Welterweight Title bout (St-Pierre vs. Condit):
St-Pierre vs Condit is one of the most long-awaited fights of 2012, with Welterweight Champion Georges St-Pierre returning from ACL surgery, which has kept him out of action over 18 months, raising serious concerns about his longevity on top the 170 pound division.
The jury is still out whether the Canadian Superstar will be the same fighter post knee surgery, which would have ended careers 10 years. GSP relies so much on his punishing takedown, which can only be affected adversely by this kind of injury. The 31-year-old may have to return to his root of striking, thou Interim Champion Carlos Condit has a reach and height advantage, and is arguably the best Muay Thai practitioner in the 170 pound division.
Condit did show vulnerability on the ground in his last fight when Nick Diaz took him down in the fifth round, almost sinking in a submission. Having seen some of GSP's preparations for the fight, he definitely looks a yard slower and we may well be seeing a changing of the guard if Condit can force the pace early.
Another consideration is the venue, with GSP fighting in his beloved home town of Montreal. For many fighters, competing at home is a disadvantage. The local fighter will always have more duties with the press, with the added pressure of having to compete in front of their families and friends. No fighter wants to get knocked out in front of their parents, creating hesitation from the outset.
Another uncertainty is GSP's fighting style post surgery. Many have jokingly referred to him as the 'sleeping pill' of MMA, putting on some all-time boring five round title fights in recent years, dominated by the GSP takedown and resultant ground and pound. Arguably, the most entertaining fight was GSP getting knocked out by Matt Serra way back in 2007, since then it's been a snooze fest and win at all cost.
On the other-hand, Carlos Condit has been champing at the bit for nine months since despatching of fan favourite Nick Diaz in a controversial five round decision win, which saw Condit hitting and running en-route to the decision win. For a fighter fight a 92% finishing rate, the only way one can see him wining is by stoppage, as GSP has never lost by decision and is without doubt the greatest point-fighting champion in UFC history.
Prediction (Carlos Condit by knock-out in the fourth round): betting against GSP is rather like betting against Manchester United, it gives you an uneasy feeling which usually results in your wallet being lighter. However, for the first time in his career, GSP is not the runaway favourite, while Condit is at the pinnacle of his athletic potential at 28 years-old.
Martin Kampmann vs Johny Hendricks (Number one contender bout, Welterweight)
The Co-main event of Kampmann vs Hendricks will decide who meets the winner of the aforementioned title bout. Kampmann has been on tear lately, despatching the much fancied Jake Ellenberger, Thiago Alves and Rick Story to put the likeable Dane in line for title contention. Having said that, in pretty much every one of those bouts he's comeback from a heavy punch to win the fight. It shows great heart, but sooner or later his luck is going to run out against the heavy handed Hendricks.
Hendricks has been on an equally impressive run, including wins over perennial top-five welters Josh Koscheck and Jon Fitch. He will have a distinct wrestling advantage on the ground, and edges the striking power stakes, thou Kampmann (Danish Kickboxing Champion) is more technically sound with crisp Thai-Boxing and lethal knees.
Both men are as tough as nails, and picking a winner here is harder than the GSP fight. Prediction: Johnny Hendricks by knock-out, second round.
Predictions for the remainder of the main card:
Middleweight: Francis Carmont vs Tom Lawlor (Carmont via Sub, second round)
Middleweight: Nick Ring vs Costa Philippou (Philippou via TKO, third round)
Featherweight Mark Hominick vs Pablo Garza (Hominick via split-decision)