At UFC 158, Georges St-Pierre retained his welterweight title by dominating trash-talking challenger Nick Diaz. The performance was impressive in the sense that GSP completely and utterly shut down his foe, cruising to a one-sided victory, but underwhelming in the sense that he did relatively little damage to Diaz.
It's hardly uncommon for GSP to be hit with a rash of criticism following a dominant performance, but this time it was fellow fighter, Bellator welterweight champion Ben Askren, leading the charge.
Shortly after St-Pierre defended his UFC strap, Askren Tweeted:
After tonight I am 100% sure I could beat GSP@dukeroufus
The claim sparks an interesting question: could Askren indeed defeat the UFC star, or his he simply running his mouth, secure in the knowledge the fight is unlikely to happen?
We can only speculate about what motivated Askren's address, and, at least for the foreseeable future, we can only hypothesize about how that match might play out. But hey, hypothesizing is better than nothing, right?
So here we will do just that, pitting St-Pierre and Askren in a theoretical matchup against one another. We will examine who would have the edge in the striking, wrestling and submission realms of MMA, and use the assessments to project a winner.
Askren has never been one to pretend he's a great striker, preferring to go for broke on the takedown from the opening bell onward than to attempt to do damage standing.
Probably the most flattering statement one could make about his standup game is that to date he has always survived long enough to score a takedown before being knocked unconscious.
St-Pierre is often criticized for employing a conservative, jab-heavy striking approach, but he is rarely criticized for his level of ability, which is undeniably high. The UFC champ is adept at avoiding incoming strikes and is able to keep opponents off balance, using his strikes to set up takedowns.
Earlier in his career, St-Pierre was more aggressive on the feet, so we know he is capable of adding some flash to what is a very sound strategic approach. But whether or not he's gunning for the knockout, GSP is a more than capable standup mixed martial artist.
And a big one at that. St-Pierre doesn't open up too often on the feet, but that doesn't mean he's not a terrific striker.
With the type of advantage he would own over the Bellator champ, he may even be willing to sacrifice some defense for increased offense, and add a little pizazz to an otherwise dull, but efficient game plan.
Few men who have delved in mixed martial arts can claim even a portion of Askren's wrestling credentials. He is a two-time NCAA National Champion, and represented the United States as an Olympian in 2008.
Still, there is more to Askren's wrestling than accolades—he's transitioned to MMA seamlessly, becoming one of the sport's most efficient takedown artists.
St-Pierre has none of the wrestling credentials Askren has, but he has established himself as one of the best wrestlers in MMA right alongside "Funky." In fact, some will argue that he is the best wrestler-for-MMA on the planet.
And remember, if St-Pierre outperformed Askren in the wrestling department of this matchup, it wouldn't be the first time he has bested a NCAA National Champion at his own game. Just ask Josh Koscheck.
Edge: Askren (slight)
I emphasize slight, because St-Pierre has laid waste to wrestlers of incredible pedigree before, and has been consistently tested by fighters far superior to those that Askren is fed in Bellator.
Still, Askren is world-class at his craft. And while that label is comically overused, it applies truly to the Bellator champ.
Perhaps the same could be said about St-Pierre, at least in a mixed martial arts sense, but all in all, I've got to give the nod to the American.
Askren's smothering wrestling attack hasn't yielded a ton of stoppages, and that's really been the one criticism aimed at him during his career. Something GSP himself knows a thing or two about.
He is a solid grappler, though, especially when it comes to controlling his opponent, something evidenced by his uncanny ability to pin opponents as a wrestler, as well as his success in grappling tournaments.
As he is on the feet, St-Pierre is all about control when the action hits the mat. He totally neutralizes his opponent's submission attacks, and he is capable of sinking in his own, even if he hasn't looked it for a few years.
In a sense, his grappling is similar to Askren's.
Perhaps it's a mark of inexperience, but Askren has allowed completely overmatched foes to reverse position or buck him off from time to time. His incredible wrestling has always masked those mistakes, but it's not something he could get away with vs. GSP.
And before you point to Nick Diaz standing up several times against St-Pierre, remember that Diaz is a top contending welterweight and a wizard on the floor, which is something Askren has never had to deal with.
I'd be surprised if either guy landed a submission in this pairing, but I see GSP making the most out of scrambles and transitions, if for no other reason than his experience advantage.
Askren wouldn't fare particularly well in a boxing match with St-Pierre, so the question is whether his wrestling is so great that he could get GSP down and keep him down.
It's unlikely he could beat up or submit the Canadian even if he could control him, which means Askren's path to victory is singular—he'd need to win a decision.
It's atypical to say about a St-Pierre fight, but wrestling is where the trouble lies for him. He is undoubtedly the more complete, more experienced combatant, and has more ways to win the match, but Askren's clinch is extraordinary.
St-Pierre would have to wear out his left hand, pumping the jab and circling away to keep Askren off-balance and unable to move in for a shot or a clinch.
The success he could find in this tactic may very well dictate the outcome of the match.
Projected Result: St-Pierre def. Askren via TKO
Feel free to make a joke about me predicting a GSP finish in the comments section, but I think he could destroy Askren on the feet. Just destroy him. Even using his jab almost exclusively.
Of course, Askren could neutralize the jab by taking St-Pierre down, but as good as GSP's takedown defense is, that would be easier said than done.
Both guys are very talented, but in the end, Askren's underdeveloped striking would be exposed for the first time. He has never competed in MMA against a wrestler of St-Pierre's caliber, nor one who could slice and dice him on the feet, at that.
St-Pierre's wealth of experience against high-level wrestlers and top welterweight contenders would combine with his innate ability and sound strategic approach to hand the Bellator welterweight kingpin his first professional defeat.