Georges St-Pierre and Manny Pacquiao. To fans of combat sports, their names are royalty. But for a few minutes in September, they were just two fighters talking shop while St-Pierre went on a tour of the Philippines and Pacquiao prepared for his November bout against Antonio Margarito. Even now, over two months removed from their meeting, St-Pierre beams when he discusses boxing pound-for-pound king.
“He’s obviously the fastest boxer that I’ve seen in my life and he’s the best boxer that I’ve seen in my life as well that I’ve been able to interact with,” said St-Pierre. “He gave me some tips, and I learned a lot from (Pacquiao trainer) Freddie Roach and I can’t wait for my next fight. I think it’s gonna be great. I’m going to be able to use some of the things that I learned from them and put them into practice.”
It’s an odd statement, hearing one of mixed martial arts’ best, the UFC welterweight champion and the epitome of a complete fighter, speaking like a fan. And when you bring this up to St-Pierre, he explains what that means to him.
“Being a fan depends on how you look at it. For me, it’s to recognize the work of someone and appreciate the work, and try to learn from what he does best and try to incorporate that into your game. Of course Manny Pacquiao has a lot of stuff that I want to bring into my game, like Anderson Silva does, like BJ Penn does, like Matt Hughes does, Like Shogun (Rua), like (Lyoto) Machida, like Fedor Emelianenko. I’m a fan of all these guys.”
So when St-Pierre wakes up in the morning and looks into the mirror, it’s simply to wash his face and brush his teeth, not to worship at the altar of GSP. And that may just be the secret as to why no one has been able to touch the Montrealer in the nearly four years since his last defeat, against Matt Serra.
“I’m a student of the game and I try to learn and get better every time,” he said. “The best way to learn is to watch the best guys and see what they do best and learn from them.”
That’s not just a catchy line either; he means it, but what he forgets to add in is that he doesn’t just learn from the best, but that he can learn anything from anyone in the game, including the prospects he recently coached on season 12 of The Ultimate Fighter.
“I learned from a lot of these guys,” said St-Pierre. “As a matter of fact, Cody McKenzie, I learned his guillotine, and I gained just as much as I gave, and maybe even more. It was a good, positive experience.”
At least when he was interacting and training with his team. When he had to deal with opposing coach Josh Koscheck – who he will face in the main event of UFC 124 this Saturday night – things weren’t so pleasant, as he dealt with his rival’s barbs and practical jokes. St-Pierre never cracked though, never got into a war of words with Koscheck. Instead, he chose to take the high road.
“It’s my nature,” he said. “If I don’t want to break, you’re not going to make me break. Koscheck was trying to be arrogant with me, but it was not smart the way he was doing it. He didn’t get into my head; he just wasn’t fun to be around. I was disappointed in his personality, but that was a good thing because it just made me train harder.”
That’s a scary proposition considering that St-Pierre is already known as one of the game’s hardest workers. But he needs to do this. He needs to make the trips out west and to New York to train in order to keep his physical and mental game sharp, especially since he already owns a win over Koscheck via decision in 2007. It would be easy to get complacent, especially when you factor in his dominance over the last three years, but he won’t do that again. The last time he did it, he lost his title to Serra. Since then, he has kept his eyes on the elusive prize of bring the best. Not today, but of All-Time. So when you ask if anything from the 2007 bout with Koscheck is pertinent, the answer is what you expect it to be.
“I think it’s gonna be a different fight between two different fighters,” he said. “It’s hard to predict, but I’m well prepared wherever the fight goes, and I’m thinking about what I’m going to do to him and not what he’s going to do to me. I’m gonna dictate the pace of the fight and fight him wherever I want the fight.”
He emphasizes the last sentence, making clear his serious intentions and sending a message to Koscheck that if he thinks he’s fighting the same person he did back at UFC 74, he’s dead wrong.
“My motivation is the result at the end, and that’s to finish him,” said St-Pierre.
If he is able to knock Koscheck out or submit him, it will be GSP’s first finish since he halted BJ Penn in their 2009 super fight. After that bout, he went the five round distance twice, shutting out Thiago Alves and Dan Hardy, garnering criticism along the way for not taking his challengers out before the final bell. But when you consider that since the Koscheck fight he has not lost one of the 23 rounds that he has fought against world-class competition, it puts such criticism in perspective. And not just because he’s winning rounds, but that he’s staying focused and winning late rounds in fights he already has wrapped up on the scorecards. This ability to be dominant over the course of a 25 minute fight gives him an edge that Koscheck can’t possibly argue, since he’s never fought in a championship bout. And if it comes down to traveling into deep waters this weekend, St-Pierre is prepared.
“I’m ready for a war,” he said. “The day of the fight, I’m expecting five rounds of war at a very high pace, nothing less, and that’s what I’m training for. I can beat him in the first round too, but I want to fight the best Josh Koscheck and I want this fight to make me grow as a martial artist and make me better. I see my career as a marathon and not as a sprint, so in my next fights, I’ll be stronger and stronger.”
This is the real Georges St-Pierre – hard-working, never satisfied, always looking to learn. It’s not all glamour, photo shoots, and seemingly effortless victories over top-notch fighters that he makes look ordinary. But he’s had to deal with that end of things as well, being thrust into the spotlight as an ambassador of the sport as well as one of its champions. It’s a role he had to adjust to, yet one he has accepted with style and grace. No longer is he just the shy kid from Montreal…
He interrupts with a laugh.
“I’m always the shy kid from Montreal.”
And that’s made it more difficult, but he’s grown into a role that extends beyond the Octagon.
“It’s hard,” he admits. “The bigger it gets, the more work I need to do and there are some periods where I wish I could go back and be like a normal guy. There are some good things and some bad things about being a celebrity, but I can assure you that the principal reason why I’m doing this is not because I want to be a celebrity. I spent so many years without money and without fame and I kept doing it. Today, the money is there the fame is there, and I can build up my security for my family in the future with it, so it’s a good thing and I take it as a positive.”
It’s hard to imagine now, but Georges St-Pierre once was a garbage man and a bouncer, working long shifts just to make ends meet. He wasn’t walked through life like so many blue-chip athletes who crumble the second their personal assistant hasn’t set up their pedicure appointment. So when the Octagon door closes and he prepares to defend his title, he isn’t doing it for money, for fame, or even for a belt.
It’s for so much more than that.
“When I step into the Octagon I imagine the guy in front of me is trying to put me back into the situation that I was before,” he said, “and I need to take him out, to break him, and to not go back there.”
Free Prelims on UFC.com/Live
For the first time ever, two preliminary bouts will be aired live and free online at http://www.ufc.com/live. The Dustin Hazelett vs Mark Bocek and Dan Miller vs Joe Doerksen fights will be available to everyone worldwide at no charge starting at 9pm ET/ 6pm PT/ 2am GMT.
Georges St-Pierre - Master and Student
"The day of the fight, I’m expecting five rounds of war at a very high pace, nothing less, and that’s what I’m training for."