UFC 129 fight card: Georges St. Pierre vs Jake Shields

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Respect.

Remarkably, that's the underlying theme as we head into tonight's UFC 129 main event between welterweight champion Georges St. Pierre and number one division contender, Jake Shields.

Neither man has tasted defeat in several years. St. Pierre in 2007 (Matt Serra) and Shields in 2004 (Akira Kikuchi). But somehow, someway, that's just not good enough for the critics.

St. Pierre is too careful. He can't finish fights. Shields is too one dimensional. He doesn't deserve a title shot.

Hogwash.

Two of the best 170-pound fighters on the planet are going to step inside a cage tonight at the Rogers Centre in Toronto, Ontario, Canada, before a packed house of 55,000 screaming fans. Both of them have been up against many of the toughest opponents the sport has to offer and came out with their hands raised.

It wasn't always pretty. It wasn't always exciting. But, it was remarkably efficient ... and dominant.

St. Pierre has run the entire gamut of opponents during his time at the throne in the welterweight division.

Strikers? Chewed up and spit out. Grapplers? Eaten for breakfast. Grinders? Been there, done that.

The only challenge left for the iconic French-Canadian to overcome at 170-pounds is a submission specialist; one who presents a mixed bag of tricks that could very well usher in a new day in the UFC.

Enter Jake Shields.

You wouldn't know that by listening to the pundits, though. Outside of a few rebellious experts, the collective thought process is Shields is nothing more than another notch in St. Pierre's belt.

The fans? "Hardcores" want to give him a chance but can't bring themselves to think it. Most "Casuals" couldn't even pick the American out of a lineup.

Nevertheless, he IS dangerous. Perhaps more so because of the lack of belief in his abilities. The fact remains, however, that for all the impressive wins on his resume and for how well-traveled Shields is, he's never been on a stage this big in front of an audience this large.

And they're begging for his blood.

As much as he would love to silence the live crowd, which is sure to be deafening, St. Pierre would love to do the same to his outspoken critics that are always asking for more.

A finish would be ideal but if GSP does away with Shields, he will have done everything there is to do in his current weight class.

You can't ask for much more than that.

Tonight, April 30, 2011, the winner of Georges St. Pierre vs. Jake Shields for the welterweight championship will not just walk out of the Octagon with the title around his waist; he'll walk out having earned -- the hard way -- what so many have refused to give them up to this point.

Respect.

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