By Matt Larkin
UFC 137 just won’t be the same. The headliner, welterweight champion Georges St-Pierre, sprained his knee while training this week and is out of commission for at least a month and probably longer. The main event has been postponed.
But note that I didn’t used the term “cancelled.” Top 170-pound contender, Carlos Condit, will await GSP’s recovery and still challenge him for the belt. Wrestling master Josh Koscheck offered to step in and battle Condit on short notice but Condit declined, stating that he “had nothing to gain” from fighting someone below him on the ladder.
At first glance, the logic seems sound. After all, if Condit only has one guy ahead of him in the divisional rankings, fighting – and losing – to anyone below him can only hurt his career. But I wonder if good things always come to those who wait. Waiting for a shot guarantees that you still get to battle for the belt but it also means you sit on the shelf for a long period of time and can become rusty and/or lose your hunger. Worse yet, a long layoff could hinder your body’s ability to respond under extreme stress. Just ask Rashad Evans.
“Suga” earned a No. 1 contender match against Muay Thai specialist Mauricio “Shogun” Rua in 2010 but decided to wait a full year for his title shot after Shogun blew out his knee. After not fighting for a year, Evans’ rusty body failed him leading up to the winter 2011 fight. He injured himself and lost the title shot; Jon Jones got it instead.
Evans finally returned to the cage after more than a year off to beat Tito Ortiz this summer but he injured himself again, losing another title shot (this time against Jon Jones). I have to wonder: if Evans hadn’t waited for Shogun and instead had maintained his normal fighting schedule, would he have gotten hurt as easily? He waited a year for a title shot and that wait has grown to two years and counting.
If GSP’s layoff turns out to be long and Condit waits many months for the fight, he could suffer from ring rust or increase his risk of injury, as Evans may have done.
Someone in Condit’s position might point to lightweight Melvin Guillard. “The Young Assassin” reportedly had a chance to wait for the winner of Frankie Edgar and Gray Maynard, decided to keep fighting and stay fresh, and lost to Joe Lauzon. Bye-bye title shot.
To me, however, that loss just showed that Guillard wasn’t a true No. 1 challenger. If you really think you’re the second-best in your weight class, shouldn’t you have no problem beating anyone below you? If Condit were to, say, risk his title shot to battle someone like Jon Fitch while GSP recovered, the risk would be huge, but the gain would be a lot bigger than he might believe. Beating Fitch would greatly increase Condit’s confidence, put a scare in the champ and keep Condit’s skills sharper heading into a GSP fight.
It’s hard to really blame any contender who wants to wait out a champ – after all, who knows when he or she might get another shot? – but the decision is more complicated than it may seem.