In tonight’s main event at UFC 129, George St. Pierre will defend his title in a much anticipated match up with top ranked contender Jake Shields. This fight is on paper the stiffest test St. Pierre has faced since he throttled the second best welterweight in the world, Jon Fitch.
In months of speculation and anticipation of this fight, the MMA world has debated this topic with keen eyes and heavy interest. The talks of the improvement in St. Pierre’s stand up skills have pushed him upon a pedestal levels higher then he already stood above his challengers.
But against a jiu-jitsu wizard like Jake Shields, we should start to take notice of St. Pierre’s grappling skills. Not just his smothering top game, but his ability to transition from the bottom and to defend takedowns. Also, his skills in defending and performing submissions.
For another chapter in the Ultimate Submissions series, follow me after the jump and we will put a scope on the grappling abilities of the champion.
Georges St. Pierre started his career in January of 2002. He found himself on the winning end of a technical knockout stoppage late in the first round of that fight. It wouldn’t take him but about nine minutes before he captured his first title, winning his second fight by arm bar for the UCC promotion.
With very minimal wrestling and grappling experience to his name, St. Pierre did not enter the sport with the vast background most prospects tend to have. His combat experienced was limited.
He started learning Kyokushin karate at age seven from his father and later from a Kyokushin Karate Master to defend himself against a school bully. He took up wrestling and Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu after his karate teacher died and also trained in boxing. Before turning pro as a mixed-martial artist, St-Pierre worked as a bouncer at a Montreal night club in the South Shore called Fuzzy Brossard and as a garbageman for six months to pay for his school fees.
St. Pierre continued his success in the smaller promotion before being called up by the UFC in his sixth fight. The UFC would offer him no tune up fight, pairing him with 10-2 and highly acclaimed Karo Pariysan. Parisyan, an accomplished Judo player, was a favorite based on experience alone.
St. Pierre overwhelmed Parisyan, landing six out of eight takedowns in the fight and severely out struck his opponent. This was a bit of a surprise to most being that St. Pierre was relatively unknown and it was his debut fight for the promotion.
The surprises would not end there.
The UFC would call on Jay Hieron to face St. Pierre next. Hieron was undefeated as well and had a legitimate wrestling background to his credit. It wouldn’t matter in this fight, however, as St. Pierre shrugged off three takedowns in the early going and would use that sprawl to batter and stop Hieron in less than two minutes. The win would propel St. Pierre up the ladder in what would be his first title opportunity.
This is where we begin with the low points of the grappling career of Georges St. Pierre.
A star-struck challenger, Georges St. Pierre would enter into a title fight with welterweight kingpin Matt Hughes in just his second year competing in mixed martial arts. Hughes, already a veteran in the sport with a record of 36-4, was the heavy favorite over the young St. Pierre.
The fight would see all but a second of the first round.
Hughes earned two takedowns in the round and none more important then the final one. He would pass to dominant position on St. Pierre and would secure a submission via arm bar at 4:59 of the very first round.
You see in the clip that while Matt Hughes is passing through to side mount of St. Pierre, St. Pierre begins to scramble. During the scramble St. Pierre has already began to attack the arm of Hughes, Hughes uses this to his advantage when he is able to isolate the attacking arm and swing over to execute an arm bar.
St. Pierre does not hold on the extra second and he taps out. The referee calls the fight as the round ends and St. Pierre suffers his first career defeat.
"Rush" would go back to the drawing board, at still a young age and experienced in the sport he would refine his technique and would rattle off seven straight wins before his next loss, a monumental upset at the hands of Matt Serra.
But that fight was not lost in any way based on grappling. His next grappling low would come against his rival, long time nemesis Josh Koscheck.
Josh Koscheck was 9-1 heading into the St. Pierre fight. Koscheck had one of the most impressive wrestling backgrounds in the sport and was quickly becoming a handful for all of his UFC opponents. In the early goings it looked to be as if he would also provide some trouble to St. Pierre.
Koscheck shows in this clip why he was so acclaimed as a powerhouse wrestler in the sport. He had snatched on a single leg and explodes impressively into a double leg takedown, resulting in a body lock and dominant position. Koscheck remains to be since that fight the only person to win a round on the current welterweight champion St. Pierre.
Koscheck would continue with his moderate success in out grappling St. Pierre in his efforts to gain takedowns.
This will show how little St. Pierre has suffered in terms of poor grappling. St. Pierre has progressed drastically since the submission loss to Hughes. Even in the clip of this second Koscheck fight, St. Pierre makes it extremely difficult to gain a takedown and forces Koscheck to lose plenty of energy. He did not allow Koscheck to do any considerable damage on the ground as he was able to still win the round as well as the remaining rounds in his thorough beating of Koscheck over five rounds.
The most recent low point of St. Pierre in grappling terms was the fight with Dan Hardy. In that fight St. Pierre was a perfect eleven for eleven in takedowns and passed the guard a whopping 26 times.
St. Pierre attempted six submissions, but did not complete any. It wasn’t that they weren’t close to being finished, St. Pierre -- even while being a perfectionist -- failed to succeed while appearing to be primed and ready to finish the fight. While studying under many acclaimed teachers, including Renzo Gracie and John Danaher, his jiu-jitsu had been improving drastically, which made this next and final low even the more surprising.
Dan Hardy was outmatched to begin with. His jiu-jitsu skills while existent were not in the same league as St. Pierre’s.
St. Pierre makes a few mistakes in this clip. He has his legs very loose, he crosses his feet in his efforts to secure the body. He also allows Hardy to push his right foot away from his body, enabling him to twist and escape. St. Pierre could have rolled with him to further torque on the arm.
Coming from a black belt in jiu-jitsu, we all expected him to finish any submission that close against a severely outmatched Hardy.
However, just like his counterpart this weekend Jake Shields, George St. Pierre has plenty high points in the grappling department. Maybe not as noticeable since he hasn’t finished many fights by submission, but it’s the minor details that have won him over by many grapplers.
St. Pierre has dominated plenty grapplers, from the early fights of Sean Sherk and Mayhem Miller to B.J Penn and Matt Serra. Georges has made it known that his wrestling and positional grappling is hard to stop and seemingly impossible to match.
He has also made it a point to avenge his losses and low points with emphasis and viciousness.
In both clips above you see the grappling and wrestling prowess that St. Pierre has developed. From the guy who was out grappled early in his career by Hughes and the guy who was finding himself beneath Koscheck in their first fight he answered back with dominant performances in the rematches.
He was able to take down both fighters, but not just take them down … St. Pierre was able to hold them down and implore effective ground and pound attacks.
After the failed submissions on Dan Hardy many questioned St. Pierre’s finishing abilities. The thought that St. Pierre doesn’t have the ability to finish a fight via submission should be put to rest by simply looking back to his victory over an accomplished grappler in Matt Hughes.
In the clip St. Pierre is going for North South position, he seems to be attacking with a kimura. With Hughes on his side, St. Pierre has the position for the kimura, with his base out wide and arms away from his body. As Hughes straightens his arm to fight the kimura, St. Pierre is able to transition to an armbar. As Hughes rolls out of the armbar, GSP slides his leg in front of Hughes' face to isolate the arm. From there it forces the tap out.
But St. Pierre’s grappling isnt limited to submission attempts.
In the clips above St. Pierre is beating and battering his opponents. But those aren’t two ordinary opponents -- B.J. Penn and Matt Serra are two world class jiu-jitsu practitioners. St. Pierre is able to keep them from being mobile and avoid any sort of defense/offense from either guy in the area they are well respected in jiu-jitsu.
St. Pierre uses his strength and awesome use of leverage to neutralize the grappling abilities of his opponents in a way that is smothering and overwhelming, which leads to frustration and breaking down of the wills of his opponents.
For anyone who believes (As I do) that Jake Shields will get St. Pierre to the ground, let us not forget that Georges is a black belt and does know how to defend from his back.
As we see in the clip above Jon Fitch has top control over St. Pierre, you can see Fitch beginning to pass the guard by sliding his knee over St. Pierre's leg. As soon as he does, St. Pierre starts to transition to a deep half guard, by grabbing the leg and pulling Fitch off balance, forcing him to plant out both hands on the mat. St. Pierre is then able escape his head right out from behind Fitch and then threatens taking the back. And as Fitch turns back into GSP, he turns the half-guard into a single leg for the sweep.
Beautiful jiu-jitsu displayed by St. Pierre from underneath one of the best positional grapplers in the division if not the sport. St. Pierre has the knowledge and abilities to perform high level moves especially with the recent addition in his training camp adding Roger Gracie and Braulio Estima to his long list of training partners.
Only time well tell if Georges St. Pierre will be able to match the grappling skills of the challenger tonight.
Lucky for us, the wait is almost over.