It has been 19 months since we last saw UFC welterweight champion Georges St-Pierre in the cage. This Saturday, at UFC 154, he returns.

His upcoming challenger, interim champion Carlos Condit, has been waiting more than nine months for this day to come. Condit opted to sit on the shelf and await the title unification bout with GSP after claiming the interim crown with a unanimous decision win over Nick Diaz in February. Now, Condit’s wait is nearing an end.

An ACL injury is the reason for St-Pierre’s lengthy absence, and many spectators will be tuning in to see how much of an impact it will have on his ability to perform. Reports of the champ’s rehab have been very positive, but an ACL injury isn’t something that is completely healed even after a year-long rehab. Even if GSP has done everything right to get back into the cage, the reality of injury and passing time can still plague any athlete’s future.

At 31, St-Pierre is still a young athlete in the sport, especially considering what he has accomplished up to this point. Time is on his side for recuperation. What kind of athlete GSP is now, or can or cannot be moving forward, might be answered on Saturday.

It’s highly unlikely that ring rust will be a factor, because we’re talking about a motivated champion at the highest level of the sport. You don’t stay on top if you aren’t prepared, and it isn’t hard to find reports of GSP’s training leading up to this fight. The long-reigning champion is in the gym with guys like Rory MacDonald and Dan Hardy in preparation for Condit’s striking ability. Both of those training partners have faced Condit in the past and came close to victory against him. There’s little reason to doubt that St-Pierre isn’t back on track with high-level training and sparring.

The expectations of what kind of GSP to expect against Condit has received even more attention than his training.

The champ’s decision wins over the last few years have held the ire of many fans, but what reason is there for him to change what has worked in the past? Even GSP has expressed a desire to make a statement out of Condit and finish him, but I’m sure his inner wrestler will emerge if Condit rocks him at any point in the fight. I expect him to be more cautious coming off an injury, but perhaps the layoff mixed with increasing criticism has stoked his desire to put an exclamation point on his return.

The few times we’ve seen a truly fired-up St-Pierre, it was in his rivalries with Matt Hughes and Matt Serra. And the second fight with B.J. Penn showed St-Pierre’s seemingly forgotten brutality, but those fights seemed to have significant meaning to the him beyond the simple concept of defending his title against challengers.

I expect a vintage St-Pierre to grace the Octagon on Saturday, at least in the sense that we know him now—as the long-reigning champion that sweeps the scorecards against every challenger put in front of him.

But while the big cat has been away, the mice have certainly been at play. The analogy of a mouse doesn’t precisely fit the challenger Condit though. He’s more like a squirrel, in the sense that he received his shot at the title before the champion’s injury and chose to keep his nuts stored up till winter until it was time to cash in. Challengers, each intriguing in the their own right, rose and fell in the division and Condit refused to fight any of them in the fear that it would spoil his grand opportunity.

So, the top of the division did their best to line up behind Condit. We have a deserved Johny Hendricks, whose momentum took a big hit with all the waiting. He spoiled another contender’s spot at the top in defeating Jake Ellenberger, who became a casualty of GSP’s unexpected absence and Condit’s refusal to fight. Meanwhile, Martin Kampmann has made the best of the situation and has rallied his way to a fight with Hendricks, which will be on the UFC 154 card as a potential No. 1 contender match.

The Hendricks/Kampmann fight is really as far as we need to look at the moment when speculating on what comes next for the winner of Saturday’s championship contest. Nick Diaz might return to the top of the division if he can show up without a 209-sized chip on his shoulder and marijuana in his system. An Anderson Silva superfight also looms should GSP emerge victorious, and who doesn’t want to see that?

But I won’t complain if we finally finish this business between GSP and Condit and have a fresh contender lined up on the same night. The top of the division will have to reset, but at least the interim belt can go back into storage.

After all, truthfully, the biggest absence from everyone’s mind has been Carlos Condit. He was content to sit on the sidelines until St-Pierre’s return, using the interim belt as a reservation rather than defending his title. He’ll need nothing short of a win on Saturday to move forward, because he did nothing to represent the division during his reign and the fans are ready to move past him.

It’s been a long time coming, but St-Pierre’s return is days away, and that will allow the welterweight world to return to normal. It will be interesting to see how much of an impact his injury and absence will play, but there is no doubt that he is a one of the best champions in MMA history, and that doesn’t come to fighters without effort.

Photo: Georges St-Pierre (Dave Mandel/Sherdog)

About The Author

David Massey
Staff Writer

David Massey studied Humanities and Art History at the University of Central Oklahoma. He first found interest in MMA from the first TUF show and has been hooked ever since. He began posting on mmajunkie then submitting Sunday Junkie entries and that began his interest in writing about MMA. Through twitter David found other MMA enthusiasts and began contributing articles to marqueemma.com. He looks forward to growing as a writer and being a part of the sport he loves.