Carlos Condit trudged out of the Bell Centre in Montreal last November without the UFC welterweight belt in tow. He'd come oh-so-close to a dramatic knockout victory against the seemingly unbeatable Georges St-Pierre only to lose by unanimous decision.
He left without the belt, but rest assured that Condit did not leave a loser. Few fighters have ever gained more from a defeat than Condit did after losing to St-Pierre at UFC 154.
On Saturday in the co-main event of UFC 158 in the very same venue, Condit will return for a fight against Johny Hendricks that could have been, under slightly different circumstances, the first defense of his welterweight title.
Condit kicked St-Pierre in the head in the third round and seemed on the verge of a dramatic win. He went for the finish with the ferocity of a man who knew how close he was to fulfilling a long-time dream and capturing the UFC title.
St-Pierre, though, showed a toughness and a resilience that many weren't sure he had. Condit knew even as he went to finish St-Pierre that the champion wouldn't surrender meekly.
And, of course, he didn't.
"Georges showed how badly he wanted it, he really did," Condit said. "You have to give him a lot of credit. As soon as he hit the ground and I jumped on top of him [looking for the finish], he was trying to recover and find the best way to get up and stay in the fight. That says a lot about him."
The way Condit handled everything says a lot about him, too. He was exemplary in the buildup, doing every interview, always handling himself professionally and with class.
It was the same way in his previous fight, when he won the interim title by defeating Nick Diaz at UFC 143 via a hotly disputed decision.
Condit was derided by Diaz and his supporters for "running" and not being willing to fight, but Condit took the high road.
He dealt with the near-miss against St-Pierre in the same classy fashion. He fulfilled his post-fight responsibilities and never once complained or did anything to take away from St-Pierre's victory.
It hurt – badly – to lose a fight he believed he could have won. And he admits his mind has wandered back to that moment more than once.
"Whenever you work so hard and so long for something, sure, it's tough to take when you come up short," Condit said. "But I wouldn't say there have been sleepless nights or anything. I don't dwell on it. I know I came close, but coming close is not good enough."
Condit, though, significantly strengthened his brand, both by the valiant manner in which he fought against one of the UFC's elite fighters, but also by the manner in which he carried himself.
But Condit can also take solace in the fact that he's not going to have to wait much longer for another title shot if he defeats Hendricks, particularly if St-Pierre also beats Diaz in Saturday's main event.
At that point, Condit would have wins over Hendricks, Diaz, Dong-Hyun Kim, Dan Hardy, Rory MacDonald and Jake Ellenberger in his last six fights other than the one with St-Pierre.
There is no welterweight alive with that kind of résumé and it would be hard for UFC president Dana White and CEO Lorenzo Fertitta to deny him another shot at the title.
"Johny Hendricks deserves to be the No. 1 contender right now the way he's been knocking guys out," Condit manager Malki Kawa said. "If Carlos beats Hendricks, after everything else he's done, I'm going to push for that title shot again, for sure."
Condit thought he'd be fighting MacDonald on Saturday, but the fast-rising prospect was injured in camp and had to pull out. That led to a shuffling of the card and put Condit and Hendricks opposite each other.
Condit accepted the revised fight with no qualms, even though it meant switching to a slightly different style fighter in mid-stream.
Typical of Condit, though, he agreed without complaint to the switch and went about doing what he needed to do.
"Johny is less technical maybe than [MacDonald] but he's extremely dangerous with his power," Condit said. "Rory has less power, but a more polished style and more tools in his arsenal. There's a slightly different approach to fighting either guy, but it's hard for me to say which of them is more dangerous. Honestly, look at what they've done: They're equally dangerous.
"There is some change, but it's not a whole lot. Rory has really good wrestling. He trains with GSP and in his recent fights, his takedowns and his ground-and-pound has been impressive. Johny Hendricks, lately, relies more on his stand-up and his KO power. There are some specific game-play differences between the two, but overall, I don't think it's that big of a deal."
Condit then chuckled. And the next words out of his mouth show the true measure of the man.
"If I'm going to look at myself as a potential champion, these are the guys I'd have to fight anyway," he said. "At one point or another, I knew I would see Johny. I knew I would see Rory again. That's the way it is in the UFC and you have to be willing to accept the fact that you're going to be fighting the best guys available each time out."
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