The queue to challenge UFC welterweight champion Georges ‘Rush’ St-Pierre isn’t so much of an organised line as it is a communal gathering. There is little order, no hierarchy, and only a few dwellers are forthcoming. Aside from a brave few, nobody seems to be in any ‘Rush’ to fight one of the most dominant champions in mixed martial arts today.
Rest assured, though, there are challengers and tests in the pipeline for St-Pierre. Only, unlike other champions’ pool of contenders, St-Pierre’s resembles more of a wasteland than a dish of fresh meat. In amongst a couple of brash newcomers from Britain are the resurrected zombies of previous conquests.
For a champion less disciplined and determined than St-Pierre, his selection of welterweight challengers could be problematic. Having beaten most of the leading welterweights in the world already, it would be easy for St-Pierre to rest on his laurels, fight once a year and fluctuate between weight divisions in pursuit of predicament.
As it is, St-Pierre couldn’t be happier at the summit of the competitive 170-pound weight class. While the Montreal mauler would appear to be a level or two above the rest of the swarming sharks, St-Pierre isn’t worried about future tests.
“I see every opponent as a threat,” St-Pierre told me at UFC 105 in Manchester. “It’s like mathematics – there are lots of different sums and equations for me to solve.
“Although people say I’ve cleared out the welterweight division, this sport is always evolving and there will always be different challenges. There are no two fighters the same in mixed martial arts, and each fighter represents a different style and danger.
“There are still many different threats I’ve yet to conquer in the welterweight division. I treat every single challenge as the toughest test of my career and I won’t stop until I’ve beaten every single fighter out there.”
At merely 28 years of age, St-Pierre has already come close to completing his mission. Etched on the ‘GSP’ ledger are the noteworthy names of BJ Penn, Matt Hughes, Jon Fitch, Thiago Alves, Josh Koscheck, Matt Serra and Sean Sherk. His two pro defeats – to Hughes and Serra – were both avenged in devastating fashion and he’s been near perfect for six fights on the bounce.
In recent times, St-Pierre has appeared almost unstoppable. Seemingly now aware of his weaknesses, St-Pierre keeps fights geared towards his strengths, and when your strengths are as plentiful as GSP’s, there are very few welterweights with a prayer. His recent clinics of Alves, Penn and Fitch were ominous in both their simplicity and one-sided nature. St-Pierre crushed all three and, in the case of Alves and Fitch, made hazardous number one contenders look like green rookies on the cusp of breaking the top 20.
This, in a nutshell, is the conundrum facing St-Pierre in 2010. A great problem to have, of course – St-Pierre is cleaning out his division and may soon run out of viable threats to his crown. If he can shut down the challenges of Alves and Fitch as though he’s piecing together a child’s Lego kit, what is he going to do to the rest of the 170-pound division?
*** Here are four welterweights - somewhere at the top of the pile - blessed with differing talents and tools to take to St-Pierre’s lair ***
Merit: As worthy as any welterweight in the world, Hardy is 4-0 in his UFC career and has been competing professionally since 2004. Upon moving to the UFC in October 2008, Hardy has racked up wins over Mike Swick, Marcus Davis, Rory Markham and Akihiro Gono. The Nottingham man has yet to suffer defeat inside the Octagon and appears to be going from strength to strength.
Dangers: Like Fitch and Alves before him, Hardy enters a mooted bout with St-Pierre armed with all the confidence in the world. He’s on a hot-streak of four straight wins and would seem to be getting better with each fight. He’s bang in his prime at 27 years of age and seems to have a knack of riling opponents and getting under their skin.
Stylistically, Hardy is a threat on his feet, especially with his kicks and his left-hook. He picks his counter punches very well and is technically sound. His accuracy is also impressive when standing.
While Hardy may only boast four fights in the UFC, he possesses a wealth of experience in mixed martial arts and has competed in 30-bouts in total. This isn’t just some new kid on the block that has talked his way to a title shot.
GSP History: None. Hardy is yet to fight St-Pierre and only shared Octagon space with the French-Canadian superstar when The Champ interrupted his post-Swick interview at UFC 105.
Hardy is a fresh face in the division. He’s exciting, brash, articulate and takes on all-comers. Originally set to face Dong Hyun-Kim at UFC 105, Hardy effortlessly switched his attentions to Swick following the Korean’s withdrawal. Hardy has taken chances with his tongue and his fight path. So far he’s yet to put a foot wrong.
Next: Georges St-Pierre in 2010. Following his quality win over Swick in Manchester, Hardy will now challenge St-Pierre for his UFC welterweight title.
Merit: The nature of his chilling one-round dismissal of Martin Kampmann makes Daley worthy of a title stab in 2010. Lest we forget, Kampmann was originally set to meet Mike Swick in a title elimination affair before ‘Quick’ got concussed in training and had to withdraw.
Putting his money where his mouth was, Daley stepped up to the plate and obliterated Kampmann in style.
Dangers: Blessed with enough power in either fist to switch off the lights of the entire welterweight division, Daley is a permanent danger when standing. He hooks harder than any other welterweight out there and his Thai-boxing background provides him with the confidence to throw hands with anyone. While some fighters punch because they’re told to – Daley punches because he knows how to and is used to knocking people out.
Like Hardy, ‘Semtex’ is a seasoned fighter who only decided to join the UFC when the time was right. Having travelled the world and mastered the arts the hard way, Daley is now at the peak of his fighting powers. While he may only be 1-0 in the UFC, Daley has a glut of fighting experience behind him and is experienced beyond his 26 years.
GSP History: None. Also like Hardy, this fellow Nottingham striker is relatively fresh meat in the 170-pound division.
Looking ahead, Daley may be only one or two further UFC wins away from meeting St-Pierre. While it would appear obvious Daley will struggle with St-Pierre’s fusillade of takedowns and ground control, it’s also worth mentioning that Daley clearly bangs hard enough to keep GSP cautious.
Unlike Alves – a similarly explosive striker – Daley is able to knock fighters clean out with his punches. He’ll take confidence from the way Matt Serra upset St-Pierre with his fists. Though Daley may appear to simply do what it says on the tin, he’s a genuine puncher with genuine power. Not many other welterweights – if any at all – can say the same thing.
Next: An intriguing clash with Carlos Condit at UFC 108 in January. Should Daley cut through Condit and then perhaps add another scalp in 2010, we could see the Nottingham man competing for the belt this time next year.
Merit: Given the nature of his last two performances, Koscheck’s name deserves to be right up there in the pecking order. He dusted off Frank Trigg in September and then submitted hot prospect Anthony Johnson on Saturday night at UFC 106. Koscheck’s have gloves, will travel attitude is refreshing. He never turns down a fight, is always ready to replace an injured fighter and never fails to entertain.
Recent defeats to Thiago Alves – albeit on late notice - and Paulo Thiago should keep his immediate title shot aspirations in check, though.
Dangers: Koscheck’s bread and butter is undoubtedly his wrestling. In fact, he probably boasts the best wrestling of any welterweight not called Georges St-Pierre. Herein lies the problem for Koscheck. While his wrestling and athleticism give him a great chance against any 170-pounder, common logic would suggest that GSP is simply a better version of ‘Kos’.
Koscheck is the complete mixed martial artist, in terms of his ability to dictate a fight standing and on the ground. His athleticism keeps him adaptable and a threat in all situations. The thing is, you could say exactly the same of St-Pierre.
GSP History: St-Pierre handed Koscheck a decision loss in August 2007. The fight was one-sided for the most part and St-Pierre demonstrated his superiority when standing and when wrestling. It was a humbling experience for Koscheck, and one he insists he’s learned from.
Since that night, an improved Koscheck has defeated Dustin Hazelett, Chris Lytle, Yoshiyuki Yoshida and the aforementioned Trigg and Johnson.
Next: A rest. Koscheck has finished both Trigg and Johnson within eight weeks of each other. It’s this willingness to fight and stay active that could see Koscheck get his return with St-Pierre in 2010. ‘Kos’ is always ready and always willing to fight the best.
Merit: With only two wins on the other side of a 2008 St-Pierre loss, Fitch won’t be pushing too hard for a return just now. Nevertheless, Fitch does boast as good a set of credentials as any other welterweight in the UFC. He boasts pre-GSP wins over Thiago Alves, Diego Sanchez, Josh Burkman and Roan Carneiro, and has recently defeated Paulo Thiago and Akihiro Gono. Thiago, of course, was the man responsible for knocking Koscheck out in February of this year.
Dangers: A true mixed martial artist, Fitch is efficient in all areas of the sport. St-Pierre famously labelled him the toughest test of his career and it was for that reason. Fitch carries a black belt in Brazilian jiu-jitsu and is every bit as strong on his feet as he is on the ground. Blessed with a unique ability to control his opponent and make them fight his fight, Fitch is the type of guy who will defeat everybody but the champion. He’s the Rich Franklin or Dan Henderson of the 170-pound division. Not necessarily a bad thing.
GSP History: Fitch received a mostly one-sided beating from St-Pierre in August 2008. The teak tough American somehow made it through all five rounds, despite taking countless shots from St-Pierre for 25 painful minutes. It was a sign of Fitch’s toughness and determination that he managed to last the course.
On a positive note, Fitch now knows what’s in store when the GSP equation comes up. On a run of 16 straight wins at the time, Fitch suffered defeat and has now moved on to improve. It’s easy to think you’re the best when you’re unbeaten in the UFC. Sometimes a loss acts as the realisation of just how good you need to be.
Next: The Indiana-native faces Mike Pierce on December 12 at UFC 107. Though a win over Pierce may not be his ticket to a title shot, one gets the feeling Fitch is about to embark on another one of those long and windy unbeaten runs. If that is indeed the case, who can write off a return with St-Pierre somewhere down the road? Take GSP out the equation and Fitch may still be the best of the rest.