Georges St-Pierre is prepared to make his return to the Octagon following an 18-month layoff, and it will be in front of his hometown Montreal faithful.
The UFC’s welterweight champion and most popular Canadian fighter was on hand at the Montreal Science Centre on Thursday for a press conference to announce his bout with Carlos Condit, and launch ticket sales for UFC 154 at the Bell Centre on Nov. 17.
By the time both St-Pierre and Condit had starting answering questions from media and fans around noon, Toronto’s Josh Lewis had already purchased tickets for the event.
“When GSP hits the screen in Montreal it’s louder than any place in the sports world that I’ve ever been — Stanley Cup Finals in Detroit, 55,000 people at the Rogers Centre for GSP vs. Shields, my two trips to the UFC at the Air Canada Centre, it’s even louder than Ralph Wilson Stadium [in Buffalo, for the Bills],” Lewis said.
“There’s no better feeling than standing with 20,000-plus screaming fans for up to 25 minutes all hoping for one outcome — that GSP remains on top of the MMA world.”
Lewis, 23, attended his first live UFC event at the Bell Centre in December, 2010, when St-Pierre fought Josh Koscheck at UFC 124. He “had the time of my life” and has since been to three UFC shows in Toronto including this past Saturday’s UFC 152.
“It’s worth every penny, I wouldn’t be going over and over if I didn’t enjoy every second of it,” Lewis said. “This past weekend cost me about $1,000 but within five days I’m buying more tickets. I wouldn’t miss this show for the world.”
He’ll be joined by an expected 20,000-plus fans as the return of GSP is expected to jam pack the Bell Centre.
The last time the 31-year-old St-Pierre competed was in April of last year when he defeated Jake Shields at the Rogers Centre in front of a North American MMA attendance record 55,000 people.
Afterwards he was then twice scheduled to defend his title but was forced to succumb to ACL surgery in December after a recurring knee injury.
“I’m happy right now because I can do what I love to do for a living,” St-Pierre said on Thursday.
“The UFC took care of me like a king. The UFC helped me choose the best surgeons, the best help for my knee. I don’t see other sports doing that.
“I’m 120 per cent. I don’t want to talk about my knee, I don’t want to think about my knee. There will be butterflies, but no ring rust.”
St-Pierre implied the injury may have benefitted him.
“I had lost motivation and I learned in my career sometimes you need to break something to fix it before it breaks by itself,” St-Pierre said.
“I have two challenges in one. I’m fighting the most dangerous guy I have ever fought and I’m coming back from long layoff.”
The French Canadian won’t be the only Canuck featured on the card as a total of eight are sprinkled throughout UFC 154.
Toronto native Mark Bocek has a lightweight bout with Rafael dos Anjos that has big divisional implications.
Also on the card, London fighters Sam Stout and Mark Hominick meet John Makdessi (another Canadian) and Pablo Garza, respectively.
While there should be a tremendous amount of support for all of the Canadian participants fighting, if St-Pierre’s first two UFC bouts in Montreal proved anything it’s that whomever he’s facing will be public enemy number one.
That doesn’t concern St-Pierre’s challenger, the UFC interim welterweight champion Condit.
“I think that I have a skill set that matches up well with Georges. I’ve presented problems that my opponents don’t see in other guys,” said the 28-year-old Condit during the press conference.
“GSP has been the dominant champion for years, until somebody beats him he is the undisputed champion.”
St-Pierre said sees himself as the title challenger entering this fight but its apparent the two have a great deal of respect for each other.
“The guys that are the most dangerous are the gentleman,” St-Pierre said. “Carlos is a true gentlemen, and I am a true gentlemen.
“But November 17 we won’t be gentlemen.”
Tickets for UFC 154 became available at 10 a.m. on Thursday morning.