There were multiple narratives heading into Georges St. Pierre's return to the Octagon this past Saturday at UFC 154. Depending upon what articles you read or interviews you watched St. Pierre was depicted variously as a reinvigorated champion coming back stronger than before, an unknown quantity with a year and a half's worth of ring rust and and a surgically reconstructed knee hanging over his head like a giant question mark, the UFC's pound for pound pay per view king once again ascending his throne, a one man multimillion dollar industry thanks to lucrative endorsement deals with blue chip sponsors, a shockingly frank realist who admitted he was "terrified' thinking about the fight with Conidt, and an insatiable perfectionist with supreme confidence in his abilities. Throughout it all he was always referred to as GSP: an iconic set of initials that denote a fighter who has transcended the sport and become a brand name unto himself.
Then Carlos Condit kicked the icon upside the head and made him appear human for the first time in years.
With that kick the obscenely wealthy superstar was gone and in his place we got a glimpse of the hungry kid who used to sleep in a run down hostel and fight drug users for a bed at night because he couldn't afford a better place near his gym. The person who tapped into his deepest reservoirs of determination and found a way to come back from the brink of defeat and beat Condit wasn't the world famous GSP, he was the fighter Georges St. Pierre. He wasn't the legend, he was the man. On the brink of losing the title he sacrificed so much for St. Pierre fought with all he had to keep it from slipping away.
It was a career defining performance for a champion who has often faced criticism from fans who perceive his style as too conservative. Despite the headkick that almost ended his reign St. Pierre wasn't afraid to stand and trade with Condit, and when he did decide to take the fight to the ground he was constantly trying to advance his position. That St. Pierre didn't get a clear cut stoppage against Condit - or really come close for that matter - should be seen less as an indictment of his skills and more as a credit to just how threatening "The Natural Born Killer" was.
After the fight was over the de rigueur haters didn't waste time lambasting St. Pierre, but they seemed a decided minority this time around. Part of that no doubt can be attributed to the gutsy performance the champ put on in an excellent fight, but I think there's something deeper going on as well.
One of the reasons superstars attract haters in the first place is because the brilliance of their star can be painful to look at for some of us. Every time a paragon of perfection like GSP succeeds it puts a hater's own disappointments into sharper relief. Finding fault with individuals who have scaled heights most of us ever will never approach is an easy way to derive a measure of solace for our own shortcomings. It's even easier to resent an athlete when his humanity becomes obscured by the overpowering glare of his superstar persona.
Which is why I think St. Pierre's performance won back some of the fans whose former love had turned to hate over the years. The battered face of the fighter who emerged victorious in the main event on Saturday night bore little resemblance to the composed visage used to sell everything from Under Armour compression shirts to Coca Cola's brand of energy drinks. He wasn't a superhuman action hero; he was a regular guy - albeit a talented one - who busted his ass for everything he had.
When the cage door closed behind GSP on Saturday he walked into the cage an icon and a virtual industry unto himself. None of that mattered when he found himself in the fight of his career against the most dangerous opponent he had faced in ages. Years spent in the relentless quest of perfection, an indomitable will, and practice-honed natural athleticism were the tools that won the fight for St. Pierre.
In the end it was a reminder of just what kind of man the champion truly is.
And the winner of "Most Overt Promotional Tactic of 2012" goes too...
Was it only me, or were those constant inserts of Anderson Silva and Lyoto Machida watching the main event just a wee bit too blatant? I get that the UFC wanted to kick the hype for the Silva/St. Pierre into overdrive because the long awaited superfight is on their docket for next Spring - even if it isn't on GSP's yet (more on that in a second) - but couldn't they have achieved the same effect by showing the Spider sitting cageside before the fight and showing his reaction briefly between rounds? Was it really necessary to beat the audience over the head with the idea of the Silva/GSP fight while the latter was engaged in a war for his title?
The constant barrage of inserts showing a contemplative looking Silva only added up to a giant anticlimax in the end anyway when St. Pierre dodged Joe Rogan's softball question about the superfight. It felt like GSP let a little of the air out of the jacked Bell Centre with his noncommittal response, but really what else was he supposed to say just minutes after going through a grueling fight with Condit? What made Chael Sonnen's, "Anderson Silva, you absolutely suck" call out so memorable was that it came on the heels of Sonnen steamrolling Brian Stann. GSP's win over Condit wasn't a flawless victory that left viewers thinking he was wasting his time fighting obviously outclassed fellow welterweights. Challenging Silva would have come across as forced given how battered GSP was at the time.
Saturday may not have provided an epic moment for the ages featuring the two dominant champions standing face to face, but in the end that's okay. Make no mistake about it, there's so much money to be made with Silva/GSP that it will take place in early 2013 barring an injury to one of the two participants.
Bigg Rigg rolls on
Don't look now, but a star may have just been born in the UFC's welterweight division. Skeptics may have had room for doubt when Johny Hendricks knocked out perennial number two ranked welterweight Jon Fitch with a left hand to the jaw, but "Bigg Rigg" answered all questions about how dangerous he is in an emphatic manner on Saturday night when he repeated the feat against Martin Kampmann. That it played out as a virtual rerun of the Fitch fight with a brutal Hendricks left causing his opponent to fall like a felled tree only made it that much more impressive.
With the spectacular knockout Hendricks cemented his status as a true force at welterweight. Making the victory all the sweeter for the two time NCAA Division I champion wrestler was that it was witnessed by what was likely one of the largest pay per view audiences of the year and was featured in the high profile semi-main event position on the card.
Hendricks' tobacco chawin', down home country boy persona is also a plus in that it makes him stand out from the sea of bland personalities with interchangeable shaved heads and copious tattoos that seem to make up so much of the UFC roster. Oh yeah, it also doesn't hurt that he's getting a rep as a dangerous knockout artist with dynamite in his left hand either.
How about that Rafael Dos Anjos guy, eh?
In a way it may have worked out for the best that Nick Ring had to pull out of his fight with Costa Philippou because otherwise Rafael Dos Anjos coming out party would have been relegated to the FX prelims. Dos Anjos looked like he was on an entirely different level than he has in the past, and in the process outclassed the talented Mark Bocek.
Unfortunately for Dos Anjos, lightweight is the most stacked division in the UFC and he will need to string together some more impressive performances like this before his name starts getting thrown into the conversation for title contention. On the plus side, with this outing he punched his ticket to a bigger fight against a higher ranked opponent in his next fight.
An idea for referee Philippe Chartier
While nobody was going to confuse the lackluster clinch-fest between Tom Lawlor and Francis Carmont for a barn burner, referee Philippe Chartier was exceedingly obnoxious in his repeated calls for "action" while Lawlor was busy trying to work for a takedown against Carmont. It may not have been exciting, but realistically it was Lawlor's best route to victory, so why should he have been forced to deviate from his game plan?
One could make the argument that the reason why fighters should be discouraged from engaging in boring game plans is because it's a turn off for the fans who pay the bills, but that argument should be neither here nor there when it comes to a referee. The job of a referee is to enforce the rules and step in when a fighter's safety is in danger. It isn't a ref's place to dictate the course of the fight when there aren't any immediate safety concerns or rules being violated. Timidity may be against the rules, but there's nothing timid about engaging in a grueling battle for a takedown in the clinch.
Lawlor lost via a controversial split decision, but if he hadn't been forced to separate when working for a takedown there's a distinct possibility Carmont wouldn't have had a chance to score points on his feet, thus tipping the scales in Lawlor's favor in the judges' eyes.
In order to remedy this problem I've got an idea for how to handle refs like Chartier. How about we find out where these guys' day jobs are, show up there, and constantly harangue them about how they aren't doing their work correctly? OK, I'm being facetious here, but I'm sure the thought has at least crossed the mind of fighters like Lawlor who find their fate in the capricious hands of overbearing referees.
Son of Just Bleed
If you're reading a FanPost on a site like MMAFighting.com you're probably among the hardest of the hardcore UFC fans. Well, you might think you are at any rate until you get a glimpse of this guy:
Now that is dedication. This fella might not have the same, uh, panache as a legend of the sport like Just Bleed Guy, but he's certainly cut from similar cloth (probably a Zubaz-like print if my guess is accurate). The sagging barbell with five plates on each side really rounds the piece out, much like the Nike swoosh underneath Just Bleed's immortal message. Because if we've seen one thing over the years, it's that a heavily muscled bodybuilder's physique is conducive to success in a sport where conditioning and weight cutting are a major part of the game.
At any rate, bravo sir, bravo.
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