The last time Georges St-Pierre stepped foot in the octagon, he left a champion but his face told a different story: a battered and bruised fighter after surviving a controversial split-decision win over Johny Hendricks.
It was the most recent red flag for the 36-year-old who made a career dominating his opponents while coming out almost seemingly unscathed.
Mark Hominick has known St-Pierre since their days in TKO — a mixed martial arts organization based in Montreal — to his rise as one of the greatest MMA fighters in UFC history.
Hominick says the Montreal native possibily saw his narrow victory as a sign for a much-needed break.
"In his last three, four fights he would at least come out with lumps, black eyes, and busted noses and that's something he never really felt his whole career. Whatever [he] needed to be re-motivated, he found that in the time off," Hominick says.
Four years later, St-Pierre makes his long-awaited return taking on Michael Bisping for the middleweight championship at this Saturday night's UFC 217 card at Madison Square Garden.
The timing behind his return is anyone's guess. Is it simply the right opponent or the bright lights of New York City?
If anything, Hominick is certain that it isn't for one last big paycheck before riding off into the sunset.
"This is definitely a passion-driven return because Georges is the oddity in the sport where he actually makes money outside of the sport — he's still getting sponsorships, he's still a very marketable person. So there's something inside of him that's bringing him back to competition," Hominick says.
The 35-year-old says the former welterweight champion might feel refreshed in his new role as challenger and referenced St-Pierre's recent pre-fight interviews as evidence that being champion may have extinguished his competitive fire.
"It felt like Groundhog Day — here's another challenger, here's another title [defence] — it was almost like the passion wasn't there. He was competing to just compete against the next guy who was in line," Hominick says.
As St-Pierre enters the final stages of an illustrious 15-year career, he credits that to dedication to his craft and surrounding himself with a solid team from coaches to therapists.
"Some guys leave their careers in the gym, they make wars in the gym — they spar like nuts. The way you train is very important to the longevity of your career," St-Pierre told reporters last week before a training session in Montreal.
"That's why I tell young guys, 'Don't go buy your cars and bling-bling to show off. Take that money [and] invest it in yourself.'"
Tale of the tape
Hominick, a Thamesford, Ont., native, knows fighters who train with St-Pierre say he's never left the gym despite taking a hiatus from competition.
Although St-Pierre seems to be fine physically, he's got his work cut out against Bisping, the UFC's all-time wins leader with 20.
The Canadian has also put on an extra 15 pounds to go from welterweight to middleweight, a weight class he's never fought in.
"Style-wise it's a very difficult fight because if you look at Georges' game, he likes to strike on the outside with punches and kicks, score a takedown, work top control, and ground and pound," Hominick says.
"Bisping is so good at getting back to his feet, chipping away, taking over, and outpointing you."
St-Pierre enlisted the help of boxing hall of fame trainer, Freddie Roach, to help prepare him. The two are no strangers having worked with each other in the past but it'll be the first time Roach will be in his corner.
"Bringing in those guys just elevates your game. It might be that extra thing that gives him confidence. He's got one of the best boxing minds in the entire game coming over and having someone with that kind of fight IQ is going to help," Hominick says.
If the fight turns more into a boxing match rather than a wrestling, Hominick believes that plays into Bisping's size and power advantage as a former kickboxing champion.
Roach has also worked with ex-UFC champions Anderson Silva, Jose Aldo, and B.J. Penn, so he isn't ignorant of an all-around game just because he comes from boxing.
If there's an opportunity for St-Pierre to bring the fight to the mat, he wants him to do just that.
"Believe me, we're not going to be like Ronda Rousey, where someone told her she was a good boxer when she was winning every fight of her life on the ground. I'm not going to lie to my fighter. We've been working on everything and will take advantage of everything," Roach told ESPN last week.
Hominick believes St-Pierre's ideal strategy would be a mix of both.
"Georges is one of the best guys who put it altogether. If you look at him, he wouldn't compete at a world championship level in kickboxing or straight wrestling but he is the best at combining the striking, kicks, takedowns, ground and pound, [and] Brazilian Jiu Jitsu game," says Hominick.
With a victory, St-Pierre will become the fourth man in UFC history to win titles in two different weight classes.
He will no doubt leave the octagon as one of the sport's greatest but according to Hominick, Saturday's title fight still carries importance, especially if St-Pierre continues fighting.
"The game has changed with the new owners of the UFC and their building these superfights. Before it was all about the actual event [as a whole] and now they're building a superstar fighter like a Conor McGregor or Ronda Rousey. There are going to be a lot of new eyes that need to be refreshed [as] to how great a champion Georges was," says Hominick.