Cardio. It’s what separates the men from the boys in the UFC and ultimately decides which fighters are in good enough shape to make a run to the top. The best fighter in each weight class usually has the best cardio capacity as well, and that’s mostly because there are few strategies in MMA that cannot be neutralized by fatigue or simple shortness of breath.
Georges St. Pierre has long been considered the poster boy for cardio. The wrestling-based game plans he prefers require an extremely high level of physical fitness that is virtually unrivaled in the division. If there is a challenger with better cardio than Georges, he’d be able to repeatedly stuff the champion’s take downs and quickly escape from the bottom at will during any point of the fight.
Eight title defenses later, there is yet to be a welterweight that has an answer to St. Pierre’s strength and conditioning. Though he hasn’t finished a fight in a disturbingly long time, Georges St. Pierre has out-worked more talented fighters than any other title holder in UFC history. There’s no question as to how proud GSP is of this accomplishment, as this is most likely the primary reason Georges is entirely content with his collection of unanimous decision victories, especially his latest win over Nick Diaz at UFC 158.
Fans were wondering why Diaz didn’t just get right in GSP’s face when he had the opportunity to and assault him with his signature punching barrages. It’s because Nick was too tired to do so after all the time he spent wrestling Georges on the ground.
That and the fact that GSP might also have the most crisp jab in the division.
Many don’t believe that St. Pierre is a true champion because he doesn’t do all he can to finish fights. While there is most definitely a great deal of validity behind this claim, it’s hard to deny that the test GSP imposes on his opponents is one that only the best athlete in the division is capable of passing. If a fighter can’t handle a relentless and tireless wrestler (either by knocking him out or continuously defending his attacks), it shows that he has not developed a way to vanquish every form of competition the MMA world has to offer. And that cannot be the case with any rising star with golden expectations.
This is why Chael Sonnen is such a valuable method of finding out if a fighter really has what it takes to hold a belt. The only fighters that can deal with an offensive like Sonnen’s are usually worthy of holding or challenging for a world title. Michael Bisping and Anderson Silva were the only two middleweights in recent memory who effectively countered Sonnen’s blitzing take downs,and those performances were arguably the best of their careers.
It’s safe to say that both Bisping and Silva (in their 2nd meeting) gained an incredible amount of praise and respect after their matches with Sonnen from the countless skeptics who were under the impression that Chael had the grappling ability and conditioning to run over anyone put in front of him.
The grappling ability and conditioning of say, Georges St. Pierre.
Unfortunately, the welterweight division doesn’t have a competitor with a stand-up game like Anderson Silva, so the wrestler sits comfortably at the top. Johny Hendricks’ striking undoubtedly poses a threat to GSP, but we’ll see how well he can thwart St. Pierre’s take downs or push forward after being on his back for several minutes.
Aggressive wrestlers with outstanding conditioning are the most difficult obstacle for a modern fighter to overcome and beating a combatant of this nature cements a fighter’s likelihood of capturing a title. Even some of the most respected and feared fighters have not gained the maximum amount of credibility a top contender is capable of attaining because they are yet to defeat a fighter like Chael or GSP.
Georges may not finish his opponents, but he certainly destroys any notion they had that they were ready to overcome any sort of fighter who came their way. It really doesn’t matter whether you love or hate the man’s style because the cardio that allows him to impose it so ferociously is truly a spectacle to observe.