Wednesday, April 4, 2007

Georges St. Pierre: A mixed martial arts champion with manners to match

By Neil Davidson

(CP) - Ask those in the fight game about Montreal welterweight Georges St. Pierre and the answers sound very similar.

"Right now Georges St. Pierre, pound for pound, is probably one of the best, if not the best mixed martial arts fighter out there," said lightweight Kenny Florian. "One of the best, if not the best in the entire sport," echoed commentator Joe Rogan. "He's the model of the future UFC champion."

That's because the reigning UFC 170-pound title-holder from Montreal can do it all: striking, wrestling and jiu-jitsu.

St. Pierre (13-1) will be showing off that fearsome toolbox Saturday against Matt (The Terror) Serra at UFC 69: Shootout in Houston (available on pay per view).

It's the 25-year-old St. Pierre's first championship defence since dethroning veteran Matt Hughes in November at UFC 65 in Sacramento.

Serra (8-4) earned the title shot by winning Season 4 of "The Ultimate Fighter" reality TV show, outlasting a house full of veteran fighters looking to make a comeback in the UFC.

While the 32-year-old from Long Island, N.Y., is a black belt at jiu-jitsu, he is a prohibitive underdog against the younger, taller, more well-rounded St. Pierre. listed St. Pierre at minus-1,000, meaning you would have to bet $1,000 to make a profit of $100. Serra was at plus-550, meaning a $100 bet would return $550 in profit.

St. Pierre says people are underestimating Serra.

"I need to take this fight very serious because otherwise it's going to be a very bad night for me."

"In this sport, anyone has a chance," argues middleweight fighter Mike (Quick) Swick.

"The better prepared the fighter is, the more talent the fighter has, the more experience the fighter has, I look at like a roulette wheel - he has more spots allocated to him. And I think the chances are the ball's going to drop on St. Pierre's number.

"But you never know. And Serra's being such a great jiu-jitsu guy, can submit people. He could catch St. Pierre and that is the one way St. Pierre has lost in the past."

Hughes submitted St. Pierre via armbar at UFC 50: The War of 2004.

It was a different story in the rematch.

Hughes loves to get into opponent's heads and succeeded the first time they met when St. Pierre looked away during the pre-fight staredown in October 2004. Last November, St. Pierre glared back. Then he punished the champion with punches and kicks, shrugging off Hughes' takedown attempt.

It was over in 6� minutes. St. Pierre felled Hughes with a high kick to the head, then finished him off with a brutal flurry of punches and elbows.

"His combination of just raw athleticism, power, combined with his very technical fighting is what makes him so dangerous," Florian said. "I think he's the new breed, he's the type of fighter that we're going to see more of in the future.

"He's your future MMA fighter fighting right now in 2007."

St. Pierre is also the MMA fighter you'd bring home to mother - with good looks, chiselled body, megawatt smile and manners to spare. He bows as he enters the cage, signalling his respect. Then he comes in and hurts his opponent.

"If you meet him, the nicest guy in the world," said Rogan. "Super-friendly, down to earth, very positive, a very warm guy."

"A phenomenal fighter - and he's a gentleman," added Serra.

"That's not going to change the fact that we're both going to take each other apart Saturday night," he added. "But as a person he's cool people and he's a great fighter. It's going to be an honour fighting him."

St. Pierre has won his last five bouts, cutting a swath through the 170-pound ranks.

He is a machine in the ring. Fighting is his business.

"I never fight with anger. I always fight mechanically - with no emotion," he explained.

The only thing that has slowed him down recently is injury.

A groin problem put the Hughes rematch on hold - B.J. Penn replaced St. Pierre and was beaten by Hughes at UFC 63 in September. And the Serra bout was pushed back from Feb. 3 after St. Pierre injured his medial collateral and posterior cruciate ligament in training.

Surgery was not needed and St. Pierre says he is back at "110 per cent."

Since winning the title, St. Pierre says he has worked hard to ensure he stays grounded.

"I hear a lot of former champions say it's hard to be a champion but it's even harder to stay champion," he explained. "I truly believe that I can be very successful, I just need to keep my head clear and stay focused."

That means sticking with family and longtime friends - "because I know they're real, they're not fake people."

Universally respected in the world of MMA, St. Pierre celebrated his win over Hughes in the ring with his cornermen - and his mother who was in the crowd. He said later he wanted her to enjoy the moment, because she too had sacrificed to make it happen.

While a sweaty Hughes came to the post-fight news conference in his fight gear, a showered St. Pierre arrived later in a crisp suit - looking every bit the newly crowned champion.

"He destroyed Matt Hughes and Matt Hughes has been destroying people for a while," Serra said.

A lucrative six-fight contract with the UFC followed in January. But a new house in Montreal that he has yet to move into remains his one post-championship extravaganza.

"A big, big house, it's like a castle. ... it's too big for one person," he said a bit sheepishly, calling it an investment.

He had bought a new truck prior to the Hughes fight.

Ask St. Pierre where his championship belt is and he pauses, eventually settling on a bedroom closet.

"For me the most important thing is the moment, the memory that I've got that night. Nobody is going to be ever able to take that away from me, that's the most important thing for me," he said.

"The belt is a material thing. Somebody can steal it, one day it can break. But the memory I've got inside my heart and inside my head."

St. Pierre has been working hard to create more good memories, continuing a training partnership with fighters from Greg Jackson's renowned camp in Albuquerque, N.M.

As he did before the Hughes fight, St. Pierre has been training with Nate Marquardt, who is due to fight middleweight champion Anderson Silva in July, and has also worked out with light-heavyweight Rashad Evans, who is slated to meet Tito Ortiz in July.

St. Pierre has also stuck with such traditional training partners as David Loiseau, Patrick Cote and Jonathan Goulet.

In the past, St. Pierre has done his jiu-jitsu work in New York with Renzo Gracie and John Danaher. But Serra also trains with Gracie and had seniority.

Always the gentleman, St. Pierre stepped back and yielded to Serra. He plans to resume training there after the fight.

"One of my favourite fighters," Swick said. "Definitely I'm a huge fan."


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