There will be mass hysteria at Bell Centre this Saturday night. A curiosity beckons: How many of the frenzied thousands do you think will be pulling for Carlos Condit?
A rough estimate: A tiny decimal of the crowd will be cheering for Condit. If 20,000-plus pack the arena in GSP’s hometown, maybe 50 will be Condit aficionados. Tops.
It’s no surprise that GSP, a dominant champion armed with an exceptional and endearing humility, has millions of fans. One of them, I discovered recently, is Dominick Cruz (19-1).
Under normal circumstances, the Arizona-born Cruz might be neutral or pulling for the American (Condit) in the title scrap. But tearing the Anterior Cruciate Ligament in his knee – as GSP did – struck a deep chord of empathy in the bantamweight world champion. Still unable to spar, and still enduring grueling bouts of rehabilitation on a daily basis, a big part of Cruz will be living vicariously through GSP this weekend. Watching intently back in San Diego, Cruz’ heart and emotions will be fully invested in the main event and its outcome.
“I’m somewhat nervous about it, as weird as that is,” the 27-year-old said. “I use other athletes as motivation for me. I look at what (NFL player) Adrian Peterson of the Minnesota Vikings has done … he’s back to full form and looks awesome … and it makes me think, ‘If he can do it I can do it.’ You got GSP – depending on how that fight goes, my mind will adapt. If he wins, I say to myself, ‘If he can do it I can do it.’
“If he loses, I’ll tell myself, ‘He couldn’t do it, but I will.’”
Cruz raves about how All-Pro Peterson has recovered as quickly as any prominent athlete ever has from the devastating knee injury.
“He was back within under nine months,” Cruz said. “He was back running sprints uphill at four months.”
While inspired by Peterson, Cruz also believes MMA and football place different stresses on the knee.
“Our sport is, in my opinion, much more lethal on the knee,” Cruz said, surmising more preparation and time is necessary for a return to the cage than to the football field.
GSP(22-2) hasn’t fought live in 19 months, raising obvious questions about “ring rust” and whether the best GSP ever can be expected to show up (and some believe anything less than the best GSP will be dethroned Saturday by his most dangerous opponent ever). Condit is a gentleman outside of the cage, but a cold-blooded mercenary inside of that unforgiving space. It will likely be the first time in over a year that GSP has someone kicking at his legs with everything they’ve got. How GSP copes with those leg kicks could be a huge X-factor in this bout. As well as anyone, Cruz knows the psychological battles GSP has had with himself.
“The biggest problem with the ACL tear is the mental aspect of it,” Cruz said. “You now have to teach your body to have trust in a knee that you’ve been babying for, in his case, 11 months. So now you have to put that out of your mind and not think about it, not worry about it. That’s the hardest part of the whole situation: Having faith in that knee.”
Which GSP shows up Saturday night? The athlete extraordinaire who hasn’t lost in five and a half years and typically wins by a landslide? Or a less confident fighter that no one recognizes?
“We won’t know until fight day,” Cruz replied. “We just won’t. He’ll either look like himself or he won’t. This is the worst thing I’ve ever been through in my entire life. It’s horrible … But I do think that GSP has proven to be one of the most mentally strong people there is, so if anybody can do it, it’s him. I wish him the best and I cross my fingers for him because we share the same injury and I wouldn’t wish it on my worst enemy.”
Torn ACL Unites GSP, Dominick Cruz
"The biggest problem with the ACL tear is the mental aspect of it. You now have to teach your body to have trust in a knee that you’ve been babying for, in his case, 11 months." - Dominick Cruz