Georges St. Pierre will defeat Josh Koscheck at UFC 74.
Ok, so Sam Caplan disagrees with me and now I owe the response I promised. Before I get to it I'd like to say a word about Sam. For starters, the guy's work is first-rate. His blog is great, his radio show is great, and his articles on CBS Sportsline and Fight! magazine are great. I don't know him personally, but he also seems like a very personable fellow. In my disagreement with him, absolutely none of it is intended to be personal. Not an ounce.
Alas, Sam is wrong. Here's why:
For starters, Matt Hughes also believes GSP will defeat Kos:
There are a few reasons why I feel confident in saying GSP will stop or neutralize Kos's takedown. First, GSP's takedown defense is underrated. No matter who's the better pure wrestler, it isn't controversial to suggest Matt Hughes can takedown Josh Koscheck in a fight. Yet, in Hughes's last encounter with GSP, the takedown never came - but not for a lack of effort. GSP has incredible base and incredible takedown defense. Hughes was a multiple time All-American wrestler, too, so what separates one All-American from another in terms of wrestling skills useful in MMA is likely very little.
More importantly, GSP - in addition to being a highly talented wrestler who trains with the Canadian Olympic wrestling team - is also a very good gamplaner. And if I were GSP, I'd notice that the vast majority of Kos's takedowns come from outside shots. Kos does not have the inside/underhook/Greco-Roman supremacy of Couture. For sure, if he has double underhooks on you you're in trouble, but that scenario is unlikely to materialize (and even if it does, Hughes couldn't use it to send GSP to the floor). More importantly, this isn't fighting under wrestling conditions. Fighters are standing and not so focused on protecting their legs and hips. Granted, that makes them more susceptible to the takedown, but a) striking is allowed in a fight and b) it also levels the playing field in terms of who can takedown who. So getting back to the point, you have to expect GSP to be working his sprawl - something he does with fantastic acumen - in preparation for this fight. You'll also have to expect him to be working strikes like knees and uppercuts into his gameplan to prepare for what Koscheck will inevitably do. The dreaded shot of Josh Koscheck is not nearly as potent when the level of competition is as high as it is in GSP.
And Kos shooting in is inevitable, isn't it? We all know what happened to GSP at UFC 69 at the hands of Matt Serra, but if anyone would like to put their hand on the Bible and swear Kos is a better striker than GSP, I'd love to see it. Kos will only stand long enough to set up a clean takedown attempt. If he doesn't, he'll end up like Jay Hieron - another wrestler superior to GSP who was demolished by the first-rate striking skills of the French Canadian phenom.
Beyond wrestling, there's also grappling. First, GSP is a brown belt under Renzo Gracie. Kos is a purple under Dave Camarillo. Second, it turns out in that department GSP is the superior mat technician. Not only is GSP an Abu Dhabi veteran, he's defeated one of the men who defeated Kos in a wrestling match. Now, I'm not playing MMA math here. If A beats B and B beats C, I do not believe A beats C. But what I am saying is that without question, GSP has the more notable grappling background. In fact, my Whoopass Radio co-host Seph Smith rolled with Koscheck and tapped him once (Seph was also tapped). Seph's very talented (Judo brown belt, BJJ purple, Sombo black), but when it comes to wrestling Kos is king. Seph himself isn't sure he could duplicate those efforts against GSP.
Let's also look at records. GSP has beaten the Who's Who list of welterweights: Frank Trigg, BJ Penn, Matt Hughes, Karo Parisyan, Jason Miller, Sean Sherk, Dave Strasser, Pete Spratt, Jay Hieron, Thomas Denny, and the list goes on. Josh Koscheck is very good, but his record pales by comparison. His most notable win is over Diego Sanchez, which would be a great victory except that Sanchez was suffering from staph infection at the time. I'm sorry, but staph infection is a very serious illness. That's like fighting with full blown influenza if not worse. If you believe a victory over an opponent under those conditions is sufficient evidence to suggest Kos can beat GSP, you're going to be sorely mistaken on August 26th. The fact is that GSP has faced the best of the best and beaten them. Kos has faced stern tests and performed well, but has not fought anyone even close to the level of competition GSP is or is used to. Kos has never, ever fought anyone like GSP. GSP has fought better and defeated them.
And as others have pointed out, if GSP defeats Kos, that will by no means be the first wrestler he's owned. Not even close.
But in fairness to Sam, most of his reasons for believing Kos will win deal with GSP's mental state. And Sam is right to have cause for concern. GSP on his worst day shouldn't have lost to Serra the way he did, but we all saw what happened. And it shocked us. It made us rethink how good GSP actually is. It made us question whether he was actually championship material. I know I asked myself those questions again. The difference between Sam and I is that I still think he's got it and he'll prove it on August 25th. Sam does not.
GSP has shown fragility in the past, this much is true. He looked nervous against Hughes the first time they fought and paid the price for it. But what happened after that? GSP became an unstoppable force in the welterweight division. And what happened after BJ turned his face into hamburger in the first round of their fight? He came back to pressure the The Prodigy, proving he wanted the fight more that night with huge takedowns and a willingness to exchange in the pocket. What this means is that GSP is susceptible to error and more importantly, susceptible to failure. He's a fighter so gifted that he's got very little preparation for certain forms of adversity because he's never seen what they look like. He's excelled to the top without much resistance, so when resistance actually comes his way, he can be overwhelmed. But the key - and this is the whole key to GSP - is that he uses negative experiences as learning experiences better than anyone in the game. He is a student of the game at heart. Most of the time he spends learning how to win and because he's so good, that takes him very far. But to be a champion - and as fate would have it, to remain a champion - you have to know how to work through challenges and persevere. That's something GSP has learned on the job.
Sam believes Matt Serra exposed a GSP too mentally fragile to handle our expectations and the position as top dog. I believe Matt Serra showed GSP just how much harder he has to work. I believe that is where Sam and I are truly divided. We probably both agree GSP is the more talented fighter, but we don't agree about his mental ability. It's a fight and anything can happen at UFC 74. Kos can come out like a bat out of hell and race through GSP, proving Sam totally correct. For my money, though, I don't think that's going to happen. If GSP is on his game and we see a GSP who is prepared and focused, this fight isn't even going to be close.
As for the excuses GSP's offered, I'd simply say the negative responses to them seem overblown. He's expressed real heartfelt regret over what he said about Matt Serra and is now trying to move on. He's not as able in the media space as a Randy Couture is in terms of answering these sorts of questions, so I don't give him so much grief when he falls short.
Predictions? Obviously I think GSP will win. I will state unequivocally, though, that as highly as I think of GSP, I know Kos is no joke. He could surprise me by dominating St. Pierre with brilliant takedowns and punishing top control. Honestly, though, I have my doubts. I believe what's driving much of the GSP antipathy is that people were so let down by his performance at UFC 69 they decided to write him off altogether (prematurely in my view). We all had such high hopes and he let us down, so f--- him, right? It was never real, right? I'm not suggesting that's what Sam is doing by any stretch, but that certainly seems to be a prevailing sentiment among others in the MMA community.
So that's how I see it. In my view, GSP is too good, too ready, and too much for the San Jose AKA wrestling product. Kos has a bright future in the UFC, but GSP is going to use UFC 74 as the springboard back to title contention. And if I may be honest, I feel sorry for those in his way.