As Montreal's Bell Centre readies to host the UFC welterweight title-unification bout between champion St-Pierre and interim titleholder Condit at tonight's UFC 154 event, Hardy anticipates a clash between consistent, forceful energy and explosive, unpredictable energy.
"It's going to take a guy like Carlos Condit to really threaten Georges because he's good off his back, and he's very good standing as well," Hardy told MMAjunkie.com (www.mmajunkie.com). "He can keep GSP working. That's what makes it such an intriguing fight. He's got an opposing skill set to GSP in my opinion. He's got the skills to fight. He looks for mistakes while GSP doesn't allow his opponents into the fight."
St-Pierre nabbed a unanimous decision from Hardy in their March 2010 title bout at UFC 111. Condit became the first (and only fighter) to knock out "The Outlaw" seven months later at UFC 120. The 30-year-old Brit was invited into St-Pierre's camp for Condit this past year before "Rush" suffered the knee injury that postponed the bout in favor of ACL surgery. The English fighter trekked from his Las Vegas base to join St-Pierre's preparations at Tristar Gym in Montreal for Condit. Hardy felt the champion was bigger, stronger and more confident in his striking than he was in 2010.
"He believes in [his striking], which I think that's really what matters when it comes to fighting a guy like Condit," the 30-year-old said. "You have to go in there and get it done. You can't think too much about what he's going to do because he's unpredictable."
It was up to Hardy to mimic Condit's active and diverse muay Thai style. He believes Condit is one of the 31-year-old champion's most dangerous adversaries – a fighter ready to thrive on chaos – while St-Pierre's game plan centers on controlling the margins of error with mistake-free execution.
"In my head, I was thinking, 'If [St-Pierre] takes me down, he takes me down, and I'm going to throw anyway,'" Hardy recalled about being a striker against an overwhelmingly successful grappler. "When you get in there, you think to yourself, 'I might only have one or two good shots to throw this round, so I've got to make sure they are the best shots I can throw.' Then you start hesitating. That was my mistake.
"Whether Carlos will make that same mistake, I don't know. Obviously, he's more confident in his ground game, particularly his guard, than I was in the title fight. I don't think he'll be as hesitant to throw. He's just got to do it and think about the takedown – if and when it comes. The thing with GSP is, coupled with his athleticism, his timing is so good. He's constantly shooting in the gym on guys trying to take his head off."
With hometown pressures, returning from an injury and the high-octane opponent in front of St-Pierre, Hardy is assured the French-Canadian is too seasoned in title fights to demonstrate any ring rust after 568 days away from the octagon. The persistence in St-Pierre's game has resulted in a UFC welterweight record six consecutive title defenses, five by way of unanimous decision. Condit would be St-Pierre's 10th win on his current win streak; however, the 28-year-old's 26 finishes – 13 submissions and 13 knockouts – in 28 victories suggest Condit can steal the fight at any moment no matter how thorough St-Pierre is in 25-minute contests.
"I've been on the bottom against GSP a few times," Hardy said. "Every time you get back up and he takes you back down, it starts to get frustrating. Sometimes, you kind of ultimately switch to a second game plan, which is working off your back and trying to catch an arm or something. Condit's had wins off his back."
Condit's finishing ability means he desires to pull St-Pierre into a fight. That favors the Team Jackson-Winkeljohn representative, who enters the clash nearly a 3-to-1 underdog according to oddsmakers.
"Without a doubt, the more of a fight it is, the more it's in favor of Carlos," said Hardy, who also noted St-Pierre's main focus has been channeling his cardio reserve for a finish.
"GSP steps into the octagon as an athlete with a game plan in mind," he said. "He makes smart decisions. There's no emotional content in anything he does. He just walks right in there to get the fight won, which is why he's a champion. Carlos, you can't give him that time. He's got to keep working and stay active. If Carlos Condit stays as the Condit everyone knows, high percentage finishes and stuff, I think he can really threaten GSP."
Ultimately, like any title fight, there are greater incentives than gold at stake for each combatant. St-Pierre's world-class legacy extends further by snapping Condit's five-fight win streak and dismissing another credible challenger with his dominance. His place in history is written, solidified and striving for mostly unchartered territories of greatness. Condit is still finding his prime, eager to showcase it's arrived by dethroning one of the UFC's most decorated champions en route to undisputed status.
"The problem with Condit is a lot of his best work is when he was with the WEC," Hardy said. "He was a champion in it and defended his belt several times in the WEC. It must be frustrating for him to come over to the UFC and not get the respect that a champion should get. I think that's going to make him even more hungry on Saturday night to really prove himself. Obviously, he's going against the best in the world, so it's going to be a rough one either way."
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(Pictured: Dan Hardy)