When Georges St-Pierre steps into the Octagon this Saturday for his first UFC fight in nearly 19 months, he will do more than face a fierce adversary in Carlos Condit.
He will also face his own future.
It’s no exaggeration to say that Saturday’s showdown at UFC 154, in front of a hometown crowd at Montreal’s Bell Centre, will be one of the most pivotal moments in GSP’s fighting career.
A win would catapult him back to the top of the Welterweight heap and re-establish him as one of the greatest pound-for-pound competitors in mixed martial arts, past or present. It would prove that his surgically repaired knee is fully recovered and “stronger than ever,” as he has repeatedly insisted. It would prove that a nearly two-year absence from competition has neither dampened his spirit nor dulled his almost supernatural fighter’s instincts.
Winning is important. Not losing, however, is arguably even more so.
While those two outcomes are typically synonymous, there’s an important distinction in GSP’s case: losing Saturday’s main event could have much more drastic repercussions for St-Pierre’s MMA career than a victory.
A loss at the hands of Condit would signify, at least to some, that the ACL tear – an injury that has ended the careers of many top athletes — was too great a setback for St-Pierre to overcome. It would give detractors ammunition to argue that St-Pierre’s rehab period was too long, that the fire inside GSP has fizzled.
Of course, such armchair observations would be premature, since there would be no real shame in losing to Condit, the interim Welterweight Champion who has bested all but one of his last 14 opponents.
Both St-Pierre and Condit will enter the Octagon wearing a title belt, and only one will leave with gold around his waist. A loss for Condit, however, would not likely have as significant a long-term fallout as it would have for St-Pierre.
Sure, Condit’s name would drop in the rankings, and his pride would make a corresponding plummet. But he wouldn’t face as steep an uphill climb, nor the flurry of doom-sayers, that GSP would encounter after a loss.
Will St-Pierre’s pro fighting career be kaput if he loses to Condit Saturday? Not likely, unless the loss is quick and devastating. But it could easily diminish for his main-event status and his position within the title picture. A dream match against Anderson Silva likely hinges on his ability to get through Condit first.
Even a win for St-Pierre could result in a minor backlash of criticism if it’s not decisive and exciting. Well before his knee injury, GSP was the target of widespread moaning for what was perceived by many as an overly cautious approach, using his wrestling skills to earn points while the clock ticked down to unexciting decisions.
For Saturday’s match to go down as a full-fledged comeback for GSP, he not only needs to win, but win in convincing fashion.
That’s no small feat, especially against a warrior the likes of Condit, but it certainly wouldn’t be St-Pierre’s first time silencing the critics.