Days away from the most anticipated fight card of the year, UFC 129 will display the promotion’s best young and household names on its roster this Saturday night.
Two title fights—not since last April at UFC 112 have two belts been on the line on the same card—55,000 seats surrounding the octagon, Canada, Jose Aldo and Georges St-Pierre, loads of prelims on Facebook and Spike TV...all starting an hour earlier too.
My goosebumps have goosebumps.
Now moving on from the obvious, between the two challengers, who is really the biggest underdog going into Saturday?
Georges St-Pierre, the welterweight demigod, has orchestrated an amazing run, thus far, as the divisional king of the mountain—arguably a top-three pound-for-pound competitor in all of MMA. The 29-year-old French Canadian has avoided defeat since April 2007, compiling an eight-fight win streak while successfully defending his title five consecutive times.
As a result, the man fans call GSP—the deadliest acronym in the fight game—has undoubtedly become the face of the sport, easily the second largest draw in the UFC and one of the most fruitful and marketable fighters in mixed martial arts.
Furthermore, in the octagon St-Pierre has been near perfect, not losing a round since he got stopped by Matt Serra back at UFC 69. Most fans believe the 170-lb. division is in deficit when it comes to contenders that can give GSP a run for his money—even though the champ loves to praise his opponents as “the most dangerous guy I have ever fought in my career.”
Needless to say, the idea of St-Pierre getting challenged in a title fight, let along losing, is one that escapes most spectators’ realm of belief. The guy is hard to beat; it’s usually hard not to be “impressed by his performance.”
With that said, No. 1 contender and former titleholder Jake Shields is no joke on paper. Despite being a huge underdog in Vegas and in the hearts of many fans, given the right opportunity at the right moment, Shields will find a way to win. Coming into this match, the California native is riding high on a 15-fight win streak, defeating top names—Jason Miller, Paul Daley and Dan Henderson—and claiming two belts in two different weight classes in two different promotions.
All accolades aside, Shields' path to victory is an exclusive one-way street. The greatest upset of the year will not happen on the feet; Shields will have to learn to crack the Da Vinci Code to warm up and then find out how to get GSP on the ground, where he can utilize his extraordinary asset—his Jiu-Jitsu.
One-dimensional or not, the dominant submission artist has made Jiu-Jitsu work, tapping out 11 of his foes throughout his 12-year career. Shields’ ground game is on another level, even outside of Eddie Bravo’s Jiu-Jitsu solar system.
Mixing his wrestling base and black-belt-level prowess, Shields relies heavily on surviving the stand-up long enough to discover a way to bring the fight to the ground, where he will be actively pursuing any and all submission attempts until one works.
But what makes Jake Shields a bigger underdog than Mark Hominick at UFC 129—not being Canadian does him no favors—will be where their respective fights end up. Forcing featherweight champion Jose Aldo into a striking contest for five rounds, something he prefers stylistically, is a much easier task than getting GSP to the ground when he doesn’t want to be on the ground.
There is just a higher probability of Hominick being able to showcase his strengths—which he shares with Aldo. The current champ, an exciting striker as well, will more than likely oblige Hominick, and fans will find out if technique or explosiveness will prevail.
As soon as the bell rings, Hominick will already find himself in the desired position for all technically gifted strikers. In fact, the one-time IKF North American and ISKA Canadian kickboxing champion will possess a rather large technical advantage on the feet. He has also proven himself on the ground if by an off chance Aldo resorts to the mat.
On the other hand, Shields will not only have to find a way to get GSP down to his world; he’ll also have to avoid taking too much damage on his feet. Failing to take down St-Pierre has traditionally been a painful lesson to learn—just ask the faces of Jon Fitch and Josh Koscheck, which got battered for five long rounds, thanks to getting stuffed and picked apart.
Compared to Fitch and Koscheck, Shields has the weaker striking too, only adding to his slippery slope.
Who has a better chance of becoming a new champion at UFC 129?
Shields is more than a gamer, though, and has fought through adversity aplenty in his career to surprise a lot of doubters, but this is Georges St-Pierre, this is Canada and this is the UFC.
If there’s an upset Saturday at UFC 129, look for Hominick’s hand to be raised, not Shields.