Welcome back to Championship Rounds here on Wrestling Rambles.  This week there’s really only one story in MMA – the return of one of the greatest pound for pound fighters in the world, the UFC Welterweight Champion, Georges St-Pierre.  We’ve got the usual five stories to cover but today we’re kicking off with the return of Canada’s favourite fighter.  So let’s touch gloves and do this!

Round 1:

UFC 154:  17th November, The Bell Centre, Montreal, Quebec, Canada – GSP is BACK!

Tonight one of the most dominant UFC champions of all time makes his long awaited return to the octagon.  After over a year away from the sport with a serious knee injury, Georges St-Pierre is back for a hugely significant Welterweight title fight in his home town of Montreal.  Looking to ruin GSP’s homecoming is Carlos Condit, the interim Welterweight Champion and one of the most lethal finishers in the UFC.

Georges St-Pierre is a true superstar of the UFC.  The Welterweight Champion has cut through his division like a buzz saw since regaining the Welterweight Title from Matt Serra in 2008.  Since that victory GSP successfully defended his Title on six occasions.  He holds the record for most consecutive rounds won in the UFC.  He has dominated every challenger put in front of him on his way to becoming arguably Canada’s biggest sports star.

In his last fight before injury GSP was the main event of the biggest drawing UFC event in history at UFC 129 at the former Skydome in Toronto.  The event saw more than 55,000 tickets sold for gate revenues exceeding $12 million and PPV buys in excess of 800,000.  The event shattered MMA attendance and gate records in North America.  GSP’s superstar status is vital to the UFC, especially in Canada.  Which makes his return (in the words of Dana White) a big fucking deal.

Let there be no confusion or debate – this is a massive fight.  Both in terms of the number of PPV buys the show will generate and also because the outcome of tonight’s main event will go a long way to shaping the future of the UFC Welterweight Division and GSP’s own future with a super fight with Anderson Silva looming large on the horizon.  That’s the importance of GSP – he’s not even back in the cage and already the hype for his next fight has begun!

So how did GSP and Condit end up opponents?  As has become the norm with the UFC, this fight was never supposed to happen.  Originally all roads pointed to a money making showdown between the Canadian hero and everyone’s favourite loudmouth, pot smoking, Stockton, California bad ass, Nick Diaz.  Unfortunately a combination of Diaz blowing off media obligations (causing him to be pulled from the fight with GSP) and GSP’s injury meant the much hyped and anticipated battle between two of the most polar opposite personalities in the UFC never took place.  Enter stage right – Carlos Condit.

With GSP on the shelf, the UFC booked an interim Welterweight Title fight between Condit and Diaz.  Diaz was the favourite to win and set up the future super fight with GSP when he made his return.  If MMA has taught us anything, it’s that anything can happen in any fight.

Condit executed a perfect game plan against Diaz.  He refused to be drawn into a stand up war (which is Diaz’s speciality) and instead used his superior foot work and speed to hit and move over five tightly contested rounds.  When the fight was over Diaz’s battered and bloody face told the true story of the fight – he had been out struck, out thought and out classed by a highly skilled fighter who had been underestimated and overlooked for most of his UFC career.

While some fans complained Condit ‘ran’ during the fight (he didn’t and to think otherwise is to fail to understand the simplest aspects of professional fighting) and Diaz remained the popular choice to face GSP, once the dust had settled the landscape of the Welterweight division had completely changed.  GSP was out for a year, Diaz failed a post fight drugs test and was suspended for a year and Carlos Condit was the interim Welterweight Champion.  Controversially Condit decided to sit out the best part of a year to wait for the return of the King and his chance to upset the odds once again.  That chance happens tonight in GSP’s home town.

The promotional machine for UFC 154 has been all about GSP’s return and rightfully so.  GSP is one of the best fighters in UFC history.  His outstanding record of 22-2 speaks for itself.  His dominant run as Welterweight Champion can be compared to any of the great UFC title reigns of the past.  His drawing power on PPV, especially in Canada, is a huge income boost to the UFC’s coffers.  He carries himself like a true champion and is one of the best spokesmen the UFC has ever had.  The man is a icon in Canada and a perfect role model for any young fighters.  GSP is the face of the UFC and they are doing everything in their power to let the world know that the jewel in their crown has returned.

There are many questions hanging over GSP ahead of his comeback fight.  The biggest of which is how will his surgically reconstructed knee hold up first time out?  The kind of tear GSP suffered to his ACL has ended many sporting careers.  Given GSP relies so heavily on explosive takedowns and quick movement on his feet, he can’t have a weak knee and fight in the same style that has brought him so much success down the years.

According to GSP, his knee is fully healed and feels better than ever.  Of course that’s what every fighter says when returning from injury.  Saturday will be a huge test of his surgically repaired knee and it will be interesting to see if he still has the explosiveness in his takedowns and other movements.

Then there’s the question of whether or not GSP is mentally ready for what will be a gruelling and intense fight with Condit.  GSP has spoken at length about how he lost a lot of his love and passion for MMA prior to his knee injury.  The superstar status he fought so hard to achieve became a burden for him.  He has admitted he lost his edge and his passion.  He fought too safely in the past to grind out decision wins.

According to GSP he feels like a new fighter.  The passion has returned.  A fire has been lit under him and he has stated when he steps back into the octagon it will be with a burning intensity to beat Condit and once again be declared the Undisputed Welterweight Champion.  You wouldn’t expect him to say anything different but again, we won’t know which GSP will face Condit until the fight begins.

As for Condit?  He’s happy being the underdog again.  He claims he has nothing to lose and he sees himself as the challenger in this fight.  Condit is a great fighter, who improves every time he steps into the octagon.  He has shown he is capable of following a game plan and with 26 finishes in his MMA career, he is no joke and a tough challenge for anyone, let alone a fighter who has been out for over a year.

He’s not the bookies favourite  to win this fight but personally I wouldn’t be surprised to see Condit pull off the upset again.  Out of all the fighters that GSP has faced in the last five years, Condit is the one with the skills and the smarts to give GSP a lot of problems.  He has every chance in the world to beat GSP tonight and he knows it.

Condit is always a cool customer but in the build up to the biggest fight of his career, against one of the best of all time, he has hardly batted an eye lid.  There’s a steely determination and confidence in his skills that sets Condit apart from other challengers.  This fight has been billed as the GSP show but don’t be surprised if on Sunday the only name on everyone’s lips is Carlos Condit.  It’s happened before, just ask Nick Diaz.

While there are other interesting fights on the card, UFC154 is all about the return of the King and his battle with the man who has kept his throne warm for the past ten months.  When GSP walks out into the area tonight you will hear one of the loudest, most intense and sustained crowd reactions in UFC history.  Double that if he wins and triple it if he wins with a finish.

A Canadian hero will return home tonight but we won’t know if this is a new and improved GSP, or even the old GSP, until the cage door closes and he and Condit hook ‘em up to crown an undisputed Welterweight Champion.  GSP is back and in Carlos Condit he is facing a natural born killer with nothing to lose, who is ready to take the old King’s throne.   It doesn’t get much bigger or more exciting than this in MMA.  Watch.  This.  Fight.

Round 2:

UFC debuts in China with a lacklustre show.

Last weekend UFC took its first tentative steps into what could be a hugely lucrative new market for the company in China.  Unfortunately this historic show from ‘the Vegas of Asia,’ Macau proved to be a less than stellar show which was dominated by decision finishes, a quiet crowd and boring fights.

On a night where four of the six main card fights ended in decision, it was down to two 40 year old fighters who are long past their prime to save the show.  While neither Rich Franklin or Cung Le looked in the best of shape and their fight only lasted a coupe of minutes, the sheer quality of Le’s right hand, one punch KO, was enough to bring the crowd out of their slumber and end the night on a high.  The outcome surprised many as Franklin was the heavy favourite to win.

Is it time for Franklin to hang up his gloves?  If he is knocked out in similar fashion any time in the future it may be in his own best interests to step away from the sport before any serious damage is sustained.  Franklin is from a generation of UFC fighters who are now all drawing to the end of their careers.  He was a great middleweight champion and has a storied and successful career, but time catches up with everyone.  Only Randy Couture has been able to dispel the belief that MMA is a young man’s sport and unfortunately for Franklin, he is not Randy Couture.  Hell, even Superman isn’t Randy Couture.

What does the future hold for Le?  He has a successful movie career but is nowhere near the level for Title contention, yet he is still a big name who with the right opponent could draw well in the future.  He spinning strikes don’t have anywhere near the snap or accuracy that they did in his heyday in Strikeforce, but as he showed against Franklin, he still has power and accuracy and when you finish fights in the UFC, you are safe in your job.

Elsewhere on the card Thiago Silva looked good in his submission win over a very disappointing Stanislav Nedkov.  At times Nedkov appeared to be going for the world record for ‘most time spent standing and hugging a Brazilian.’  Excitement was not in his fighting vocabulary on this night in China.  The last time Silva looked that impressive in a fight he failed a post fight drugs test.  Let’s hope his test comes back clean this time because Silva is a talented fighter and has a kind of scary charisma that UFC could market.

Dong Hyun Kim dry humped his way to a win over a very lacklustre Paulo Thiago.  Kim used his size and strength to pin Thiago to the mat and beat him up for three rounds.  His crazy Sakuraba style double Mongolian chops at the end of the fight helped to breath some life back into proceedings, but this was a boring fight.  The result could see Thiago on the bubble as far as his future with the company is concerned.

A promising performance from Jon Tuck and a relatively exciting scrap between Takanori Gomi and Mac Danzig weren’t enough to make this debut show in China a success from an entertainment point of view.  It’s worth keeping in mind that this was only the first step in what will be a long journey to break down political and cultural walls and cement UFC as a household brand in China.  Let’s just hope they are able to take a few leaps forward because if they run many more shows like this they will struggle to get even one leg over the Great Wall.

Round 3:

Shane Carwin injured – out of TUF Finale.

After the terrible year UFC have had with injuries in marquee fights, another big name withdrawal was almost inevitable.  Shane Carwin is the latest fighter to be struck by the 2012 injury curse.  The UFC must have hoped, after one of the most disappointing seasons of The Ultimate Fighter, that a big fight between Carwin and fellow Heavyweight coach Roy Nelson would have gone some way to reviving the flagging franchise.

No such luck, as a knee injury to Carwin has forced Carwin out of the fight scheduled for 15th December in Las Vegas.  Early reports are that Carwin could be out for some time.  UFC have announced Matt Mitrione will step up to face Nelson.  Ironically Nelson and Mitrione were competitors on the same season of TUF a few years ago.

This seems a fitting end to what has been a terribly disappointing season of TUF.  Fans, UFC management and anyone associated with the show must be counting the days until the Chael Sonnen vs. Jon Jones series kicks off.  If that doesn’t revive the show, nothing will.

Round 4:

Injuries keep coming – Gray Maynard out of UFC 155.

Within 45 minutes of Dana White tweeting that Carwin was down with injury, he broke the news that former Lightweight Title contender Gray Maynard had withdrawn from his end of year fight with Joe Lauzon.  After his loss to former champion Frankie Edgar, Maynard had been seeking a big win against the tough and talented Lauzon to get his name back in the title picture at 155 lbs.  He’s now back on the shelf and given the depth of talent in the 155 division, it could be some time before The Bully is back in Title contention.

Lauzon won’t miss UFC 155 as former top contender Jim Miller has stepped in to replace Maynard.  Miller was on course for a Title shot and with a seven fight winning streak, many thought it was a matter of when and not if Miller became Lightweight Champion.  Then came two maulings from Benson Henderson and Nate Diaz (who fight for the Title in December) and Miller found himself at the back of the pack.  A win against Lauzon will go some way to moving Miller up the rankings and back towards the Lightweight Title he has chased for years.

Round 5:

Overeem vs. Bigfoot Silva rumoured for Superbowl Weekend.

As fans of the UFC know Alistair Overeem is currently serving a suspension after failing a drugs test ahead of a scheduled heavyweight title fight with Junior dos Santos earlier in the year.  He is due to return in the New Year – with the UFC looking to add him to UFC 156 in Las Vegas at the start of February, the traditional Super Bowl weekend event.  His rumoured opponent for the show is Bigfoot Silva who just came off a knock out victory over Travis Browne.

I’m not a huge fan of Overeem and this fight doesn’t really scream ‘big time’ simply because everyone and their dog expected Overeem to fight the winner of the Heavyweight Title fight between Dos Santos vs. Caine Velasquez sometime next Spring.  Whether or not this fight comes to fruition is really down to the Nevada State Athletic Commission who have banned Overeem from applying for a fighters licence until 27th December.  Even then, given his history of drug test failures and non compliance with testing requests, there is no guarantee his licence will be granted.

My favourite thing about this proposed fight was Bigfoot’s response:

“Overeem is big and strong, but I know I can beat him. Even if he was created in the lab, I can beat him.”

I think Bigfoot might have just become one of my favourite fighters with one sentence.

Well there you have it folks.  This is one of the biggest weekend’s of the year for the UFC and I am more hyped for GSP vs. Condit than a kid on Christmas morning who just found a bike shaped present under the tree.  I’ll be back next week with a full review of the show and four more big stories from the world of MMA.

If you’re so inclined, you can follow me on Twitter which is @MFXDuckman. You can also hear me and my partner in crime Sir Ian Trumps every week on the Marks for Xcellence podcast, where we take an alternative look at the week in WWE and TNA. You can find all the details for the show on the Wrestling Rambles podcast page or over at http://www.mfxpodcast.com.

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