Today is the big day.
After all the build-up, all the pre-fight chatter, all the analysis and predictions from fans and bloggers around the world, Georges St. Pierre is ready to defend his title against Jake Shields in front of the largest crowd in North American MMA history.
GSP wouldn't be where he is without his head trainer, Firas Zahabi.
The Canadian Muay Thai champion holds a black belt in Brazilian jiu-jitsu (BJJ) from John Danaher and won two provincial gold medals in freestyle wrestling. He's been in charge of training St. Pierre ever since his last loss to Matt Serra. The champ is 8-0 since then so I'm assuming Zahabi is going a fine job.
Firas was a guest on Pro MMA Radio this week and he discussed what it's like training the pound-for-pound king. He started out as one of St. Pierre's sparring partners and he still spars with "Rush" to this day.
"It's humbling, very humbling. Luckily he likes me so it's fun. He's a big, strong guy and he's really got his game tight and he's touched all his bases. I don't think anybody in the world can touch him at this weight. Nobody."
One of the biggest compliments Zahabi gave on St. Pierre was his passion for the sport and his desire to learn everything about mixed martial arts that he can.
"He has a lot of tricks in his bag that he's never shown but the opportunity to use them never arises. He has a wealth of knowledge. You could ask him anything about jiu-jitsu, anything about kickboxing, anything about karate. You could ask him about a kick and he'll give you the name of it in Japanese. He's a scholar of mixed martial arts. He really is. You could ask him the history of fighting, he'll know. He's a very cerebral guy, a very intelligent guy and there's a lot he hasn't shown... a lot."
The head of Tristar Gym is known for his innovation in training elite athletes. Zahabi believes we're just getting started with the current level that mixed martial arts athletes are at.
"There's so many ways to train the human body. I don't just study martial arts, I also study sports science. I really think there's a lot of ground to cover and I always liken it to the NFL. If you look at what they've done in the last 50 years, they've really taken it to an elite level. MMA's gonna do the same thing in the next 50 years. I like to try and discover those methods and stay on the edge. There's a lot of trial and error. I use myself because I do train a lot and I like to see if it does make a difference in a trained athlete. You can always make a difference with an untrained athlete, it's the trained athlete that's hard to make a difference."
Zahabi has worked with Georges throughout his entire fight career but it was one major loss that got the Muay Thai champion promoted. Since then, he's done everything in his power to make St. Pierre the most complete mixed martial artist on the planet. GSP isn't the only fighter who's benefited from Zahabi's training either.
"I've been training with Georges since he's been pro. After he lost to Serra, he asked me to take over. I taught him to box first because he was more of a direct karate guy. His striking was more physical and I taught him more to jab and with footwork, to find angles. You saw with Kenny Florian and Gomi, and Miguel Torres' last fight. The jab is the first thing I teach. Blocking is the last resort, you counter it with a jab. It's very important to cut people's combinations or they'll just keep attacking you. Georges cut Koscheck's combinations and never gave him a chance to go on an effective offense."
If you watched the Primetime series on Spike TV, you probably noticed the champion trying something new out, gymnastics. His head trainer believes it's very important to mix things up and keep your fighter on his toes.
"I had done gymnastics in the past and I know that Georges, you spend so many hours in the gym working out, it's hard to get motivated. If you're not motivated to do something, you're gonna cut your workouts short, you're gonna leave, you're gonna lose interest. To keep the spark alive, the interest alive, to give him something different other than that physical training because he's done so many years of it, we introduced him to gymnastics and he loved it. He took to it immediately and he was fascinated by it. If you love something, you do it more. I feel gymnasts are the best athletes. Runners have endurance, the goal of a sprinter is to be fast but for gymnasts, their goal is to be the best athlete. The more athletic you are, the farther you can go in mixed martial arts so I took him to the best in terms of athleticism."
While many fans are using Jake Shields' last performance against Martin Kampmann as an excuse that he will not have a chance against GSP, Zahabi isn't believing it one bit. No one is underestimating the challenger.
"I see the weight cut was a huge factor. I've seen all of Jake Shields' fights. I never missed a Jake Shields fight even before he was gonna fight Georges. He's definitely not going to run out of gas on the 30th. He's not going to make that mistake twice. Everyone is expecting the best Jake Shields that's ever been. That's a dangerous guy. He can beat Georges St. Pierre if he makes a mistake. Don't count this guy out. He's that dangerous."
The Tristar leader also disagrees that Jake Shields' striking is poor. He feels there's a method to Jake's madness.
"Koscheck might be a more powerful puncher but I think Jake is a more technical striker. Koscheck has more success on the feet but the throws to end the night. Jake doesn't stop throwing. He's more conservative but doesn't extend himself. He's harder to score on because his takedowns are relentless. He's a chain wrestler and he goes from move to move to move. Jake Shields, if he holds you, he won't let you go, that's his style. His striking is very tailored to getting in that distance, creating clinch and takedown situations."
While just about everyone agrees that the gameplan of Jake Shields is going to involve takedowns and putting the champion on his back, Zahabi feels it's going to be easier said than done.
"I'll tell you one thing, Georges is the most difficult human being ever to put on his back. I have a ton of great wrestlers come in and try it. You need a crane, or a forklift or something to put this guy on his back. It's extremely, extremely difficult. I think statistically, he's the most successful in MMA. We bring All-American wrestlers into the gym and I make them swear to me that they'll put him on his back before sparring. I send in several elite guys to put him on his back. Believe me, it's incredibly difficult. Georges is just on another level. He's gifted for this."
St. Pierre has taken some flack from critics for his recent inability to finish fights. Firas firmly stated that a decision victory is never the goal.
"My ultimate goal is that all my guys win in the first 10 seconds. If it doesn't happen, we go back to the drawing board and find out why the fight wasn't finished. None of these guys are gunning for controversial split decisions. We brought in Freddie Roach to work with Georges, polish up his mechanics. We want to get to the point where every fighter in my gym is winning in 10 seconds."
Zahabi closed the interview by informing the listeners on just what exactly sets GSP apart from the other welterweights in the world.
"He's got it all and he works hard to get it all, His hard work and work ethic separates himself. He does everything he has to do and not just the things he likes to do. That's what sets him apart."