Pictured: Georges St. Pierre. Photo by Esther Lin via MMA Fighting
From having to drop out of a much-anticipated fight between former Strikeforce 170-pound champion Nick Diaz twice and delaying his title unification bout against Carlos Condit because of nagging knee injuries, the absence of "Rush" in the UFC's welterweight scene has been felt by many.
During his absence, "The Natural Born Killer" has opted to play the waiting game to secure his opportunity to face arguably the promotion's most decorated 170-pound fighter in its history. On top of that, challengers have come out of the woodwork, including Johny Hendricks and Martin Kampmann -- who are making their individual cases for their shots at the gold -- while young prospects such as Erick Silva and Rory MacDonald have burst onto the scene, too.
The eager challengers will be waiting at his doorstep upon his return, but first things first when "Rush" will look to remind fans that -- despite the promotion handing out an interim title in his absence -- he is the true king at welterweight. And that comeback trail begins with Condit at UFC 154 in November in his native Canada.
His head trainer at Tri-Star gym, Firas Zahabi, recently dropped by Tapout Radio to update the MMA community on "GSP's" progress, what he feels is unfair criticism on the style of Greg Jackson and whether or not he would ever allow his top two fighters in the aforementioned MacDonald and St. Pierre to fight each other.
Check it out:
"Structurally, I think his knee is 100%. Of course the timing on his sparring is not 100% and the confidence in the knee is not 100% and the coordination, moving around on that knee is not 100%. For the last eight months, he's been over-compensating on one side, moving a particular way, and now we're trying to get him to move again like he used to. It's going to take some time, but I tell you, Georges is a great athlete. He's been making leaps and bounds in the gym. He's progressing and every sparring session he's doing better and better. I really think in August, he'll be ready to start a training camp again. I don't want to count my eggs before they hatch, but he's really looking good."
Greg Jackson, St. Pierre's other trainer down at Jackson-Winklejohn MMA in New Mexico, has been criticized for implementing "cautious" game plans for his athletes in order to secure wins. In fact, many believe that the French-Canadian's once aggressive style has been one of the many that have suffered because of it.
Firas says that is simply not the case:
"I think that's not true. If you look at who wins the most fight of the nights and submission of the night and knockout of the night, Greg is up there. His fighters are the ones with the most bonuses. I think it's just that when you're as big as Greg is, you're going to get criticism, because a lot of people are going to dislike you. If you look at it statistically, he's one of the most successful winning and bonus coaches around. I really don't see how anybody can scrutinize him so much."
With Tri-Star being home to arguably two of the best welterweights in the world, it seems a foregone conclusion that St. Pierre and MacDonald are on a collision course. Despite "Ares" saying he will never fight his friend -- and UFC President Dana white claiming he will change his tune once he sees how much money the champion makes -- Zahabi believes loyalty and friendship will prevail over money:
"We're familiar with Georges' bank account, and it's good, but it's not everything in life. There's more important things, and I think loyalty and friendship are more important. Rory is not starving to death, that's for sure. He does well for himself, and I think he'll have big money fights coming in the future. It won't be long before he's making big bucks, regardless if he's fighting welterweight or middleweight. We haven't decided what we're going to do. If I have the two best guys at 170, I'm going to be really happy. I'm going to think I've done my job, and we're not going to be looking to fight each other. If Georges moves up a weight class, we'll figure it out when we get there. Right now we've got B.J. Penn coming up for Rory. That's a tall order, and I don't want anyone to be looking past that. People keep asking us, so yeah, our answer is that we'll change a weight class before we fight each other. It's not even really a topic. Our main topics are Carlos Condit and B.J. Penn. Those are the guys that are coming up for Georges and Rory. Our hands are full and our plates are full. We don't have time to think about what's going to happen after those two fights. Right now it's nothing but those two fights."
The anxiety is building and November cannot come soon enough. Many are anxious to see whether or not the long layoff will affect the dominate champion's performance once he returns to the Octagon. One thing is certain, he needs to be on his "A" game if he hopes to defeat the hungry and talented "Natural Born Killer" who wants to show there is indeed a new Sheriff in town.
What's your take? Can "Rush" return to full form after an extended layoff? Is a showdown with McDonald inevitable? Has "GSP's" aggression suffered under the tutelage of Jackson?