By Jaime C. Feal
UFC Welterweight champ Georges St. Pierre finally returns to the cage after over an 18 month layoff, and the interim welterweight champion Carlos Condit awaits him in a unification match. Any perceived disadvantage GSP has in terms of cage rust should be offset by a raucous, partisan crowd at the Bell Centre in Montreal, Quebec, Canada. The show was sold out from the day GSP was announced as the headliner, and the roars will be deafening as he walks to the cage. Also on the card is a feature welterweight matchup between Jonny Hendricks and Martin Kampmann. The winner of this fight is likely to earn the next title shot in the UFC welterweight division; although Dana White has said that a title shot is not guaranteed for the winner. The implication is that Kampmann or Hendricks not only has to win to get a title shot, they must do so impressively.
Middleweight Division (185 lbs.):
Nick “The Promise” Ring (13-1, 3-1 UFC) vs. Constantinos Philippou (11-2, 4-1 UFC)
Nick Ring, the former Ultimate Fighter contestant, has been extremely fortunate as of late by earning two controversial decision win from the judges. Ring is possibly best known for his flamboyant personality on The Ultimate Fighter, often times prompting other cast members to question his sexual orientation. A nickname like “The Promise Ring” isn’t doing him any favors, either. As for his actual fighting style, he is a wrestler with good cardio, and subpar striking. The one advantage he has is that he is Canadian and will be fighting on home turf.
His opponent, Constantinos Philippou, is an absolute beast, and completely underrated in this division. Philippou, a former boxer, has tremendous standup and overall strength. The guy just likes to fight; he’s a very mean dude. What happens when you put a skilled and tenacious brawler in the cage against a soft wrestler with no stand up? A mismatch and a stoppage.
Prediction: Constantinos Philippou wins by TKO, Round 1.
Middleweight Division (185 lbs.):
Francis “Limitless” Carmont (19-7, 3-0 UFC) vs. “Filthy” Tom Lawlor (8-4, 4-3 UFC)
Carmont is looking to make big waves with this fight, finally stepping out of the role of “GSP’s training partner” and into his own limelight. Carmont is a physical specimen at 185, and if the potential of a fighter was judged on looks alone, the shredded Carmont would already be champ. Carmont’s ground control and jiu-jitsu has looked stellar; he was an absolute animal in choking out both Karlos Vemola and Magnus Cedenblad. Now he is thrust into the main card of a PPV and given a real opponent in Tom Lawlor.
“Filthy” Tom has had something on an up-and-down career in the UFC. Starting off in the UFC impressively, Lawlor earned a decision victory over Kyle Kingsbury and then shocked every one by choking CB Dollaway unconscious with a guillotine. Just when he started to pick up the hype, Lawlor dropped two straight to Aaron Simpson and Joe Doerksen. Since then he has won two of his last three fights, with the sole loss being to Chris Weidman, considered by the majority of pundits to be the best middleweight not named Anderson Silva.
Lawlor, who is only a blue belt in jiu-jitsu, has to turn this into a striking match. If he gets taken down by the physically imposing Carmont he is going to be in big trouble. The question is whether Lawlor has the size or strength to stuff Carmont’s grappling. Lawlor, an undersized middleweight, really does not match up well with Carmont, and will need to land heavy punches standing up in order to succeed. While it does represent the biggest test of Carmont’s career, expect “Limitless” to put himself on the map with a statement win.
Prediction: Francis “Limitless” Carmont wins by submission, Round 2.
Welterweight Division (170 lbs.):
Martin “The Hitman” Kampmann (20-5, 11-4 UFC) vs. Johny Hendricks (13-1, 8-1 UFC)
Initially, this co-main event was billed as a #1 contender’s match, with the winner being guaranteed a title shot. Recently, however, Dana White has backtracked, saying the winner won’t necessarily be given an automatic title shot; they have to earn it. Clearly this is a case of the UFC President pressuring his fighters into going for finishes, to “not leave it in the hands of the judges.” This is also the reason why the UFC gives bonuses in the neighborhood of $50,000, sometimes more, for “Knockout of the Night,” “Submission of the Night,” and “Fight of the Night.”
This fight has a chance to be fight of the night for sure. Kampmann is extremely well rounded, and always game. His fight against Thiago Alves showed his heart and will to win, when he ultimately pulled off a submission in the final round of a fight he was losing the entire time. “The Hitman” has solid jiu-jitsu and submissions, along with good kickboxing and cardio. His offensive wrestling is lacking, but he has shown decent takedown defense in the past.
His opponent, however, is a nightmare matchup for him. Johny Hendricks is a monster wrestler, and Kampmann has never had to defend a takedown against this caliber of a grappler. Furthermore, Hendricks possesses hellacious power, particularly in his left hand, as shown by his quick first round knockout of Jon Fitch. Kampmann will have to use his length and reach to stay on the outside, keep Hendricks off him, and score points with boxing and leg kicks. Hendricks, however, is in the prime of his career, and extremely hungry for a title shot. Expect Johny to impose his will after a war of a first round, and start to tire Kampmann out with takedowns and ground and pound.
Prediction: Johny Hendricks wins by unanimous decision.
UFC Welterweight Championship (170 lbs.):
Georges “Rush” St. Pierre (22-2, 16-2 UFC) vs. Carlos “The Natural Born Killer” Condit (28-5, 5-1 UFC)
The UFC Welterweight champion GSP finally returns to the Octagon after not having competed since April of 2011. Waiting for him is Carlos Condit, the Interim Welterweight Champion, in a unification bout. Oddsmakers currently have GSP as a 3:1 favorite, and while that may seem like a lot, keep in mind GSP usually gets Jon Bones and Anderson Silva type lines set for him, meaning 6:1 at least. With GSP only being a 3:1 favorite, this represents the uncertainty involved with his return from a long layoff. His surgically repaired knee, followed by the subsequent rehab, leaves lingering doubts in many people’s minds as to his health and ability to return to his old self.
What many are forgetting, of course, is just how tremendous an athlete GSP is. The fact he took so much time off after an ACL tear isn’t a bad thing – it’s the smart play. 18 months is technically the perfect amount of time to come back from a devastating knee injury, its just sports fans are so used to seeing football players rush back after being just 12 months removed from an ACL tear. GSP is too smart, and too good of an athlete, to put himself in a position where he could re-tear the knee.
Fans should expect a GSP at 100%, and he assures everyone he will be taking risks and going for the finish. Many have criticized him in the past for being too decision-oriented, and not trying to end the fight via stoppage. It is difficult to believe GSP is doing anything more than hyping the fight to sell PPVs when he says he is going to be taking risks. He has shown a propensity in recent years to play it safe, take his opponents down, methodically pass guard, and give no opening for submission attempts. Will he really be able to change in his first fight back in 19 months, in a title fight in front of his hometown fans? More likely than not, he will simply go into his default wrestling mode, and score points with takedowns and ground and pound.
The question is what can Carlos Condit do to stop this? Condit has never faced someone near the level of a wrestler that GSP is. In fact, St. Pierre, who never wrestled in high school or college, trains with the Canadian Olympic Wrestling team, and routinely tosses them around. Simply put, GSP is a freak of nature, and if he is healthy and fully recovered, there is absolutely nothing Condit can do to stop him. GSP has ridiculous speed, athleticism, takedowns, jiu-jitsu, ground and pound, and kickboxing. On the feet he is as dynamic as they come, save Anderson Silva or Jon Jones, utilizing spinning kicks, high kicks, superman punches, and the like. Oh, he can also just jab you to death like he did against Jon Fitch and Josh Koscheck.
Condit edged out a highly controversial decision against Nick Diaz by throwing lots of leg kicks, and backpedaling away from Diaz. That strategy will not work against GSP, who is way more patient and disciplined than Diaz. GSP also constantly switches levels and goes for takedowns, something Diaz barely does, as Diaz tends to fall in love with his boxing.
GSP is too well-rounded and explosive for Condit to handle. Simply put, Condit has never faced some one close to the level of a Georges St. Pierre. Nick Diaz was his toughest opponent, and while Diaz presents an interesting fight for almost any one in the welterweight division, Georges St. Pierre is in a class of his own, and Carlos Condit is not ready for it. Expect Condit to be fighting off his back, a lot, as GSP beautifully transitions from striking to takedowns en route to a dominating and stifling performance.
Prediction: Georges “Rush” St. Pierre wins by unanimous decision.