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Road to Toronto: Georges St. Pierre dominates the UFC welterweight division

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A man who had never been defeated in the UFC, Jon Fitch, was brutalized for 25 minutes.

A man who had given Georges St. Pierre fits three years prior, B.J. Penn, quit on his stool.

It seems like UFC 69: "Shootout," when a Matt Serra haymaker found its mark, was the last time we saw GSP The Mortal Man. Now we were watching GSP The Indestructible Machine.

Road to Toronto is a special series leading up to UFC 129: "St. Pierre vs. Shields."

We'll take a look at some of the most important moments in the careers of the champion (Georges St. Pierre) and his challenger (Jake Shields), including the ups and the downs and the highs and the lows. We'll examine the instances in time that have helped shape the men that headline this Saturday's (April 30, 2011) card, the biggest in UFC history. 

Today is the big day!

Before we order the pizzas and crack open the beers, let's take a look at the sheer domination "Rush" has held over the welterweight division for the past several years:

With the company's milestone 100th event (by number, at least) coming up, the UFC would have been insane not to put its two biggest draws, Brock Lesnar and Georges St. Pierre, on the card.

It did just that.

The welterweight champion's opponent that night was Brazilian Muay Thai wrecking machine Thiago Alves. He was on a seven-fight win streak, ending five of those by (technical) knockout. One such finish was a beauty of a flying knee that almost made Matt Hughes forget the numbers 12 through 17.

Nonetheless, at UFC 100, "Rush" completely dominated his opponent. When everyone said he had to take the fight to the ground to avoid getting knocked out by the danger striker, St. Pierre chose to stand at times, confident in his own stand up skills.

In fact, by the second round, Alves' face was covered in blood, a testament to the power GSP had in his hands. The champion was also able to drop the Brazilian in the third round, all the while absorbing very little damage himself.

The only round that Alves made semi-competitive was the fourth. He had the champion on his back, but again, "Rush" escaped without taking too many blows. 

Oh, and he had torn a muscle in his groin that round, too.

Despite the injury, the champion went on to win a one-sided unanimous decision against the challenger. But his professional demeanor, coupled with his dominant performances, brought up the concern that perhaps fans would tire of St. Pierre.

To help alleviate this, the French Canadian's next opponent was the brash and cocky Dan Hardy, a British striker who had no qualms about speaking his mind.

He, like Fitch, was undefeated in the UFC. But unlike Fitch, he had twice as few fights in the Octagon and against lesser competition. The fight was looked at as a bit of a farce since Hardy really only had the proverbial "puncher's chance."

The fight went exactly as everyone thought it would.

Hardy never even got the chance to throw that one big punch. He was on his back almost the entire time. And despite solid armbar and kimura attempts from the champ, he couldn't finish the Briton off.

GSP had failed to keep fights from going to the judges several times before, but this time was different. Hardy was hot shotted into the title picture and wasn't in the same league as the welterweight kingpin. If you didn't think so before they locked horns, the fight proved that beyond a shadow of a doubt.

The same criticisms that Jake Shields received prior to his Strikeforce run -- that he was too careful and unable to finish fights -- were now being lobbed at "Rush."

By the time he signed on to fight Josh Koscheck, he was recycling opponents he had already beaten. Koscheck proved no match for St. Pierre in 2007. And while the former The Ultimate Fighter (TUF) contestant had improved since that time, so had St. Pierre.

He had improved so much, in fact, that instead of trying to outwrestle the wrestle as he did before, he put on a boxing display. He jabbed Koscheck's face into oblivion, shattering his orbital bone in the process.

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From Koscheck's official Twitter account comes this grotesque image. The frizzy-haired trash talker still won't be able to fight for at least a couple of months.

But again, GSP was criticized for his performance.

Why didn't he put Koscheck away when he was obviously in such bad shape? How did one of the most exciting fighters go from decisions being the exception to the norm?

Finishes are important in the sport. They're important to the fans. They help prove a fighter has that killer instinct, that extra something that only comes out when the cage door is locked.

Georges St. Pierre can put on another dominating peformance tonight (April 30), but without a finish, I fear his star may begin to lose some luster.

At the weigh-ins yesterday, he told the audience not to blink. Perhaps he has heard some of the criticisms himself and decided to do something about it.

And with a superfight with Anderson Silva possibly on the horizon and millions of dollars to be made, GSP can't afford to be viewed as a "lay and pray" wrestler.

Because to be quite honest, he's not that at all.

Photo via ufc.com

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