Georges St-Pierre left the octagon at UFC 154 in Montreal battered and bruised—the way you’re supposed to look after a five-round title fight. He also walked out that mid-November night as the UFC’s undisputed welterweight champ.
More importantly, perhaps, he silenced any doubts about his continued ability to dominate the 170-lb. division he’s owned for so many years. After more than 18 months away due to injuries, St-Pierre is still a physical beast. He’s still a mental giant. That heart that most athletes can only dream of having still beats in his chest. He stepped out of the octagon knowing he remains Canada’s, and the world’s, best.
Heading into the fight, no one really knew what kind of GSP we were going to see. Would it be the same guy who beat Jake Shields on April 30, 2011, the last time St-Pierre fought? That was a ruthlessly smart, cerebral kind of fight, something fans had become accustomed to from GSP. That great jab, the perfect takedown timing. He just picked his opponent apart, almost at will.
And what about GSP’s knee? It had been ripped apart in training, the ACL torn. Would it, and he, be the same? The MMA world was watching anxiously to see if the ring rust that built up over a year and a half had left GSP slower, weaker, somehow not the sharp, intuitive martial artist he was so famous for being.
The questions were answered in the first five minutes of the fight. Carlos Condit was a bloody mess after the first round. St-Pierre’s knee appeared fine. And he looked greasy—get down, drag ’em out, let’s-go greasy. This was not going to be one of those pick-him-apart kind of fights. This was going to be a nasty affair. And it was, for five very entertaining rounds.
What we saw from St-Pierre in 2012 was 25 minutes of work: GSP dominating, taking Condit to the mat seven times, never being taken down, landing 71 significant strikes to Condit’s 36 and getting better as the fight wore on.
What we didn’t see was the rest of his story. We had occasional glimpses of his rehab efforts, but when it comes to sports injuries, training can only tell you so much. The true test comes when you step onto the ice, onto the field or, in GSP’s case, into the octagon.
The third round presented the only real scare for GSP, when he was flattened by a Condit kick. GSP was in trouble. On his back, with Condit in full attack mode, those watching wondered if GSP could respond. Could a man who hadn’t fought in more than a year and a half hold off one of the best fighters in the world? Turns out, he could. After a scary exchange, GSP was back on his feet and on his way to a win.
Following the full five rounds, Bruce Buffer made the announcement we all knew was coming: “Le gagnant, and still the undisputed UFC welterweight champion of the world—Georges ‘Rush’ St-Pierre.”
The hometown crowd exploded in celebration. St-Pierre looked relieved, in an “I told you so” kind of way. He is just that good. He expects to win, but not in a cocky way. It was a fantastic comeback, the culmination of a gruelling physical rehab and a trying mental test. It was the kind of performance that puts GSP at the top of the pile when it comes to Canadian athletes, an absolute superstar at his resurgent best.
That fight was the toughest test of St-Pierre’s career, and he answered the bell. He showed the world he is still the best 170-lb. fighter in MMA and arguably the best pound-for-pound fighter alive. And his win paved the way for the much-hyped and hoped-for fight with Anderson Silva that would answer that question for good. You can be sure that if and when that fight happens, GSP will be ready. In fact—even after the injuries and the doubts and the long months out of the octagon—GSP might be better than ever.
Ken Reid is a host of Sportsnet Connected
This article originally appeared in Sportsnet magazine.