The questions that surrounded UFC legend Georges St-Pierre - Was his right knee and repaired ACL up to snuff? Could he come back from a 19-month-layoff? Was he still the same fighter who became one of Canada's most popular athletes? - were answered in a resounding way Saturday night.
GSP not only defended his welterweight title for the seventh time in a row against interim titleholder Carlos Condit at UFC 154 in Montreal. He proved that he is a legend in this sport, and, we all can hope, ready to face middleweight legend Anderson Silva in a 2013 superfight.
"I need to take some vacation and think about it," a bloodied but still spry St-Pierre said after the fight. "I want to make the best choice for myself, for the UFC and for the fans."
But before we get too far ahead of ourselves talking about his next fight, let's focus on this one.
Condit was a game competitor, lasting all five rounds despite a face as bloody as a horror movie. St-Pierre, however, was in control from the opening bell. While Condit circled on the outside of the cage to start the fight, reminiscent of his fight against Nick Diaz earlier this year, St-Pierre took Condit to the ground and mounted him less than two minutes into the first round. That was the story the rest of the fight: Condit trying to parry frenzied attacks from St-Pierre.
Condit knocked St-Pierre down in the third round with a swift kick to the head, which was the only moment where St-Pierre's dominance seemed in jeopardy. It provided a flurry of excitement from the heavily pro-GSP crowd, even getting UFC Ring Girls Arianny Celeste and Brittany Palmer to jump out of their seats. But after a minute or so with Condit taking the reins, St-Pierre picked up Condit and threw him to the ground, then pummeled him some more.
From then until the end, the fight was all GSP.
"People talk about ring rust," St-Pierre said afterward. "I definitely know what it is now. He gave me my toughest fight."
The top two fights on the UFC 154 card - the welterweight title fight, and the welterweight number-one contender fight - proved to be the two most exciting fights of the night.
Welterweight Johny Hendricks proved he is worthy of a shot at the next welterweight title fight. In what had been called a number-one contender fight, he floored Martin Kampmann with a right hook that set up a monstrous left jab to the face. Hendricks' left fist knocked Kampmann straight backwards, his head bouncing off the canvas. Hendricks pounced and landed one more punch to the head before the referee stepped in, giving Hendricks the victory 46 seconds into the fight.
"It feels great to get this win," Hendricks told UFC commentator Joe Rogan after the fight. "Martin Kampmann is a tough dude. I trained with him before and knew what he could do. I knew I had to go out there and beat him . . . I want a shot at the title."
Rogan said Hendricks was perhaps "the single biggest power puncher in the sport of MMA."
The first fight of the night to whip the Montreal crowd into a frenzy was the final UFC on FX preliminary fight. For all of 86 seconds, the middleweight fight between Italian Alessio Sakara and French-Canadian Patrick Cote looked like it had fight of the night potential. It was a fast-paced slugfest until Sakara caught Cote with an elbow to the head - then jumped on top of him and pounded him in the back of the head five times before the referee jumped in.
It appeared the ref had called the fight as a TKO for Sakara, ignoring the illegal punches that brought the stoppage. The big screens in the arena shifted between Sakara and Cote as they awaited the official decision; the crowd booed Sakara lustily and cheered Cote. Then the decision was announced - a disqualification of Sakara for illegal punches - and the crowd went nuts.
"Good call by the commission," tweeted UFC president Dana White.
In a classy move, Cote, after his first UFC victory in more than four years, offered Sakara a rematch.
"I was expecting a war with Alessio, and that's exactly what he gave me," Cote said. "There are rules for a reason, and that's pretty bad this thing happened because I wanted to give you a real war."
"Hey, guys, sorry," Sakara, who appeared to be nearly in tears, told the crowd.
Lanky American featherweight Pablo Garza landed more than twice as many strikes as his Canadian opponent Mark Hominick in the first fight of the main card. The fight went the three-round distance, but the ending - a unanimous decision for Garza - was never in doubt.
The drawn-out, but dominating unanimous decision victory by Brazilian middleweight Rafael Dos Anjos over Canadian Mark Bocek was overshadowed - not by anything in the Octagon, but by a brawl that broke out in the stands midway through the third round. The bored crowd rightfully turned its attention from the fight in the Octagon to the fight in the stands, and was treated to a nasty headbutt before security dragged the offending parties away.
The crowd didn't like the decision between middleweights Francis Carmont and Tom Lawlor - probably because Lawlor appeared to have the fight won, if only barely, but judges gave Carmont a split decision victory. The Canadian crowd booed the decision, even though Carmont, the winner, trains at St-Pierre's gym, Tristar Gym, in Montreal.
Perhaps it was because the crowd knew this night, as much as any card in recent UFC memory, wasn't about the undercards. Sure, the Kampmann-Hendricks fight provided a direct route to what might be the next welterweight title fight. But Saturday night was about one thing: The return of GSP, the unification of the title belt in the deep welterweight division, and the continuing of a legend.
St-Pierre wasn't about to make a rash decision and commit to a superfight with Silva moments after beating Condit.
But the UFC's big plans appeared clear starting in the third round of St-Pierre's dominant fight. On the big screens in the arena, a pop-up screen showed Silva watching the fight, and cheering St-Pierre on.
Follow Reid Forgrave on Twitter @ReidForgrave or email him at ReidForgrave@gmail.com