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Fighter on Fighter: Breaking down UFC 217’s Georges St. Pierre

Esther Lin

Former Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) Welterweight kingpin, Georges St. Pierre, will return opposite with Middleweight strap-hanger, Michael Bisping, this Saturday (Nov. 4, 2017) at UFC 217 inside Madison Square Garden in New York City, New York.

It’s been four years since “GSP” last competed.

That’s an important number. The mixed martial arts (MMA) world changes rapidly, both in terms of where fighters are in their careers — Conor McGregor was fighting on “Prelims” undercards back in 2013 — and how the game is played. Styles develop, work, and are solved in that amount of time. It’s not hard to see why some are skeptical of St. Pierre’s return. At the same time, it’s also been more than 10 years since St. Pierre tasted defeat. “Rush” accomplished tasks thought impossible before, so returning from a massive layoff to dethrone a champion may just be par for the course.

Let’s take a closer look at his skill set:


Four years have also passed since I last had to write about St. Pierre’s abilities. While taking a look back at different fights across his career, it really surprised me how much I was reminded of Demetrious Johnson. Not necessarily in terms of specific technique, but St. Pierre’s approach to striking and fighting definitely seemed to have an influence on the legendary Flyweight.

For St. Pierre, it all starts with controlling range. When discussing St. Pierre, talking about his jab is obviously a must. Almost everything that St. Pierre does well, from scoring counter punches to setting up takedowns, begins with the jab (GIF).

There are several small elements that go into St. Pierre’s jab that separates him from every other Orthodox fighter trying to stick a left hand in his opponent’s face. He has little tell or show, giving his opponent minimal time to react. His jab also comes from a low stance, which helps the strike slip up under his opponent’s guard. Then, there’s his deep step forward, which ensures it’s a damaging blow and makes the most of his range.

St. Pierre’s bout with Josh Koscheck is perhaps the finest display of effective jabbing in a fight. Koscheck came out looking to throw right hands and wrestle — both facets of his offense were unceremoniously shut down by repeated jabs to the face. He broke his foe’s orbital bone early, which only led to a half-blind Koscheck eating more jabs (GIF).

After establishing the jab, St. Pierre finds a home for his right hand. It’s nothing overly complicated, but a right hand down the middle from the correct range set up by a jab or two is just smart boxing (GIF).

The other half of St. Pierre’s distance striking is the inside low kick. On its own, it’s a simple foot replacement into the low kick, a clear influence from his Karate days. However, it does wonders, both in terms of slowly damaging his opponent and setting up other shots.

Both of those strikes tie into other weapons very well. After establishing his jab, St. Pierre will begin using his famous Superman jab. The common follow up to that technique is a hard right low kick to the outside of his foe’s leg, which build upon that damage to the lead leg (GIF).

All those low kicks set up the high kick as well, as does St. Pierre’s jab, which can cause his foe to slip into a left head kick. “GSP’s” left high kick relies on the same Karate-style foot replacement as the inside low kick, which further complicates defense for his opponents.

Once St. Pierre’s opponent has absorbed enough jabs and kicks to be thoroughly motivated to attack, St. Pierre is setting traps. His ability to pull back a step after landing — leaving his foe swinging at air — is fantastic, but if he stays in range, he’s going to land. “GSP” does a great job of parry punches and returning, stabbing at his foe with counter jabs and check hooks (GIF).

On the whole, St. Pierre’s bout with Carlos Condit, a dangerous kickboxer, is a great showcase of distance control. Condit threw just about every trick in his arsenal towards St. Pierre — and the one high kick that landed was beautiful — but St. Pierre always seemed to be out of reach or ready to capitalize with a takedown. Whenever Condit was too aggressive, he ate counter punches instead (GIF).

To sum it all up, St. Pierre punishes foes at range, takes them down in the pocket, and lands counters when they over-extend. The whole while, he’s difficult to hit and doing damage.


St. Pierre is without a scholastic wrestling background, but the combination of athleticism, distance control and great coaching nevertheless turned him into a nearly unstoppable wrestler. Currently, St. Pierre has finished more takedowns than anyone else in UFC history.

Like everything else, part of that success stems from the jab. When St. Pierre steps into the jab from his wide stance, he’s also in great position to instead drive into a shot (GIF). Alternatively, if his foe is frustrated by St. Pierre’s jab and gets sloppy with his punching, St. Pierre can easily duck down and drop him to the mat.

To finish his takedowns, “GSP” doesn’t usually drive through the shot with a big left like a lot of wrestlers. Instead, St. Pierre blocks one of his opponent’s knees and drives them over it, a style of takedown that helps eliminate the ability of his foe to sprawl. How that works and some of St. Pierre’s setups are the topic of this week’s technique highlight.

St. Pierre is really great at tricking his opponent’s into kicking from too close. He’s so far away for so long that when he does stop moving or take a small step forward, he can surprise opponents. For an athlete like St. Pierre, blasting an opponent off his feet while he’s off-balance and mid-kick is almost too easy (GIF).

From top position, St. Pierre’s ground striking is far more vicious than all his decision wins suggest. He prefers to posture up above opponents, ripping out of overhooks and the defensive guard to hammer his foe with long punches (GIF). If he can get to a dominant position, those brutal knees to the body he used opposite Matt Serra and Nick Diaz are demoralizing and painful.

Opposite Carlos Condit, St. Pierre was forced to work from inside the closed guard quite a bit. To counter this, “GSP” utilized the can opener, a fairly old school neck crank, to open up Condit's guard. When that failed, he turned to cleaving elbows, gripping Condit's head with both hands before dropping an elbow.

In terms of defensive wrestling, St. Pierre is pretty perfect. Again, it all goes back to that range control and low stance, as “Rush” denies entries to the takedown before they begin.

If his foe does manage to get deep on a shot, things aren’t going to be easy. St. Pierre’s spraw is fast and powerful, enough to kick out of most shots. Even an D1 NCAA champion like Josh Koscheck had little success with his shots, simply unable to keep his opponent down on the rare occasions St. Pierre hit the mat (GIF).

Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu

A Gracie Barra black belt who has trained with many of the best grapplers in the world, St.Pierre is among the premiere grapplers in MMA as well. He’s not overly aggressive on the mat, but St. Pierre’s guard passing and positional work is pretty much perfect.

The best aspect of St. Pierre's jiu-jitsu game is his incredible guard passing ability. To begin, St. Pierre will break his opponent's grips, achieve 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 works for 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 throws continuous ground-and-pound to distract his opponent. GSP does a good job putting all of his weight on his opponent's head/neck while passing, making movement very difficult.

Despite the complaints of fighting safe, St. Pierre is willing to sacrifice position for a submission attempt. He generally likes to attack his opponent's arms, with either the kimura or arm bar, often from side control. Since ground striking can be a fight finisher, many fighters focus on defending those strikes, leaving their arms extended in dangerous positions (GIF).

The former welterweight champion rarely winds up on his back, making his guard game a bit of a mystery. Even when he is taken down, St. Pierre generally explodes back to his feet before any jiu-jitsu technique is necessary.

However, against Jon Fitch — who made a career off of controlling his opponent from top position — St. Pierre found himself on the bottom in guard. GSP reacted quickly, using an arm drag to transition to a deep half position. From there, he scooted out the back door and landed on top of Fitch. For a fighter who is so rarely on his back, this was a veteran move (GIF).

St. Pierre's submission defense is, like the rest of his game: Intelligent. He understands that prevention is much more important than reacting once he's in a dangerous position. With this in mind, St. Pierre has become a master of recognizing his opponents movements and grips, then exploding out before they can act. One of St. Pierre's keys to submission defense is his posture, which prevents most submission attempts before they materialize.

Additionally, St. Pierre is very good at keeping his hips even with his opponent. The bottom fighter wants an angle, which allows him to work for arm bars or triangles. To prevent this, St. Pierre constantly adjusts when his opponent moves, keeping his hips square without sacrificing posture or hand position.


St. Pierre’s legacy as one of the best is set in stone, but there are always new challengers to that crown. If he can return from such a huge legacy to add a second divisional title to his resume, it separates St. Pierre even further from other champions to whom he is commonly compared.


Andrew Richardson, a Brazilian jiu-jitsu purple belt, is an amateur champion who trains at Team Alpha Male in Sacramento, California. In addition to learning alongside world-class talent, Andrew has scouted opponents and developed winning strategies for several of the sport's most elite fighters.

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