The last time Georges St. Pierre stepped into the Octagon in January 2009, he stepped out 20 minutes later barely feeling like he’d finished a sparring session.
His opponent, BJ Penn, on the other hand, looked like he had fought off a grizzly bear.
Having been battered, bullied, and generally beaten for the majority of the night, it was painfully obvious by the time the fight was stopped that BJ Penn was no longer the same class of fighter as St. Pierre.
Conventional wisdom would have told you that BJ Penn should have given GSP a few things to worry about. First of all, for Penn, not having to make the 155-pound weight cut should have been a blessing.
For a man who has fought at a much heavier weight class in the past, Penn would have had the luxury to train and increase his weight and strength, without worrying about the physical demands of cutting too much weight during the final week before the fight.
In theory, it would have been nice to show up on fight night strong and fresh. We know now that it was GSP instead who looked fresh and ready, as he physically demonstrated greater speed, strength, stamina, and overall physical dominance over Penn.
Probably the only area that was more surprising than the physical inequity of the St. Pierre-Penn fight was that GSP was able to elevate his standup game to the level of Penn’s, whose prodigious abilities have been well-documented.
Furthermore, when the fight went to the ground, Penn was unable to hold dominant positions, and was absolutely smothered and controlled by a more physical opponent.
When St. Pierre steps into the Octagon on July 11, his opponent, Thiago Alves, could hardly be very different from Penn.
First of all, at welterweight, St. Pierre was essentially fighting an opponent who showed up looking virtually no different than he typically looks in his lightweight bouts.
To be honest, I’m not sure what Penn weighed in at officially, but whatever weight he gained during his move up to 170 pounds didn’t reveal itself as muscle.
It was beyond obvious that he didn't take the opportunity to physically develop his body to fully compete from a cardiovascular perspective, either, as he was exhausted by the end of the fight.
Thiago Alves, like St. Pierre, is a physical specimen—a true welterweight fighter. Alves is as powerful as they come, built like the Pitbull his nickname implies.
He fights much like one, also; he's rock solid with an aggressive standup game. Also, at 25 years of age, Alves might still be rough around the edges, but what he lacks in polish, he’ll make up for in raw athletic ability and drive.
This is a sharp contrast to Penn, who looked every bit his 30 years of age as he dragged himself through the bout.
Unlike against Penn, GSP will find closing the distance on Alves to be much more dangerous. Against Penn during UFC 94, GSP was able to do a marvelous job in mixing a variety of standup strikes and takedowns to frustrate and intimidate his opponent.
Although he didn’t land many huge strikes, nor produce many meaningful takedowns early on, his relentless attempts served to tire a smaller and weaker fighter like BJ Penn, thus diminishing his ability to strike and grapple as the fight wore on.
At UFC 100, when GSP tries to close in on Alves or attempt a takedown, he will find that Alves actually prefers the fight to happen up close in his wheelhouse.
Alves, like Wanderlei Silva (whom he idolizes), has incredibly dangerous Muay Thai.
Other than the barrage of punches that Alves throws with sledgehammer force, he also loves to close the gap with devastating knees.
GSP will, no doubt, want to get the fight to the ground and keep it there, where his stellar wrestling will allow him to control the fight indefinitely.
St. Pierre’s ability to get this fight to the ground while staying in one piece might end up being where this fight is won or lost.
Alves also features very good takedown defense. Although Alves isn’t regarded as a great wrestler the way GSP is, he possesses very strong hips which allow him to neutralize opponents who try to take him down or manipulate their position on the mat against Alves.
This, in addition to the fact that he is generally more powerful than St. Pierre, presents a real problem for the Canadian.
He’ll have to decide whether he is better taking his chances striking against the Muay Thai practitioner, or risking a takedown that can turn ugly against a fighter so volatile at close range.
Unlike in past fights, where St. Pierre was either bigger than his opponent (i.e., Serra, BJ Penn) or a better striker (i.e., Hughes, Fitch), at UFC 100 he’ll be facing a truly dangerous striker who will not be giving up anything in size or strength.
For St. Pierre, his title defense at UFC 100 will be not be anything like fending off an old rival who was woefully underprepared and ultimately uninspired.
Penn's bid to be the first to hold two belts was a nice publicity move, complete with television series (cut short apparently by a disgruntled Penn during filming) but it ultimately lacked no real substance.
This time, the challenger is a young fighter who represents the pinnacle of athletic prowess in the welterweight division today. Alves has a chip on his shoulder, and he wants a belt for his waist.
Come July 11, in St. Pierre's own words, it will be his job to "fight for his legacy" and defend his title.