Long-time Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) Welterweight roost ruler, Georges St. Pierre, takes on Stockton scrapper, Nick Diaz, in the UFC 158 pay-per-view (PPV) main event this weekend (Sat., March 16, 2013) at the Bell Centre in Montreal, Quebec, Canada.
It may be lonely at the top, but St. Pierre certainly looks comfortable on his perch. Undefeated since 2007, "Rush" has spent the bulk of his UFC career, dominating top fighters with relative ease. However, 2011 was a rough year for the French-Canadian after a potentially career-ending knee injury took him out of the game for more than one year.
His return, against former teammate Carlos Condit, was a resounding success at UFC 154 in Dec. 2012. St. Pierre looked every bit as explosive as when he left, returning with a renewed mixed martial arts (MMA) vigor. While he didn't finish the ultra tough "Natural Born Killer," he did prove he could still fight aggressively and look for the finish.
Next up for the Canadian superstar is a fight with Diaz, the reluctant MMA bad boy, who looks to prove once and for all that he is the best in the world.
Does St. Pierre have the technical prowess to defeat another top opponent?
Let's find out:
Despite the fact that his base martial art is Kyokushin karate, the most important aspect of St. Pierre's striking is his boxing. He has been working with legendary boxing trainer Freddie Roach, who speaks very highly of him, for a few years now.
St. Pierre's best weapon is his jab. In fact, he likely has the best jab in MMA -- few others can routinely shut down dangerous strikers like he can. St. Pierre uses his authoritative jab to disrupt his opponents' movement and keep their punches away from him.
The reason St. Pierre's jab is so effect is simple: He sets it up beautifully. He will feint relentlessly once, and once he finds his range, he'll keep hammering away at his opponent. In addition, St. Pierre's jab packs a good amount of power, stopping his opponents in their tracks and doing damage.
GSP also mixes in a leaping "Superman" jab:
The most devastating example of St. Pierre's jab is his fight against Josh Koscheck. Koscheck is an NCAA Division I wrestling champion with a dynamic right hand. Accordingly, St. Pierre didn't want him to get in close for takedowns or power punches; therefore, he jabbed. Every time Koscheck tried to advance, the champion disfigured him with a hard jab. St. Pierre showed incredible accuracy, consistently landing on Koscheck's left eye and eventually breaking his orbital bone.
More often than not, St. Pierre follows up his jab with a straight right hand. Another recent addition to his boxing game is his counter left hook. Once he has his opponent expecting the jab, he'll switch up his assault and rip a quick hook past his guard.
In some of his recent fights, particularly the dull affair against Jake Shields, St. Pierre's right hand lost some of its luster. It was slower, looped and just wasn't very effective. Against Condit, he returned to form and repeatedly clocked the Albuquerque, N.M., native with his straight right hand.
St. Pierre's karate background shines through when he kicks. Rather than the stepping, powerful Muay Thai kicks, St. Pierre doesn't normally turn his hip all the way into his kicks, which makes them much quicker. St. Pierre mostly utilizes leg kicks, both inside and outside. When combined with his jab this creates a formidable combination at range. This is the one area of his game where St. Pierre will get creative, occasionally throwing spinning and ax kicks.
One of the most impressive aspects of St. Pierre's striking game is how well he ties his striking and wrestling together. The explosive forward movement of his Superman punches is identical to how he begins his takedowns. His opponent is too busy guessing whether or not St. Pierre is throwing punches or shooting doubles, meaning that he is also too distracted to defend.
Since a knockout loss to Matt Serra in 2007, St. Pierre has spent significant time working on his defense. He now throws safer strikes and always sets them up, meaning he is less open to counters. In addition to keeping his hands high, his jab keeps power punchers far enough away that they can't land anything significant. The best aspect of his defensive game isn't even his striking -- it's the constant threat of the takedown.
St. Pierre has become one of, if not the, best wrestlers in MMA, even though he never wrestled scholastically. Indeed, he has thrived in the most wrestle-heavy division even though he had no prior experience when he began training MMA.
Once St. Pierre begins to drive through a takedown, the result is basically certain. He explodes through double leg takedowns better than anyone else and is so quick that his opponents don't have time to defend it. In addition, St. Pierre's reflexes are excellent. He excels at timing a kick or a big punch and countering with a quick shot. St. Pierre has out-wrestled more elite wrestlers than anyone else, including Koscheck, Jon Fitch and Matt Hughes, among others.
To go along with his blast doubles, St. Pierre can manhandle his opponents from the clinch. Although he doesn't actively seek the clinch very often, he is clearly very skilled in this position. In his third fight against Hughes, St. Pierre put on a clinch clinic against the two-time All American.
In the first and second rounds, St. Pierre hit the same takedown with relative ease. From the over-under position, St. Pierre would lower one arm down and grab Hughes' knee, while driving forward with his under hook. In the second round, after the first takedown, St. Pierre again clinched with Hughes. This time, he stepped across and hip tossed Hughes to the mat, which led to the eventual finish.
Once St. Pierre brings the fight to the mat he unleashes some of the most brutal ground and pound in the sport. His posture in guard is excellent and he loves to stand above his opponents and rain down nasty punches. After he gets free of any overhooks, "Rush" will stand up in guard and then dive forward with a punch, doing his very best to knockout his opponent. St. Pierre's ground-and-pound played key roles in his victories over champions Sean Sherk, B.J. Penn and Serra.
When St. Pierre fought Condit, he had trouble posturing up against the "Natural Born Killer." Condit had no interest in having the champ crush him punches and constantly held him tight in his guard. To counter this, St. Pierre would constantly use a can opener, where the top fighter pulls the bottom mans head towards his waist -- not to submit Condit -- but to force him to open up.
Condit refused to open his guard. So St. Pierre changed his plan and began attacking with elbows from the closed guard. St. Pierre repeatedly grabbed Condit's head with both hands and then ripped him open with a quick elbow.
St. Pierre's takedown defense is excellent. His sprawl is very quick and powerful, and he often hits a hard whizzer as his opponents attempt to drive through him.
Besides St. Pierre, Koscheck is the best wrestler at welterweight. An NCAA Division 1 champion and four-time All-American wrestler, Koscheck has one of the most powerful blast double legs in the sport. "Kos" managed to get in deep on a single and transition into a blast double, but St. Pierre whizzered hard and ended up on top of Koscheck.
St. Pierre is a Gracie Barra-trained black belt and has also trained with some of the best grapplers in the world, including Roger Gracie and Braulio Estima.
The most impressive aspect of St. Pierre's jiu-jitsu game is his incredible guard passing ability. St. Pierre will first get a good posture and attempt to break his opponents full guard. After he does this, he will hop one leg over to half guard. After he gets to half guard, he always gets an under hook on the far side.
Next, he will either use his instep to push his way out of the half guard, or he will slice through half guard by raising his knee high and then cutting through the guard. Regardless of which pass he chooses, he maintains constant top pressure and throws continuous ground-and-pound to distract his opponent.
The most recent addition to his passing game is his use of the can opener. While the can opener is very effective for opening the guard, it is risky because it opens up arm bars from the bottom. If used cautiously, it is a very nice technique that forces the bottom grappler to open up his guard.
One of St. Pierre's more common submission attacks is to go for his opponent's arm in side control. Since they are focused on protecting their face from abuse, many MMA fighters leave their arms extended. This opens up armbars and kimuras, which are what precisely what St. Pierre attempted to finish Dan Hardy with and the technique he used to finish Hughes.
On the rare occasion St. Pierre finds himself on his back, he defends himself very well. St. Pierre will keep a tight, secure guard until he sees an opportunity to get back to his feet and explode up.
Against American Kickboxing Academy (AKA) product, the aforementioned Fitch, St. Pierre ended up on his back in the third round. Fitch is incredibly good at suffocating his opponent from the top position, but St. Pierre was having none of it. He quickly went for an arm drag before transitioning to a half guard sweep. Then, he exited out the back door and winded up on top of Fitch.
When St. Pierre is on top, he is very wary of submission attempts. The true key to submission defense is to never end up in the submission in the first place -- preventative care is much easier. St. Pierre is excellent at recognizing his opponents' hip movements and wrenching his arms out of any grip they have, which makes almost all submissions from the bottom position impossible.
In addition, he is excellent at keeping his opponent in straight with him. While in guard, the bottom fighter wants to get an angle because it opens up submissions (armbars and triangles mostly). The top guy wants to keep his hips even with his opponent because it nullifies most attempts. St. Pierre is very good at keeping his opponents' hips even with his own, shutting down most submission attempts before they even begin.
St. Pierre might be the best athlete in the UFC. He picked up wrestling faster than any fighter I've ever seen and has constantly out-wrestled guys who have been training takedowns since they could walk, while he's only been doing them for half the time.
St. Pierre's explosion is the base of his success. He can blast through his takedowns incredibly fast -- his opponents just can't react as fast as he can. St. Pierre always seems a step ahead of his opponents because he is, operating on a different level than the competition.
"Rush's" athleticism is what allows his takedowns and striking to tie together so well. Most of his set-ups for strikes can also serve as the beginning of a takedown, which combined with speed, causes his opponent to be cautious and try to predict his next movement. If his opponent can't out-maneuver him while focused on what he's doing, how can he even hope to do so when he is over-thinking St. Pierre's next move?
Best chance for success
As in most of his fights, St. Pierre will have the option of choosing whether or not to stand with Diaz. I highly recommend he take the fight to the ground early and often. While he might be able to out-strike Diaz, the chances of him winning from top position are much higher.
St. Pierre should abandon his can opener for this fight. Diaz loves armbars and they're simply too risky. Instead, since Diaz likes to use an open guard, St. Pierre should focus on posturing up and dropping bombs on the Stockton native's skull.
In addition, St. Pierre should try to rip through Diaz's guard immediately after he lands a big punch. No one ever got submitted from side control and "Rush" is very good at controlling his opponent from a dominant position.
Will St. Pierre beat down "the most disrespectful human being" he's ever met or will Diaz drag the belt back to the 209?
For a closer look and "Complete Fighter Breakdown" of Diaz be sure to click here.