In a few short hours, a North American record 23,000 fans will pack the Bell Centre in Montreal, Canada. And if I can make a bold prediction, just about every single one of those 23,000 Molson drinking, Poutine smashing, red and white mother Canuckers is there because of three simple words: G. S. P.
Outside of welterweight champ George St. Pierre's big homecoming in Montreal, and the months of reality TV fuelled drama that has fuelled its hype, fans don't seem to be talking about the rest of this card. As far as "questions" hovering over tonight, most fans have only one - how fast will GSP kick Josh Koscheck's ass?
That's a shame really, because this card poses some intriguing questions for the future - questions with big implications for rankings, title pictures, and the career prospects for many of the night’s fighters.
Here are the 5 biggest questions heading into St. Pierre vs. Koscheck 2. And don't worry ladies, I’ll include GSP among them for the same reason Affliction made a 12-month GSP calendar - so you'll care. Actually, the fighting pride of Montreal has a lot on the line tonight, as do many of the fighters set to take to the cage before him.
Let's break it down, shall we?
1) Is GSP Headed for Another Decision?
Because I don't feel like insulting your intelligence, I'm going to skip over the usual "who will win the belt?" and "Can [insert challenger here] shock the world" brand of generic question. Every UFC main event featuring a favourite and an underdog (i.e. every UFC ever) has had these same questions. Boooring!
Instead, let's just assume GSP retains his belt tonight (far from a certain proposition) and ponder the next question: if he wins it in another slow, mostly wrestling filled Decision, is that really a victory for the champ?
The grumblings about GSP's play-it-safe style started around UFC 100, when the injured champ controlled Thiago Alves to a safe decision. They exploded this past March, as GSP spent 25 minutes kimura hunting against a comically overmatched Dan Hardy, while a packed house in New Jersey wondered why he didn't just finish the damn fight with, I dunno, strikes perhaps?
For my part, I don't give a damn how Mr. St. Pierre wins his fights. I'd gladly watch the full 25 minutes of the GSP vs. Fitch title fight/in-cage molestation over a "thrilling KO" like Mir/Cro Cop. Making world class competition look foolish is in itself hugely impressive. But it has to be said that if GSP phones another one in like he did against Hardy, he's going to have to face the music from the TapouT wearing, Spike TV watching "just bleed!" crowd he just spent 25 minutes putting to sleep.
2) Is Thiago Alves still a Top 10 Welterweight?
Outside of the main event, most of the drama for this event has centred around the biggest fight of Thiago's career - Alves vs. The 170 lbs weight limit.
Once one of the most feared welterweights on the planet, Thiago Alves has gone from "the man to dethrone GSP" (how many fighters have held that lofty title I wonder?) to worrying about his place in the welterweight division, all in a years time.
Losing two lopsided fights back to back hurt his stock. Failing to make weight twice dented his image even further, and even led UFC brass to openly question his future at 170 lbs. Throw in a lengthy layoff due to injury, and there are serious questions about "The Pitbull's" future as an elite level welterweight.
The good news for Alves is that the hardest part may be over. He made weight yesterday reportedly without incident, and didn't resemble Skelator while doing it. Now he gets a chance to rebuild his mystique against John Howard, a powerful but unheralded welterweight slugger who is a perfect style matchup for Alves. This fight is a clear "moment" for Thiago to start his climb back to the top - whether or not he does that is up to him.
3) Is an "Ultimate Fighter" Season Winner Getting Cut Tonight?
At a glance, there's not a lot riding on the Joe Stevenson/Mac Danzig fight as far as title implications go. Both men are decidedly "middle of the pack", stumbling after recent disappointments, and well away from any title shots. And yet, all that right there is exactly why this fight is so important.
Once again, the UFC's reality TV juggernaut "The Ultimate Fighter" rears its ugly head, adding a whole weight of implications to what is otherwise a fun piece of fluff in the lightweight division. Both men are past winners of there respective seasons of "TUF", and both men have benefitted tremendously from the promotional push associated with being a TUF winner - well beyond their in-cage accomplishments, some might say.
Now both men have their backs against the wall. A win launches them back into title relevancy. A loss, and it could be the end of the line. This is an unfortunately common situation in today’s UFC, but its rare for the highly coveted TUF winner to face a "loser leaves town" match. Outside of Efrain Escudaro and "The Michael Jordan of BJJ", TUF winners are granted near infinite latitude. A loss here would almost certainly spell the end of the line for one of the two Spike TV darlings.
Bonus Fourth Question!: Does Anyone Care About Struve/McCorkle?
OK, I do, but I love MMA to a ridiculous degree. A matchup has to work REALLY hard not to intrigue me, just as the fight itself has to work REALLY hard to not entertain me. But I'm the exception. For most of the casual fan base upon which the successes of MMA and the UFC hinges, this fight is an unknown quantity.
Neither man has a shred of recognition outside hardcore fans. Neither man is even in smelling distance of the top 10 rankings. Neither man, in bald honesty, has done a thing to warrant co-main event status. That's no slight to either man, just an acknowledgement of the cold hard truth. Dana White must be hoping on a big turnout of forum warriors for McCorkle, or that Struve puts himself through his usual meat grinder.
As far as most in the crowd that night are concerned, this might as well be a Toughman competition. The marquee for this fight even reads "Go take a leak before the GSP fight". It’s that bad.