LAS VEGAS – The biggest question coming out of Georges St. Pierre's successful UFC welterweight title defense against Thiago Alves may be if St. Pierre has now become too good to keep public interest high in his upcoming title matches.
St. Pierre either tore his groin or his abductor muscle midway through the third round of Saturday night's match at the Mandalay Bay Events Center, and still dominated Alves for all but a few moments of the rest of the fight. He beat the person he still maintained after the fight was his toughest opponent, 50-45, 50-44, 50-45.
In doing so, St. Pierre (19-2) has not only beaten Josh Koscheck, Matt Hughes, Matt Serra, Jon Fitch, B.J. Penn and now Thiago Alves in succession, but ever since the middle round of the Koscheck fight, he has not even lost a round on any judges' scorecard.
By shutting out Alves (22-5), not only out-wrestling him but also out-striking a feared Muay Thai striker, St. Pierre strengthened his claim as arguably the best all-around fighter in the world in any weight division.
But in doing so, he's not only beaten virtually every significant contender, but done so in such a decisive fashion that it would be hard to get the public interested in a rematch with any of those fighters.
When Saturday's fight was over, neither St. Pierre nor UFC president Dana White could even volunteer a name of the next potential contender. Fitch, who has now won 17 of his past 18 matches, from a pure record standpoint, would be the likely best contender. But Fitch (23-3, one no contest) didn't look impressive in winning a workmanlike decision win over Paulo Thiago (11-1) on Saturday. When Fitch faced St. Pierre last August, the main point in his favor was that he survived five rounds in taking a brutal beating.
The crowd's response when announcer Joe Rogan suggested a potential match with middleweight champion Anderson Silva, showed that a GSP-Silva clash might be the biggest match the company could deliver among those actively on the roster.
But St. Pierre would be giving up significant size and striking ability in such a match. St. Pierre said it would be a challenge, but not one he could rush into.
"I don't know yet," he said. "I'll have to talk to my manager and the UFC. I'm not that big for a welterweight, either. I'm usually 185 pounds [the weight he is when not cutting]. Tonight, I'm 183, 184 pounds."
The size and length would be a huge obstacle. Silva is 6-foot-2, four inches taller than St. Pierre, with long legs and a long reach, and weighs at 215 pounds naturally when in top shape. Essentially, it's a huge middleweight against a slightly larger than average welterweight.
St. Pierre said he knew immediately he had hurt himself seriously in the match against Alves, as he'd suffered a similar injury in the past. At the post-event press conference, he said he was in tremendous pain and that was more on his mind than who he would face next.
"It's pretty bad," he said. "I'm in real bad pain. I realized it when I was on the bottom and I heard my groin and abductor snap."
St. Pierre joked that after the round he went back to his corner and told trainer Greg Jackson that he had torn his abductor muscle [on the side of his abdomen], and Jackson yelled back, "Well then go out there and hit him with it."
The champion felt that the injury kept him from being able to attack from the bottom, and he wasn't able to feint and quickly attack like usual. But it didn't seem to make much of a difference, as St. Pierre decked Alves in Round 3, the most one-sided round of the fight.
In Round 4, St. Pierre immediately exploded with a takedown, which happened early in every round, but did lose position when failing on a submission attempt. Alves did his only significant damage in the round, scoring with some punches and had a shot at winning the round. But St. Pierre took Alves down, got his back, and was working for a choke when the round ended.
"Thiago Alves was my toughest opponent so far," said St. Pierre. He's very young . This happened to me when I lost to Matt Hughes [when St. Pierre was 23 and lost in his first shot at the title]."
St. Pierre scored several more takedown to dominate the final round. It was not the most exciting fight on the show. But on a star-laden card, which will undoubtedly wind up as the biggest money show in the history of the sport when all the pay-per-view and closed-circuit figures come in, St. Pierre was the most popular fighter.
While his appeal is hardly limited to the nationalistic pride of Canadians, many made the pilgrimage from north of the border and flags were displayed all over the arena.
About the only welterweight big fight coming up to determine a title contender would be the Sept. 19 match in Dallas, where Mike Swick (14-2) faces Martin Kampmann (15-2). While both have good records, it would be a challenge to sell either as someone with more than a fluke chance of beating the champion.
The story of the fight was the same as the story of nearly every St. Pierre fight but once over the last several years. Despite having no competitive background in the sport of wrestling, he has become possibly the best in MMA at using wrestling.
Alves was able to thwart the wrestling of both Hughes and Koscheck. But St. Pierre took him down, almost at will. Where Alves was more impressive than any St. Pierre opponent of late, is that he was repeatedly able to get back to his feet. The problem is, that only led to St. Pierre taking him down again and again.
The conditioning, which figured to be St. Pierre's biggest edge, paid dividends later as St. Pierre was quicker with his hands and was able to avoid most of Alves' lunging punches, dominating the stand up, which figured early on to be the most dangerous part of the fight for the champion.
- Thiago Alves