'Nice guys' routine has gone on long enough

MONTREAL -- Georges St-Pierre is fond of saying that MMA is a sport, but it’s not a game. This sentiment has been echoed in combat sports for a century. Joyce Carol Oates wrote something similar about boxing, that there’s “nothing fundamentally playful about it -- nothing that seems to belong to daylight, to pleasure.”

And that is at least a dozen times truer in a sport that began as “No holds barred.” Nice belongs to daylight.

This is one of those UFC main events where two of the nicest, most professional guys -- Carlos Condit and St-Pierre -- will turn their darker shades before 18,000 partisans. They will go from fairly bored, unimaginative day talkers to brutally cruel-intentioned nighttime artists for all those with a ticket stub or some disposable income. It’s 25 minutes of menace, unless it doesn’t last that long -- which means somebody’s menace played out better than the other.

Now this is a fight. For all the rules and regulations and sporting vibes that justify MMA in 2012, there’s still a protective layer of the Chuck Palahniuk vision at its core.

St-Pierre is home, and that’s why the decibels will be off the charts at Montreal’s Bell Centre on Saturday night, exactly the same as when the Quebec native rematched Matt Serra back in 2008. And just like that time, the waves of nervous tension and second thoughts will strike St-Pierre just before the UFC’s backstage wrangler Burt Watson yells, “Let’s roll to the hole, baby!”

Then it leaves.

“I’m going to be very nervous, and confident that I’ve done everything I could have done to be at my best,” St-Pierre told ESPN.com at the open workouts Thursday. “It will be electric [in the arena]. It will be crazy, and I’m expecting that.”

St-Pierre has by now been asked the same question, repackaged and reassembled, a million times. He even rolls his eyes and giggles at reporters who joke with him about being asked the same questions, just before answering those same questions. It’s nice to be back, but it’s painfully repetitive to talk about how nice it is being back. He will have butterflies, but “the key is to get those butterflies to fly in formation,” he says.

That’s clever.

And if anybody is a master at dishing the Cliff Notes on how grueling a prolonged period of recovery and introspection is, it’s GSP. This will be his first fight back since suffering the ACL injury that kept him out for 19 months. “My knee, I’ve tested it already ... I’m ready for the fight,” he says. “I feel like my surgery never happened.” He also says he feels rejuvenated.

And he’s aware that he’s been out long enough for an interim belt to enter circulation (though it never circulated beyond Condit). He has been reminded of this many times. But now the two at long last will collide and make the belt back into something singular.

What happens then? There are untold things lying in the balance. For Condit, it’s the real belt, not the symbol. It’s greatness. For St-Pierre, it’s Anderson Silva. It’s Nick Diaz. It’s perpetuation.

We don’t often get stakes as great as these. Saturday night will be the end of something long anticipated, and at the same time the beginning of something we have no idea how to anticipate. Does it set up a superfight? Does it refresh our memories as to why St-Pierre is one of the top pound-for-pound fighters ever? Or does Condit do the improbable, go into Montreal and beat St-Pierre, and in the process shatter up all the things we thought we knew?

“It’s going to be incredible,” Condit told ESPN.com. “Energy is energy. Whether they’re booing me or cheering me, I’m just coming to put on a good fight, to entertain the fans, and I think the people in Montreal will receive that.”

Condit is just so nice. He’s the kind of nice that makes you forget why he has a nickname like “the Natural Born Killer.”

“[That nickname is] something that I got when I was young,” he says. “It’s like a tattoo you get when you’re real young, and you get older and you don’t like it that much but you can’t get rid of it. But it fits my fighting style, and fits what I’m trying to do in the cage.”

It’s true. The difference between Carlos Condit and the “Natural Born Killer” are night and day.