St-Pierre is lopsided favorite in Koscheck rematch at UFC 124
Georges St-Pierre is like
This does not bode well for Josh Koscheck, who lost to St-Pierre in 2007 and will face the welterweight champion for a second time Saturday night in the main event of UFC 124 in Montreal (10 p.m. ET, PPV).
Since defeating Koscheck by unanimous decision at UFC 74, St-Pierre has fought six times. All were wins, but the bouts fall into two distinct categories. With Jon Fitch, Thiago Alves and Dan Hardy, GSP was facing an opponent for the first time, and he won each time by unanimous decision. That was impressive enough, but consider what St-Pierre did in the other three fights, all rematches: submit former welterweight belt holder Matt Hughes with a second-round armbar, TKO Matt Serra in the second with a flurry of knees to the body to win the title, and TKO a bloodied and battered B.J. Penn when the then-lightweight champ's corner stopped the fight after the fourth round. (The Hughes bout was their third meeting, after they'd split the first two.)
St-Pierre is a beast the first time you're in the cage with him. Step in there again and the fight is not going the distance and you're not going to be the last man standing. That's GSP's history.
How does St-Pierre become better the second (or third) time around? "I'm very good to adapt myself to any kind of fighting style," he said at a UFC 124 teleconference earlier in the week. Which is to say, Georges is not a headstrong fighter intent on imposing his will. He approaches his job by exposing and taking advantage of his opponent's opening and weaknesses.
On Saturday night, GSP surely will have adapted from the fighter we saw dominate Kos back in '07. The enduring image from that bout was St-Pierre continually taking Koscheck down and seizing top position. It was astounding to see a guy who had no formal wrestling credentials overmatch a former Division 1 NCAA champion and four-time All-American on the mat. St-Pierre might be equally in control on the ground again this time, but we know he'll also bring something new. He always does.
Koscheck will be a new man, too, but we have to give St-Pierre the edge in adaptability. History tells us to.
Here are some other factors that will come into play:
Both St-Pierre and Koscheck train with MMA's crème de la crème. Since they're about to do battle in Canada, let's use a hockey analogy: A matchup of the two fighters' camps would be akin to the Canadiens of the late 1950s (a record five straight Stanley Cups) vs. the explosive Mario Lemieux-era Penguins. (Koscheck would love that, being from the Pittsburgh area. St-Pierre, a Montrealer, grew up a fan of Wayne Gretzky and the Oilers but now roots for Les Habs.)
St-Pierre is part of Team Greg Jackson, which means he works with the man widely considered the top trainer in the sport, the Freddie Roach of MMA. Jackson's camp includes a couple of former UFC champs, Rashad Evans and Andrei Arlovski, and he also works with Shane Carwin, Jon Jones, Nate Marquardt, Carlos Condit and Keith Jardine, among others. As trainers go, Jackson is one of the more cerebral, which is why he is nicknamed "Yoda" -- and why he's such a great fit for St-Pierre. GSP is a guy who uses his brains as much as his brawn, the perfect apprentice for a Jedi master. (Reading this analogy, can you tell I have a seven-year-old at home?)
Koscheck fights out of the American Kickboxing Academy, where head trainer Bob Cook has an elite MMA roster of his own, headed by newly minted UFC heavyweight champion Cain Velasquez. Other AKA fighters include Jon Fitch, Cung Le, Daniel Cormier, Phil Davis, Mike Kyle and Bobby Lashley. While you may look at most of the names on that list and say "wrestler," consider the standup clinic Velasquez put on against Bock Lesnar. Kickboxing is in AKA's name for a reason; there's a lot of that going on there, making for some well-rounded fighters.
How do we choose a winning camp between these two? It's impossible. So I'm going to factor in the extra work that St-Pierre does. As part of his training for this fight, GSP went to LA to work with Roach (the Greg Jackson of boxing?) on his punching power and his timing. If you see Georges counter a Kos jab with a hard left hook, you'll be seeing Roach's work put in action.
St-Pierre also worked with Roger Gracie on his submissions. In his last fight, GSP had Hardy in arm locks several times but could not force a tap. That might have something to do with the Brit's flexibility and pain threshold -- the fourth-round kimura, in particular, looked tight -- but to St-Pierre it exposed a flaw in his technique. So he went to one of the world's elite grapplers, the two-time defending champion at both super heavyweight and the open weight class at the Mundials, the Super Bowl of Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu.
Koscheck, meanwhile, has stuck with AKA, which has its advantages, too. He gets to roll regularly with Fitch, perhaps the only welterweight on the same level as him and GSP, and spar with Le, one of the sport's most punishing strikers. Working out next to Velasquez and his championship belt can't be such a bad thing. And, more than anything, being part of a tightly knit team that pushes you every day has to be a balm for the spirits of the notorious loner Koscheck.
Still, GSP has put in a lot of miles on the road toward betterment.
The fight is in Montreal, St-Pierre's hometown. Last time Koscheck was there, he riled up a Bell Centre crowd of 17,000-plus by predicting that (a) his Penguins would beat their Canadiens in an impending NHL playoff series (they didn't) and (b) he was going to beat up their boy GSP. Even in the wake of the despicable Paul Daley hitting him well after the horn ending their fight, Kos emerged as the evening's villain, the man all of Montreal loves to boo.
So this should be a no-brainer edge for GSP, right?
Not so fast. St-Pierre is an athlete who relies on clearheaded decision making and adherence to strategy. If he's submerged in an adrenaline cocktail stirred up by the home crowd's deafening cheers, he could be thrown off his game. Look what happened to Kenny Florian at UFC 118: After drinking in the love of his fellow Bostonians, he just didn't perform. Now, Gray Maynard surely had something to do with that, just as Koscheck will be a way more significant obstacle for St-Pierre than a building full of adoring fans. But the point is that St-Pierre is not the kind of fighter who feeds off a crowd's energy.
Koscheck is that kind of fighter. He'll love the boos. He's gone out of his way to cultivate them. At the very least, he'll make the hostile environment a non-factor. But he might very well use it to his advantage.
One of the things that makes matchups of coaches from
While there was nothing on this season of TUF that matched the "I know you are but what am I?"-level jawing between Season 10 coaches Quinton Jackson and Rashad Evans, Koscheck believes he got into St-Pierre's head with his mockery, pranks and other antics. He's probably right. But is that a good thing? If GSP charges out on a mission to smash Kos with all of the animosity pent up from six weeks of filming, Koscheck's plan will have worked to perfection, because that's not Georges's game.
But having that animosity in the air for a month and a half of reality TV filming, rather than just within the limits of a pre-fight promotional schedule, plays into St-Pierre's hands. If he was pissed off at Kos and ready to pounce on him two months ago, he's likely regained his poise by now. As long as the crowd doesn't throw him off, GSP should be able to execute his game plan like it's another day at the office.