The year is 2002 and two unknown MMA fighters will make their debuts in two different leagues and in two different countries. Both will start their careers with great success, win championships, and at times even share the same training camp and coaches. Both will be destined for a collision course some 10 years later to determine who is the best MMA Welterweight and the real UFC Champion of the world!
January 2002, Montreal Quebec Canada: The Universal Combat Challenge (U.C.C.) fight league has pitted an undefeated (4-0) welterweight veteran named Ivan Menjiver against a 21-year-old Georges St-Pierre in his MMA pro debut. At 4:54 seconds of the first round, the fight is stopped with a TKO and St-Pierre is declared the winner. He goes on to win his next 6 in a row, including 2 in the UFC, and then loses his first attempt at a UFC title to Matt Hughes via submission. He then wins 5 in a row, has a rematch with Hughes, and KO's him in the 2nd round to win the UFC Welterweight Championship. In his first title defense, he loses to Matt Serra. It would be his last loss. Since then, he's gone on an 8-fight win streak, regaining his title, defending it 7 times and dispatching Hughes, Serra and every other top welterweight in the world along the way. An MMA icon rose to power, glory, and fame, and up until 19 months ago, when a nagging knee injury forced him out of a fight and into an operating room to have his ACL reconstructed, he remained, seemingly, unbeatable.
September 2002, Juarez Mexico: In his pro debut, Carlos Condit easily submits Nick Roscorla with a rear naked choke in round 1 while going on to win his next 7 professional MMA bouts. By March of 2007, he has amassed a record of 19-4 and wins the WEC Welterweight Champion by beating John Alessio with you guessed it...a rear naked choke. He goes on to defend his title 3 successive times before the WEC is merged into the UFC, where his only loss has been a split decision to Martin Kampman in his first UFC bout. Since then, he's gone on another 5-fight win streak, culminating in his unanimous decision victory over Nick Diaz at UFC 143 last February to be crowned the UFC "Interim" Welterweight Champion.
November 17th 2012: Montreal Quebec Canada: UFC 154 is about to unfold and Georges "Rush" St-Pierre will face off against Carlos "The Natural Born Killer" Condit. It has been a 10-year odyssey for both men and the second time they were scheduled to face each other, with St Pierre's previously mention knee injury intervening before their scheduled title bout at UFC 137 was called off. This, no doubt, will be the toughest test either man has had so far in their storied careers. One man is looking to prove he is still, pound for pound, one of the best fighters in the world, and at 31, is at the top of his game. The other is looking to prove the word "Interim" is simply not applicable to him and that he's the true world Champion. Let's take a closer look.
Georges "Rush" St-Pierre (22-2) vs. Carlos "The Natural Born Killer" Condut (28-5)
Both of these men have great respect for each other, as they should. Both are truly great fighters and world-class athletes. Great athletes need great motivation however and this fight provides for more than enough. For St-Pierre, the challenge is enormous. Torn ACL's have been the injury of many an aborted career of great athletes. For an MMA fighter, and one that relies on explosiveness and lighting quick takedowns, this could easily be his waterloo. For GSP, it most likely won't be. He approached his surgery and rehab the way he approaches training for a fight, with strategy and a plan, and no one in all of MMA or the UFC is better at executing their game plane than Rush. Moreover, this is a very cerebral and strategic fighter in the UFC, and one has to believe that he wouldn't try and take on an obstacle as dangerous as Condit unless he felt he was 100%. Training camps are telling and no sport is more honest than combat sports. If GSP had any doubts or has lost a step, it will already have been revealed and compensated for in his training camp. Make no mistake, the Champ will be in Championship form.
For Condit, the preparation has been extensive, having trained for GSP once, and then having to take on Nick Diaz to remain in title contention and then patiently waiting until St-Pierre was ready. This may be the only fighter that Rush has faced that is as multi-dimensional and as well rounded. His Muay Thai is sick, having won 13 fights by KO, and his ground game is just as formidable with 12 submissions. That's 25 finishes in 28 wins. That's CRAZY, and if you're his opponent, it's not good crazy. For the first time in a long time, GSP has a title fight against both a champion and someone who's completely capable of beating him and/or finishing him. If you doubt that, then remember one last fact. St Pierre's only two losses came from 1 knockout and 1 submission. He can be stopped.
The Pick: This will most likely be close, but the edge still has to go to the current Champ. St-Pierre has proven that any time he's faced adversity, he's come back stronger and better. Both of these fighters are so skilled that it's hard to say how he'll win, but look for his lightning quick takedowns to play a part in this, and subsequently his superior wrestling, to give him the edge. Additionally, don't be shocked if Rush unvails a new wrinkle in his offense that none of us, including Condit, has seen before. Look for something new in his arsenal.
The X Factor: Believe it or not, it isn't the knee. It's Greg Jackson, who has been the coach, along with Mike Winklejohn, for both of these fighters. Jackson has removed himself from the fight and won't coach or corner either man as it creates a conflict and it is part of the protocol for the Jackson camp. However, striking Coach Mike Winklejohn is 100% cornering and coaching Condit. Having worked with GSP for years, he knows how to beat him, knows his strengths and liabilities. It will simply be up to Condit to apply those tactics. Condit's knockout power and striking appears to be better than GSP's, so if he can bait Rush into standing and defend takedowns, it will be the turning point of this fight and result in the Natural Born Killer being the Natural Champion.
Martin "The Hitman" Kampman (20-5) vs. Johny "Big Rig" Hendricks (13-1)
Again we have two men that know each other well, having trained together for about a year and a half. At the time, Hendricks was just starting to learn how to really perfect his striking and The Hitman was definitely getting the best of him all the while Hendricks was sharing his wealth of wrestling knowledge. Hendricks is a 4-time Division 1 All-American and a 2-time Division 1 NCAA Champion, so there is much wrestling to share. To be sure, they both learned from each other, but to hear Hendricks tell it, he felt as though Kampman and his other teammates at Xtreme Couture didn't give back when it came to striking knowledge. Feeling the lack of reciprocation, he moved on to Striking Unlimited and found the coaching and technique that he needed. In the process, he's become one of the most powerful punchers in the Welterweight division. He's won 4 in a row over some big names, notched 7 wins by KO, and along the way, KO'd Jon Fitch in the first round. His striking is just getting better and better.
To his credit, Kampman, who a few years ago was simply known as a kickboxer, has improved his ground game as well. So now, we have two truly mixed martial artists, ranked #4 (Hendricks) and #5 (Kampman), squaring off to see which one is the next contender for the welterweight title. Two guys who love to bang, don't love each other, but would love a shot at the title. This should make for one hell of a fight.
The Pick: Hendricks for a few reasons. The first of which is that he can take a punch as much as give one. Although his striking won't be as refined, it will be enough to garner caution and wear Kampman out. Once that starts to happen, look for Big Rig to take it to the ground, and the last place that Kampman can afford to be is on his back against a powerful championship wrestler. His battle won't be to win at that point, but just to survive.
The X Factor: The Dutchman can hit and kick hard. He is amazingly resilient and is brutally dangerous when hurt. One mistake from Hendricks, one dropping of the card or let up against the cage can mean the Big Rig runs off the side of the road.
And just a few more surefire, can't miss, never wrong picks