It was tough news to bear in Oct. 2011 when the mixed martial arts (MMA) world was rocked as by news that Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) Welterweight Champion Georges St. Pierre injured his knee ahead of his UFC 137 title defense against Carlos Condit.
Fans would have to wait until early 2012 for one of the most loved (and loathed) champions to make his return to the Octagon, and the wait would become an annoying inconvenience.
The news got much worse, however, just two months later, as St. Pierre was reported as having a blown ACL, which took him out of his UFC 143 title bout against Nick Diaz. This injury was far more severe, an injury feared by athletes of all sports. Few men have ever been able to come back the same, and the future of GSP's career was in serious jeopardy. Now, the question on everyone's minds was no longer how long he would be removed from the sport, it was if he could ever return in the same form.
We are now less than a day away from answering that very question. He can not answer it in words, because if he could, we'd already be convinced. Rather, he will do it in a championship fight against "The Natural Born Killer," who may arguably be GSP's toughest challenge to date.
With or without a prior knee injury.
When Georges enters the Bell Centre in his backyard of Montreal, Quebec, Canada, the crowd will undoubtably erupt as their hero begins his walk to the cage. As he moves towards that cage, where he will be subject to the smallest of scrutinies and the most precise of analysis, pressure will undoubtably arise, raising even more questions.
WIll Georges St. Pierre ever be the champion he once was?
If you're experiencing the same anticipation as I am, you will have already watched every promo available. In every single one, St. Pierre and all those around him assure you he is more than ready to be back and better than ever. However, a realistic evaluation of his circumstances would make anyone at least somewhat skeptical.
How many athletes have ever come back in their previous form from such an injury? Sure, maybe St. Pierre has access to some of the best medical attention possible, but could that really be enough? After all, the man never set the bar low for himself. He has been one of the few truly elite fighters around, always pushing himself in new ways to remain one of the faces of the UFC and of MMA.
St. Pierre's discipline and drive were never in question. Maybe he felt the need to admit that he lost some of his passion for the sport, but he was never anything but a hard worker. Is his drive something that will be necessary for a strong return, or will it be futile in the end?
If he does in fact come back with some new weakness, it may be interesting to see him utilize his drive and his clever approach to compensate for it. Even in victory, he may be questioned, as to why his punches may not have the same pop or why his takedowns aren't as quick. St. Pierre has shown time and time again that he can adapt to adverse situations in fights, but will this be too much to overcome? If he doesn't look good in victory over Condit, what would that say about his potential superfight against Anderson Silva?
Another scenario that comes to mind is GSP suffering his first loss since 2007. If that does happen, will he have it in him to remain a contender and go through more fights to try to gain back his championship? A loss could very well be demoralizing, and we all know that fighters past their prime can take late-career nosedives which they just can't get out of. It may seem drastic to say that may be the case for St. Pierre, but it isn't out of the realm of possibility.
Georges has also been talking about returning to his former self, the 'Rush' that everyone was a fan of. His last finish was in early 2009, and he has drawn a lot of heat from fans for being a boring fighter to watch. Is it possible that we see him return to his former glory, and add to his legacy with a vintage finish of his hard-nosed opponent? Can he gain even more fans with an impressive performance, or will he remain the methodical and safe Georges St. Pierre we've all gotten used to?
All in all, at UFC 154, the headline fight is more than just a championship fight. It will dictate the future of a legacy, be it of a once great champion or one who will continue to rule without contest. Georges St. Pierre is an icon and a talent we will rarely ever see, but will this one knee injury be the one thing he cannot handle? Even if he does lose the title, who could possibly succeed him in the welterweight division? He has set the bar so high, and if he loses, we may never see someone quite as dominant as he was in this division.
Georges St. Pierre has a lot to do on Saturday night. In his fight against Carlos Condit, he will be the subject of everyone's eye, wondering how or when he may show a sign of weakness. Undoubtedly, he has prepared to his fullest potential, but it is still unknown whether that may be enough. The show he puts on can potentially change the landscape of the UFC forever, and that is why he is the fighter to watch.