In a thrilling main event that shored up an otherwise low-quality card, UFC 154 at the Bell Centre in Montreal, Quebec, Canada, closed on a strong note with Georges St. Pierre reclaiming his undisputed welterweight throne in a impressive performance against a game Carlos Condit.
Off since April 2011 because of a well-chronicled knee injury that left some wondering if he could recapture his previous form, St. Pierre's five-round battle answered that question with a resounding "yes." In an intense battle where Condit kept gunning throughout, nearly taking St. Pierre out in the third with a devastating head kick and follow-up assault, "Rush" showed the kind of resilience fans expect from great champions.
In the process, he also showed that there are still plenty of interesting fights for him at 170 pounds, despite lingering talk of a "super fight" with middleweight boss Anderson Silva.
Case in point the co-main event, where Johny Hendricks blitzed Martin Kampmann in a mere 46 seconds, finishing the affair with a massive left hand, to cement his top contender status. It was a rousing statement by Hendricks and couldn't have been better timed.
Here's a closer look at the action from tonight's card in Montreal, with grades for the notable UFC 154 participants:
Georges St. Pierre : A
You can add up all the drama from St. Pierre's six previous title defenses, the total still would be less than the nervous moments Condit served up tonight. There were serious question marks with St-Pierre coming off a devastating ACL injury, which can ruin an athlete's ability to move, especially laterally and in explosive fashion. Yet tonight, he pretty much looked like his old self, and he showed a lot more grit than we're used to seeing him display. Perhaps it was because Condit simply never stopped trying, which made GSP work throughout the bout.
In previous defenses, GSP tended to find a rhythm and put an opponent into it, thereby derailing their best weapon. He kept Josh Koscheck and Jake Shields hopelessly mired behind a stiff jab and standup superiority; bangers like Thiago Alves and Dan Hardy were planted on their backs for much of the fight, unable to get strikes off. But Condit's eminently tricky guard game and willingness to trade on the feet kept GSP working throughout, and it was a subtle chess game on the mat, even though to the untrained eye it may have appeared little different than most extended ground battles.
Condit's opening came in the third, when, with one of his characteristically unorthodox combinations, he drilled a left shin kick, thrown almost as an afterthought, which sent St-Pierre tumbling to the mat. Pouncing in the for the kill, Condit, suddenly in top position and on the offensive, at last, let it all go, hammering St. Pierre briefly before Georges recovered himself, absorbed a few shots on his forearms, and then expertly slid out. Great fighters make smart decisions in times of crisis, and St. Pierre's ability to do this is one of his great assets.
In fact, he does it so quickly that he's often out of trouble before the other guy can fully capitalize, which was the case here (for another example, check the sweet exit from the bottom he used in the middle of the Jon Fitch bout, where he basically gives up mount in order to execute a nifty backdoor escape). Condit is one of the game's best finishers, and had Georges badly hurt and vulnerable, yet GSP kept a clear head and survived it. And then took control over the second half of the fight to smash his way to a clear-cut decision win.
It was an amazing performance by a champion for the ages. The silver lining in tonight's fight is that St. Pierre was not only his dominant self, he was his dominant self in a fight that was exciting - that's a critical difference from previous title performances, and promotional mojo enough to make future challengers marketable opponents. Fans aren't going to keep coming back to see 50-45 shutouts against the Dan Hardys and Thiago Alves of the world, but a rollicking brawl against guys like Condit -- or Nick Diaz, for that matter -- is just what the doctor ordered for GSP now that he's back in top form.
Johny Hendricks: A
Hendricks did his career a huge favor tonight, delivering yet another slam-bang knockout against a super-durable opponent in Martin Kampmann. Much as he did against Jon Fitch last year, Hendricks' massive left hand landed perfectly in the opening moments, blasting the iron-chinned Kampmann out nearly as soon as the bout began. This was as big a win as Hendricks could have hoped for, and if the UFC doesn't throw him in against St-Pierre soon, they should have their head examined, because the Josh Koscheck bout was a questionable decision and Hendricks has more promotional mojo than he'll ever have right now. It'd be a shame if they let this guy linger and potentially drop a decision instead of getting him a title shot. On the other hand, it's hard to see him beating GSP any other way than he did Kampmann and Fitch. But then again, I'm not sure anyone at 170 beats GSP outside of a Matt Serra MomentTM.
Carlos Condit: A-
Unrelenting, courageous, and gritty, Condit's showing was admirable, especially given the fact that he spent much of the fight with GSP's crushing top game draining his gas tank. One reason I've always wanted to see Condit fight GSP is because his jiu-jitsu game is a lot like Nick Diaz' -- and tonight revealed that there is simply nobody at 170 that can realistically hope to submit a healthy GSP. Given that Diaz, like Condit, can take a helluva beating and will always keep coming, that's precisely why fans will always pay to see either of these guys fight him.
Condit has fought a lot of tough people who weren't really given their due at the time he scrapped with them. He dropped his UFC debut against Martin Kampmann before Kampmann emerged as an elite contender; KO'd then-upstart Rory MacDonald in a phenomenal fight, after which MacDonald has pretty much emerged as a top-five welterweight and, perhaps, the future of the division; and he decisioned the tough Jake Ellenberger before Ellenberger ran up some big wins. Tonight, everybody saw how tough and talented Condit was. A lot of people mail it in once GSP takes them down and keeps grinding on them. Not Condit. And his rousing assault in the third round was about as close as anyone's come to beating GSP since Matt Serra.
Given some more time, I'd expect GSP to make more impressive defenses at welter. Condit's performance tonight indicates that he is probably going to be in line for a title shot in the near future, because he's simply too skilled and game to be denied by anyone by the absolute best. How the UFC matches him in the near future will indicate what they want to happen. If tonight is any indication, he ought to be matched against exciting strikers so he can be built up again for another go
Pablo Garza: A-
"The Scarecrow" hustled to the biggest win of his career by steamrolling and grinding down Mark Hominick, in a bout where the 6'1 Garza looked a good 15 lbs. bigger at fight time. Using stifling top control and a steady work rate, Garza looked dead on the water after eating a brutal left hook to the liver in the bout, only to rally moments later and seize the momentum back from Hominick. Riding the Canadian hard down the stretch, Garza simply was too strong and crafty to be denied. It was a good win for him, and he's about as big a 145-pounder as I've seen in the game. The performance might be mitigated somewhat by Hominick's obvious slide - the defeat was his fourth straight - but a win's a win, and Garza got a big one tonight.
Rafael dos Anjos: C+
I know we're supposed to root for 155 pounders, but let's face it - virtually every card has a 155-lb. match that is a 95 percent chance to go the distance if you're even vaguely familiar with the guys involved. Dos Anjos and Bocek are exactly those types of guys. It's basically the 20-minute filler for a card. Rafael did what he had to do but it didn't really show fans much more than he can grapple in an MMA context a shade or two better than Bocek, which is kind of like saying you can shoot free throws better than Rick Barry. Even at 96 percent efficiency, you're still watching a guy shoot free throws. Yeah. He's boring. There. I said it. And this is coming from a guy whose favorite fighter is Jon Fitch - it's not like I ask a lot to be entertained, for god's sake. I'm a simple man, from Yelm, Washington. And Rafael dos Anjos bores me. Send the hate emails. I take none of it back.
Mark Bocek: C-
See above. I like Bocek as an athlete and respect his game. He's a tough 155er. But I probably got off to a bad start with the guy. The first time I ever saw him compete was at the Abu Dhabi North American Trials in 2002, in a marathon match with - wait for it - Antonio McKee. And if you thought McKee was boring in MMA, you can't imagine how mind-numbing it is to watch him in submission grappling. The only highlight of the bout was Marc Laimon yelling at Bocek to do stuff throughout, and getting to bullshit with Bruce Buffer all afternoon. I didn't even get that little bonus here tonight. I love me some unsolicited Marc Laimon yelling/coaching/cajoling. What was I talking about again?
Francis Carmont and Tom Lawlor: D
Styles make fights, or lack thereof, and this one should be filed under "bouts where one guy has barely enough takedown mojo to score one over 15 dreary minutes." This bout kinda reminded me of B.J. Penn-Matt Serra, with Lawlor playing Serra, and Carmont playing Penn, hopping around endlessly as Lawlor/Serra vied for a takedown for what seemed like hours, days, weeks. Carmont, apparently, took a decision; I went into the kitchen to reheat a burrito in the full confidence that I would miss nothing. Enough said. Lawlor still gets awesome style points for overall weigh-in creepiness and ring-entrance homages, but this match just didn't go anywhere.
Mark Hominick: D
After his epic stand in April 2011 against champ Jose Aldo, where he lost a gutty five-round war, Hominick since dropped three more fights, looking a shadow of his former self. The tragic death of longtime buddy and striking coach Shawn Tompkins hit all of the MMA community, and no doubt Hominick, whose close relationship with Tompkins was well-chronicled. He simply hasn't been the precise machine we're used to seeing in recent bouts, and tonight he looked woefully undersized and overpowered against Garza. With four straight defeats, the UFC may well release him which will give him the opportunity to perhaps take some time off and rebuild, or retire. He's had a long career and achieved a lot. But at this point, performing at this level, he's risking serious damage by continuing to compete, especially with his give-and-take style.
Martin Kampmann: F
Total disaster for Kampmann, who was taken out before he could get untracked. Coming off two miracle comeback wins over Thiago Alves and Jake Ellenberger, Kampmann's cachet coming into the bout was simple: he takes punishment, he fights back, and he wins. The first part turned out to be so true that the other two never got into the equation.
In a way, this could be a blessing in disguise for Kampmann. He might be used as a measuring stick for the likes of, say, an Erick Silva or another rising talent, now that his contender status has been scuttled for the time being. And that's exactly how he can sneak up on people again.
That said, though, I always thought Kampmann was best served in five-round fights. In a way I'm glad Hendricks won in rousing fashion. It was no mystery as to why Dana White held back on an automatic title shot for the Kampmann-Hendricks winner, as a legitimate school of thought could see Hendricks blanketing Kampmann to a ho-hum decision. Instead, we got a knockout highlight reel, which is great for Hendricks, and the UFC. Tonight just wasn't Kampmann's night. It will also be interesting to see how he rebounds from such a shocking knockout loss.
UFC 154 school is officially out. Let's hear your marks in the comments section below.
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Jason Probst can be reached at twitter.com/jasonprobst