Two-weight champion Georges St-Pierre and his team aimed to silence critics of his fighting style prior to his UFC middleweight title fight victory
St-Pierre’s work certainly paid off and he surprised many in the process. Having a team containing elite coaches such as John Danaher, Freddie Roach, and Firas Zahabi afforded the Canadian with an excellent supply of expertize in planning. With critics, including his opponent at UFC 217, Michael Bisping, expecting St-Pierre to adopt the same low-risk and measured approach as in the heyday of his welterweight dominance, GSP managed to demonstrate new techniques in his gameplan.
“He looks like the biggest Georges St-Pierre we’ve ever seen, but he’s still the smallest guy that I’ll ever fight,” Bisping said at a pre-fight press conference in Las Vegas. “I was 15-0 at light heavyweight, I’m the world champion at middleweight and he’s a blown-up welterweight.
“He only wants to fight me, he doesn’t want to fight anyone else. He thinks he can take me down and control me on the floor. He doesn’t have the balls to fight anyone that he doesn’t think he can beat – like Anderson Silva, like many other people.”
St-Pierre was certainly heavier heading into the fight, but did not look like a man who had not fought in four years.
According to his coach, famed BJJ maestro Danaher, he had no desire to see St-Pierre slot back into the welterweight division where he cemented himself as one of the greatest mixed martial artists of all time. If GSP was going to return to fighting, it should be under different terms:
“It’s a huge thing to come back after four years, but if you come back why don’t you do something different – something that’s going to change your legacy?” Danaher told Ariel Helwani on The MMA Hour.
“We talked about it a little more and I said to him that there has always been three criticisms of your career. The first is that you’re so controlling and tactical in your approach to fighting that it makes for boring fights. That’s always been a persistent criticism.
“The second is that you never fought up a weight class. You always fought guys at welterweight. The third is that you don’t finish fights. Those are the three persistent criticisms of the legacy of Georges St-Pierre.
“I said why don’t we focus on a training regiment that strongly emphasizes submissions and TKOs/KOs and punching power that you need to finish a fight. You go up a weight division and you focus on the old, dynamic in-and-out and lateral movement of Georges St-Pierre to create a faster paced fight that people find more interesting.
“We ran the idea past other people – Firas Zahabi, Freddie Roach etc. – and everyone said that it was a good idea.”
Danaher also went through the changes to St-Pierre’s training regime prior to the bout against Bisping:
“Georges came in and worked with the squad and we strongly emphasized submission holds. Normally when I train with Georges it’s really what we call ‘grapple boxing’, which is a mixture of striking and boxing on the ground. It’s mostly positional work,” he explained.
“Instead we changed everything to submission holds, favoring strangulations from the back and leg locks. Georges made remarkable progress. He started working with Freddie Roach on the mechanics of punching so he was hitting harder. He was sitting on his punches more and just working on the mechanical element of straightforwardly hitting harder with a strong emphasis on left hook, jab and straight rear hand.
“He made significant changes and there was a notable sense that he was hitting harder and he was working submissions with a lot of success in the gym. He started working with a karate specialist who brought back the old, linear, in-and-out movement that Georges was so famous for in the early days of his career.
“We were pretty confident before the camp started that people were going to see something new, something that would add to Georges’ legacy. This wouldn’t be the Georges of 170 fighting another top welterweight and doing the same thing that he did for a decade. This was him fighting up a weight class with a strong emphasis on finishing the fight in a dynamic, mobile way, which people found exciting.”