Learning a variety of fighting styles has been key to Georges St Pierre's success, writes Euan Megson.
St Pierre is a master of all trades
ABU DHABI // As the Ultimate Fighting Championship's (UFC) undisputed welterweight king, mixed martial artist Georges St Pierre understands the importance of adapting between different combat techniques. Since making his UFC debut eight years ago, St Pierre has studied various mixed martial arts (MMA) disciplines to boost his attacking artillery. Identifying which form has served his career best, however, is simple.
"Wrestling is the sport which has helped me the most with my mixed martial arts competition," says St Pierre, known as GSP to his army of followers. "In MMA, the best wrestler is the boss. He decides where the fight takes place; whether it is a stand-up or on the ground." Local MMA fans will sample UFC fighters' contrasting techniques first-hand when the series debuts in the capital next year. Regretfully though, St Pierre, speaking to from the sidelines of Abu Dhabi Wrestling Club's youth development classes, where is a guest coach over the festive period, will not be fighting.
"Fighting in Abu Dhabi would have been awesome, I wish I'd been on that card," says the Canadian, who adds that wrestling - unlike many other disciplines employed by UFC fighters, such as boxing, jiu-jitsu and muay thai - offers its exponents the ability to dominate a rival. "It's not a sport you will finish an opponent with; it is about control, which is very important." The welterweight champion of MMA's leading franchise may extol wrestling's virtues, but he acknowledges that the UFC would not be the global phenomenon it is fast becoming if the art of grappling was its defining style.
"I like the technique, but you can compensate without having too much wrestling ability," says St Pierre, before pointing to the past to qualify the sport's legitimacy. "MMA reaches people from all kinds of backgrounds: judo, boxing, muay thai, ju-jitsu and wrestlers. "It reaches a variety of people so it's very popular. But it's not a new sport; it was the first sport ever. It was called Pankration in Ancient Greece and they did it for more than 800 years. In those days, they even stopped wars to send their best athletes to compete."
If mastering styles is the key to MMA success, then St Pierre is a pioneer in utilising specialist trainers to increase his potency. It has worked so far, with 19 wins in his 21 bouts. "I'm a big believer that when you are the best at something, you need to find people who are better than you to improve," he says. "I have training partners who are better than me in every discipline. I don't need training in MMA, I'm the world champion and pretty good at it.
"Finding a training partner who is better than I am is hard. That's why I train in every single discipline, because it sharpens things and makes me more rounded." Those balanced skills will be severely tested in GSP's next fight - a March clash against Dan Hardy, who is undefeated in four UFC bouts. "Hardy's the No 1 contender and he deserves a title shot," says St Pierre. "He's very impressive and has beaten everybody. He's the underdog but I'm not taking him lightly. I'm training hard and I will be better than I've ever been for that fight."
While Hardy's powerful striking is well-documented, the British fighter will not relish a ground battle. It is, after all, an area where submission specialist St Pierre excels. "People will expect me to take him to the floor," he says. "But sometimes I like to do the unexpected, surprise people and take my opponents out of their game." Post-Hardy, a much-anticipated catchweight match-up against middleweight champion Anderson Silva looks inevitable; both fighters dominate their respective classes and UFC president Dana White wants to pair them up.
St Pierre, however, no longer looks past his next fight; it is a lesson he learned the hard way. "There is no such thing as an invincible man, anyone can be beaten. I've learned that from my life experiences," he says. "The winner of a fight, or any kind of sporting contest, is not always the best guy. The guy who fights best on the night wins - who performs wins. Mistakes happen, anyone can lose.
"Right now I have a fight to watch out for - that's Hardy. When I'm done with that challenge I'll see which doors open. There's four or five fights left on my contract." What he will do after MMA is open to debate. A fighter's lifespan is definite and walking away, one day, is inevitable. But not yet. "What I do right now, I do for myself," says St Pierre. "OK I grew up hard, but I went to school and university and it's not like I didn't have a choice.
"I could have done anything I wanted. But I chose this. "I do it from the heart, not for fame and money like a lot of guys. "It's like an artist, when they paint it's for the art - that's why they're good. "They might not even be recognised until after their death. For me, MMA is the same thing." firstname.lastname@example.org