Friday, April 6, 2007

Georges St. Pierre heavily favoured at UFC 69

HOUSTON (CP) -- Bigger, younger, faster and equipped with more weapons.

There are lots of reasons to like welterweight champion Georges St. Pierre's chances in his first title defence against Matt (The Terror) Serra on Saturday night at UFC 69: Shootout.

The bookies are making the Montreal mixed martial arts fighter a prohibitive favourite. has St. Pierre at minus-900, meaning betters have to risk $900 to win $100. Serra is plus-500, meaning you risk $100 to win $500.

That makes it virtually a no-win prospect for both the bettor and St. Pierre. The champion is expected to win -- and win handily. Any lesser showing will be seen as failure.

Serra, however, is compact, durable and tends to stick around fights -- his last six have gone the distance. He also has an excellent brain atop his fire hydrant body.

St. Pierre, for one. believes people are underestimating Serra, who earned his title shot by winning Season 4 of The Ultimate Fighter reality TV show which showcased veterans making a comeback.

"Matt Serra is not the same old fighter that he was before," St. Pierre told The Canadian Press. "He has improved tremendously and it's going to be a war. It won't be easy for me.

"I need to be very well-prepared. I need to stay focused because if I make a mistake, it's going to be a very bad night for me."

That's because the five-foot-six Serra is a black belt in jiu-jitsu who can feast on errors.

Serra, 32, believes the lopsided view of Saturday's bout is due in large part to the difference in their last two fights.

St. Pierre, 25, dominated longtime champion Matt Hughes in winning the title last November, showing impressive smarts and skills.

Serra, meanwhile, won a split decision over Chris Lytle in a dull Ultimate Fighter finale that saw the two largely negate each other's strengths. Credit weeks training together on the TV show for taking any excitement out of that fight.

"Everybody's said the same thing about me my whole career," Serra said. "If I don't get it down (to the ground), I'm getting knocked out.

"Let's talk about it. When was the last time I got knocked out or even hurt really, standing? The only time I got stopped was Shonie Carter and that was in 2001 and that's out of my entire career. You see me take beatings and keep on going.

"It's going to be a way tougher fight than people expect, I tell you that much."

The bad news for Serra is that the five-foot-10 St. Pierre has the tools to give him a five-round beating. The Canadian also has the strength and technique to resist Serra.

The idea of having a TV show decide a championship contender has proved to be less than stirring in hindsight. Co-winner Travis Lutter failed to make weight in February at UFC 67, so his main event with middleweight champion Anderson Silva was downgraded to a non-title affair. Lutter showed he deserved to be in the cage with the champion, but eventually tapped out -- caught in a triangle hold with elbows hammering his shaved head, which was tomato-red by the time the fight ended.

St Pierre-Serra was supposed to be on that February card, but a knee injury postponed the fight until now.

The rescheduled main event has failed to capture most fight fans' imagination. The Diego Sanchez-Josh Koscheck welterweight bout, dripping with bad blood, holds more allure.

St. Pierre has won five straight against elite opposition with his only professional loss coming in the first bout with Hughes in October 2004. Since that time, Serra has fought twice, going 1-1.

With St. Pierre holding the edge in so many areas, some look to motivation.

Former lightweight champion Jens Pulver, who trains with Hughes, acknowledges that St. Pierre's current level extremely impressive. But he also has questions.

"Hopefully that wasn't because of hunger to get the belt, hopefully that was just because he was striving to be the best ... now that's he got it, can he keep it?" Pulver asked.

Lightweight Kenny Florian says motivation won't be a problem for the champion.

"Right now he's just at a really high level. He's been able to show how tough he is, how skilful he is and I think the title is his to lose. I know Georges, he trains hard, he's taken Matt Serra very seriously. Georges knows how important it is to defend his title. This is going to be his first title defence and I think he needs to make a statement.

"It's going to be interesting to see how Matt Serra deals with Georges St. Pierre's wrestling and striking skills."

St. Pierre says he has trained the same way for Serra as he did for Hughes, other than temporarily quitting training at Renzo Gracie's jiu-jitsu school in New York because it's also home to Serra and the challenger has seniority with Gracie.

But as champion, St. Pierre is now in everyone's sights.

"He's like the guy on top eating the steak and we're all the lions down here fighting over the scraps that he throws down," Koscheck said, by way of colourful metaphor. "He's got the belt and we want that belt. Obviously everybody's going to be motivated. It depends on how motivated Georges St. Pierre is for this fight, also."

St. Pierre says he gets better at handling such pressure each time out. It comes with the job.

"I better enjoy what I'm doing right now because I'm going to do it for maybe the next 10-15 years. So I try to relax, live in the moment and enjoy every second. . . . I want to stay champion forever."


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