"I won't be confident to [give a time table] until I see him in the gym and moving around and live sparring," Zahabi recently told MMAjunkie.com Radio (MMAjunkie.com Radio | MMAjunkie.com
A troublesome knee injury ultimately resulted in the champ's ACL surgery back in December. St-Pierre (22-2 MMA, 16-2 UFC) has said he's ahead of his 10-month recovery schedule, and many in the industry expect the Montreal-based fighter to meet interim titleholder Carlos Condit (28-5 MMA, 5-1 UFC) at UFC 154. The event takes place Nov. 17 at Montreal's Bell Centre, so it's a fitting slot for the French-Canadian.
Zahabi also hopes St-Pierre can make his seventh consecutive title defense at the fall event, but he's not making any decisions until the fighter returns to full training next month. Currently, St-Pierre's workload is minimal in comparison.
"A little light jiu-jitsu," he said of St-Pierre's current schedule. "It's technique now, nothing live and nothing with contact. Just some light moving around and going over the moves he usually does and reviewing the playbook."
Until they can amp up the training sessions, Zahabi won't know how the long layoff will affect St-Pierre, which could further delay his return to the cage.
"You never know how it messes with a guy's game," Zahabi said of the layoff. "So let's see what he looks like in sparring and see how it goes."
Sure, Zahabi is cautious. He admits as much. But he also said it's the only way to keep his Tristar Gym pro practices – which usually average 30 fighters but can swell to as many as 50 – safe. So when it comes to live sparring, he has many restrictions, including no knee strikes, takedowns only in a designated zone (to keep fighters from blindsiding others), and the immediate halting of a sparring session that gets out of control.
"A lot of guys sometimes think that the rules of my sparring that I run are too strict," said Zahabi, who said he's also recently incorporated water/fin training and plyometrics. "But I've seen bones snap and joints be discloated and all sorts of gruesome stuff. When you spend so many hours in the gym, you realize the dangers that are out there. I think you need a good lion tamer in the gym.
"Healing an injury is one thing, but preventing it is the better thing, the better avenue."