Brock Lesnar versus Randy Couture was the “biggest fight ever” according to UFC President Dana White. It’s now old news, failing to become the biggest PPV extravaganza of all time, but still clearly going to end 2008 as the best box office fight of the year. In 2009, Zuffa looks to draw big numbers early, pitting B.J. Penn against Georges St. Pierre in a battle of champions at UFC 94 on January 31, 2009.
UFC welterweight champion Georges St. Pierre sat down with new FiveOuncesofPain.com contributor Jonathan Snowden, author of Total MMA: Inside Ultimate Fighting, to talk Penn, philosophy, and bringing the traditional martial arts back to the Octagon.
Jonathan Snowden: Dana White has called it a dream fight. Others have criticized the mixing of weight classes and said you and BJ would both be better off fighting the top challengers, like Thiago Alves and Kenny Florian, in your own weight classes. Why was taking this fight so important to you?
Georges St. Pierre: If you ask somebody ‘Who is the best pound for pound in the world’ a lot of people agree and say it’s BJ Penn. So for me, it’s a great challenge as well you know. When you’re a champion in a weight class, when you’re UFC world champion, you have to fix your sights even higher. I don’t want to fight to be the champion anymore. I am already the champion. I have accomplished that goal. I want to fight to become a legend in the sport. That’s what this fight can give me. I am fighting one of the best in the world.
Jonathan Snowden: Your fight with B.J. is coming almost three years after your first fight together. How have you changed as a fighter since the first contest?
Georges St. Pierre: I’ve improved a lot. I’m more experienced and way more skilled than I used to be. I am always training. When I’m not training for a fight, when I’m a couple of months away from a fight, I train my skills. I will train strictly wrestling, strictly boxing, strictly muay thai and jiu-jitsu. That’s how I improve. I sharpen my skills all the time. I’ve seen a big progression and B.J. is not the same fighter that he used to be as well. We’re going to fight each other, we’re both in our prime, and it’s going to be a great fight. It’s all a question of timing. This is perfect, because we are both, B.J. and I, on the way up. That’s the fight that everybody wants to see. I fight for myself, but fans have a right to see who they want to have fight. And if you ask the fans of MMA, they will tell you they want to see me and BJ get together in the Octagon.
Jonathan Snowden: There had been so much talk about you fighting Anderson Silva. Were you surprised that this was the super fight the UFC went with? Or did you always expect to wind up in the Octagon with B.J. again one day?
Georges St. Pierre: I knew we were going to meet each other again. And who knows. We may meet each other again after that? Everything goes up in life can go down. Everything that goes down can go up. It’s all a question of timing. I just want to face the best challenges as possible in my career. B.J.’s on the way up. He has three straight wins. People want to see fighters fight each other when they are in their prime. And it will be a big honor to fight B.J. Penn. That’s what makes it interesting. They don’t want to see a fight where one is going down and the other is going up. I couldn’t ask for a better fight for me. The man I want to fight right now is B.J. Penn.
Jonathan Snowden: The first fight between you was controversial and many fans believe that B.J. won the fight. Looking back, how close was the decision in that fight? Could it have gone either way?
Georges St. Pierre: I truly believe I won the fight. I had a really bad first round. I don’t lose rounds. When I’ve lost rounds before in my career, I lost the fight. But B.J. did really well the first round, he won the first round and I believe I won the second and the third. It was a very close match. When I saw the replay, let me tell you, it could have gone either way. I believe I have a slight edge, but that is why we will do it again.
Jonathan Snowden: You and B.J. are both really nice guys, and laid back. What will you do to promote this fight in the media. B.J. was able to turn his fight with Sean Sherk into a grudge match by discussing steroids and other things. What do you expect him to say about you?
Georges St. Pierre: The fight itself, it’s great you know. I’m going to stay myself. I’m not a person who trash talks. I don’t think B.J. is either. I like those kinds of fighters, like Tito and Phil Baroni. But that isn’t me. Of course, it’s a fighting sport. This is a full contact fight outside the cage too, so if we have to give some answers to questions the opponent doesn’t like, it’s just a part of the game. It won’t break my focus at all.
Jonathan Snowden: People have noticed a big change in you since you started training with Greg Jackson in New Mexico. How has that been a turning point in your career?
Georges St. Pierre: In my career, there have been two great turning points. The first is when I lost to Matt Hughes and the second is when I lost to Serra. After those losses, I made a lot of changes in my training, my entourage, and everything in my life. I become better after every fight, but after these two losses I became way better. It gave me a little push up.
Jonathan Snowden: What is an example of how you changed things up after a loss?
Georges St. Pierre: Before I lost to Serra, I was lifting weights by myself because I study kinesiology at the University. I was training by myself pretty much. I thought I knew everything already. After I lost, I decided to work with a specialist, a sports conditioning guy. It’s helped me improve dramatically. I became way more explosive and he helps me peak at the right time. Periodization of the training. It’s changed everything. It helps me a lot.
Jonathan Snowden: B.J. is known mostly for his ground expertise, but in the Sherk fight he displayed some really refined boxing. If he can beat Sherk working mostly off a jab, does that make the standup training for this fight more important than it traditionally would be when facing a jiu-jitsu guy? Or has the loss to Serra shown how important sharp boxing is against anybody?
Georges St. Pierre: It’s very important. After my loss to Serra I started working in a boxing gym where I train with three world or former world champions. BJ standing up is a very good boxer, so I will need a very good training camp appropriate for that kind of fight. MMA is a different sport than boxing. There are a lot of things going on. My training will probably stay similar to my other fights but my strategy will be different. When you talk about strategy, it’s the same as when you play cards. You don’t want to show your hand. Because he might make the adjustment. It’s very important when you have a strategy that you keep it for yourself.
Jonathan Snowden: Of course, with B.J., one mistake on the ground could finish the fight too.
Georges St. Pierre: It’s one of the reasons I’ve been going to Brazil, to train with some of the best jiu jitsu guys in the world. I learned so many good things. I became a way better fighter than when I got there. It improved my skills.
Jonathan Snowden: With New Mexico and now Brazil, when do you ever find time to get home for a visit?
Georges St. Pierre: Actually, ninety percent of my training is in Montreal. Rashad Evans is going to fight Forrest Griffin for the light heavyweight title, so I am going there (Greg Jackson’s in New Mexico) to help him train for that fight. It depends sometimes I go to help guys and sometimes the guys help me as well. It’s like an exchange. Sometimes the guys even come to Montreal.
Jonathan Snowden: One of the guys you train with there in Montreal, Patrick Cote, has had a rough time recently. How does it affect the training atmosphere when one of your best friends and training partners has suffered a big loss?
Georges St. Pierre: It’s sad. It’s sad to see your friend lose like that. Patrick’s going to come back stronger next time. I don’t know what’s going to happen. Surgery maybe? He’s fought already with a loose ACL, so he needs to take care of it and come back stronger.
Jonathan Snowden: Greg Jackson told me about how much you enjoy discussing philosophy and mathematics. You like to travel and explore different cultures. How does a philosopher like yourself end up fighting in a cage for a living?
Georges St. Pierre: Philosophy helped me with my fighting. I can show you many examples. It’s like war. We’ve seen it in the past, the country or civilization with the most advanced weapons win the war. Genghis Khan dominated the world during his time because he had a weapon nobody else had. America won World War II with the atomic bomb. Same thing in MMA. I want to have a weapon that nobody else has. That’s why I’ve been traveling a lot. I want to have some techniques, some weapons, so I can win and dominate my sport. That’s what I need to have to stay ahead of the game.
Jonathan Snowden: You started with karate and now you’re travelling and learning from other culture’s combat traditions. Is there still a place for traditional martial arts in MMA?
Georges St. Pierre: Absolutely. And I’m going to show it January 31. You will see something new from me. I guarantee.
Jonathan Snowden is a former lawyer, radio DJ, and television producer. He has worked for the U.S. Army and the White House Communications Agency, is trained in Brazilian jiu-jitsu and the Army Combatives Program, and currently works for the Department of Defense. You can buy his new book Total MMA: Inside Ultimate Fighting at your local book store or online.