velasquez (82%) and Junior Dos Santos (81%) among the top-tier UFC fighters. For a comparison, St-Pierre has finished 54% of his opponents, Anderson Silva has finished 70%, and Jon Jones has finished 78%.
But almost all of the positives regarding most of his career, and whatever negative residual effect there's been with fans from his highest profile win, a rare decision win over Nick Diaz that got him the interim title, will be forgotten late Saturday night by the time he leaves the cage.
Condit will either be remembered, perhaps most vividly, as the man who ended St-Pierre's 55-month title reign, the second-longest in UFC history, beating the champion in his home arena, or as something else. If he fights him close and competitive, he'll solidify himself as a top-tier fighter, since no other welterweight has been able to give St-Pierre that kind of a fight since 2007. If he's blown out, he'll be remembered as just another victim.
Still, Condit sees all the pressure on St-Pierre, feeling, rightfully so, that even though he is going to carry an interim belt into the cage, virtually all the fans view him as the challenger. Condit is going in as a 13-to-4 underdog in this fight, even though he has significant things in his favor.
"I would say I have less nerves this time around," Condit said about this week as compared to normal fight week. "I've been doing this for ten years now. I've been in big fights before, but this time around, I have nothing to lose and everything to gain. All the pressure is on Georges. I'll compete to the best of my ability, and whatever happens, happens."
But as calm as he is, he does concede this is the moment he's run through in his head for a long time, really nearly eight years.
"I've thought about fighting him for a long time, honestly, ever since I first saw him in UFC before he even won the title," said Condit. "He was obviously a standout and obviously going to do big things. This fight has been a goal for a very long time."
People know the back story in the sense that both fighters for years have been coached by Greg Jackson. While St-Pierre is based in Montreal, he has frequently over the years come to Albuquerque, N.M., where Condit lives and trains, although not as much in recent years since St-Pierre has been plagued with injuries. Jackson is sitting this one out. Even though they've been in the same gym numerous times, likely because there was always the idea a fight could happen, the two were not close and did not train together.
The key to the fight is the status of St-Pierre's right knee, coming off surgery, and ring rust. St-Pierre hasn't fought since April 30, 2011, winning a decision of Jake Shields in Toronto in his self-admitted most unimpressive win of his title reign. He claims to be better than 100 percent.
But it's a common theme among championship level fighters who are forced into that type of a layoff due to injury, to say that because so much of what is done in camp resembles a fight that they won't suffer from ring rust. And it's just as common, after the fight, to hear them sing another tune.
Condit is good enough that if St-Pierre's timing is off, or conditioning is off given it's a five-round fight, or his explosiveness is down from the knee injury, that it could spell the difference. In particular, St-Pierre's game plan is likely to be based on the one aspect of the game he should have a significant edge in, the wrestling. Many believe St-Pierre has the best wrestling for MMA in the sport. Statistics, showing his percentage of takedowns completed and his percentage of takedowns against him blocked, back up that reputation, as well as watching him for years takedown and control experienced top-tier college wrestlers like Josh Koscheck, Matt Hughes, Frank Trigg and Jon Fitch.
If he can take Condit down at will, and avoid submission attacks from the bottom, he'll take the fight. And Condit concedes that the first part of the equation is very likely.
"Georges has taken down a lot better wrestlers than me," Condit said. "I've been working on my wrestling quite a bit, but there's a good chance I'll be taken down. That's not a lot different from some of my other fights. There was a time when I was fighting mostly wrestlers, and guys who were trying to take me down, hence my 13 submission wins in my career. I need to be adaptable. This is going to be a tough fight."
But the right knee is a key part of St.-Pierre's takedown, since he drives off it, and any shyness about testing it, or weakness in it, will make the champion a different fighter, and likely unnerve him as the fight goes on. Standing, both are very good but Condit does possess more one punch knockout power.
Still, he's looking at the ground game as the key.
"Whoever can control and excel in grappling and the ground game has the key to victory," he said. "I've been working on that quite a bit. Georges is a more adaptable fighter (than Nick Diaz, Condit's last opponent). Diaz has his style, but he's almost a one-trick pony. He comes forward, throws punches, has great boxing and great Jiu Jitsu, but his wrestling isn't all that great. So it was hard for him to dictate where the fight would be. Georges has great wrestling, amazing wrestling, he can dictate where the fight takes place."
For Condit, Saturday's fight can also serve to erase the negativity has followed him after the Diaz win. Condit applied a stick-and-move standing style to frustrate Diaz. In doing so, it was not the fight the fans expected. There was a great deal of arguing after the fight over who won, even though Condit was well ahead in strikes landed when the five rounds were down.
The irony, given his finishing rate, was that in some people's eyes, due to the Diaz fight, Condit is now thought of as a boring point-fighter. But he's recognized just as his last fight changed his reputation, whatever happened in the Diaz fight is going to be forgotten once the fight starts on Saturday.
"It was different," he said about the aftermath of the Diaz fight. "I'm used to being a fan favorite, and always getting a lot of positive praise for my fights. That one got mixed reactions. Some said it was the worst thing to happen to the sport, some enjoyed the fight, and everywhere in between. I kind of realized you're not going to make everyone happy. I need to win fights, and ultimately that's what's most important.
"But right off the bat it bothered me because I just wasn't used to that reaction. I'm kind of known as a finisher. It was definitely new territory to get so much criticism. I realize you're always going to have critical fans and people in general are fickle, and you're only as good as you're last fight. But if I put on a great performance and entertain, they might totally forget about the last fight."