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The new Georges St. Pierre debuts at UFC 154

Back from knee surgery, St. Pierre changes mindset before fighting Carlos Condit

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Leila Navidi

Georges St. Pierre talks with the media during open workouts for UFC 143 at Mandalay Bay Events Center in Las Vegas on Wednesday, Feb. 1, 2012.

UFC Primetime: St. Pierre vs. Condit episode 2

UFC Primetime: St. Pierre vs. Condit episode 1

Getting through life’s toughest challenges clears the way to find one’s greatest successes.

Georges St. Pierre is adhering to that philosophy heading into his welterweight title fight against Carlos Condit at UFC 154 on Saturday in Montreal. In the 18 months since St. Pierre last appeared in the octagon, the longtime champion has battled everything from a major knee injury to personal turmoil.

The experiences permanently changed the 31-year-old’s outlook on everything.

“I had a bunch of things that happened at the same time,” St. Pierre said at a recent press conference. “I needed to slow down when I was healing. I could make changes in the people around me in my life. I came back with more motivation.”

That’s a convenient tale that many athletes coming off a long layoff could tell, but St. Pierre’s actions are backing up his words as he prepares to fight in front of his hometown for the third time.

His pleasantness has been unwavering as the bout nears. Although he was never rude or unaccommodating, St. Pierre would become notoriously more intense before fights in the past.

His answers to reporters’ questions, for example, would get shorter, and he dreaded the sessions. But this week, St. Pierre has been more likely to offer a two-minute explanation to describe his mindset than a five-second cliché intended to expedite his time with the media.

“My last fight was my worst fight,” St. Pierre said candidly. “I was kind of burned out mentally and physically. I don’t feel that way now. I’m happy to be here.”

St. Pierre doesn’t know what would have happened if he faced Condit, whom he ranks as the best welterweight in the world, when the bout was originally scheduled at UFC 137 in October 2011.

A sprained MCL postponed the first fight, a precursor to the torn ACL St. Pierre suffered from possibly returning to training too fast. The prospect of missing another year devastated St. Pierre, but he set out to find the best surgeon and the one who could repair his knee the fastest.

He quickly discovered the work of Dr. Neal ElAttrache, a Los Angeles-based specialist in sports medicine who notably worked on Tom Brady when the New England Patriots quarterback tore his ACL four years ago.

St. Pierre said the work of Dr. ElAttrache ensured that he would be as prepared as ever to beat Condit.

“I would say that my chances this time around are substantially better,” Condit said. “I’ve had a year to work on things in my game, work on skills that I’m going to need to compete with and beat Georges.”

Condit would have run through St. Pierre a few months ago. Even some of the lowest-level fighters at Montreal’s Tristar Gym were beating up on St. Pierre at the time.

St. Pierre got all too acquainted with the perils of coming back from an injury as serious as an ACL tear when he returned to training. He wasn’t close to the fighter who soared as the UFC’s biggest pay-per-view draw for years.

So, disappointed with his progress after a couple weeks of training, St. Pierre strongly considered calling UFC President Dana White and telling him he wanted to take an extended hiatus.

“I’m used to being the best at what I am and doing well against everybody,” St. Pierre said. “Now I came back and it didn’t happen that way. I got very shocked. It was more like a pride thing.”

St. Pierre eventually calmed down with the help of head trainer Firas Zahabi. He stopped trying to work out the same way he did before the surgery and began taking everything slower.

The gradual approach began showing exceptional results. Word of his reinvention spread throughout the mixed martial arts world, as far as Condit’s camp in Albuquerque, N.M.

“From all reports and everything I’ve heard, Georges is better than ever,” Condit said.

St. Pierre believes his new strength has more to do with his mental attitude than anything physical.

He’s no longer exhausted and dreading everything that comes along with being one of the world’s most recognizable fighters. He’s refreshed and enjoying every moment.

“I’ve found a fire, a new fire that I didn’t have before,” St. Pierre said. “I appreciate what I have more, and I’m more pumped than ever.”

Case Keefer can be reached at 948-2790 or [email protected]. Follow Case on Twitter at twitter.com/casekeefer.

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