Since roughly halfway through the 2nd round of UFC 129's Georges St. Pierre vs. Jake Shields main event, talk surrounding GSP has been squarely focused on one topic - how to rebuild the champion's brand. Fans grow tired of St. Pierre's inability/unwillingness to finish fights, and have begun to cool on the once red-hot poster boy for Canadian MMA. Now, future GSP matchmaking talk focuses less on the long hyped Anderson Silva superfight, and more on the immediate need for making fans excited to watch St. Pierre once again. This is not a new situation for Dana White and company to be in. Twice before they have dealt with the finicky, underwhelming performances of a dominating champion in Anderson Silva. And twice before, they have rebuilt Silva's brand wonderfully - first by pairing him with a never say die slugger in Forrest Griffin, then against a world class hype machine in Chael Sonnen. The results were spectacular successes. Now, they look to give that same boost to GSP, and more and more, it seems they look to do so by pairing him with Nick Diaz.
There are definite contractual hurdles to a St. Pierre vs. Diaz fight going down, which we've run through already here at BloodyElbow. There are also strong positives - not the least of which is that Diaz combines Griffin's aggression with Sonnen's mouth to create the perfect storm of an exciting opponent. But one aspect that has so far been lost in this conversation is the fight itself. Forget the marketing, the branding, the business side for a moment and let's ask ourselves this: how would a champion vs. champion fight between Nick Diaz and Georges St. Pierre go down?
Each man has based some of their early career on their much touted ground work - GSP for his wrestling, and Diaz for his jiu jitsu. But these days, both look more towards the stand-up game as the primary weapon, and that is where I believe this fight would be contested. So let's take a look at each man's stand-up and see how they stack up against each other.
Full break-down after the jump.
GEORGES ST. PIERRE
St. Pierre fine tuned his best weapon against Josh Koscheck. Throughout their 2010 fight, St. Pierre jabbed Koscheck into oblivion, causing some of the most destructive damage we've ever seen in MMA from the oft underutilized jab. GSP has a particularly good jab, as he hits it quickly and recalls the hand with great speed to keep his defenses up and tight. He also uses that jab to keep a longer range and keep more distance from his opponent. This distance is one of the defining attributes of his stand-up style. GSP is not a fighter who likes to get inside and dirty box or fight from the clinch - his only purpose for closing the distance is to take you down. He's much happier fighting from range, and you can see that in the number of range techniques he regularly employs; the jab, spinning back kick, and superman punch are all designed to connect while keeping yourself safely outside your opponent's range. And it works - FightMetric lists St. Pierre as avoiding 76% of his opponents' significant strikes, which puts him at #3 in the UFC for strike defense.
The disadvantage to this kind of range fighting is that it can sacrifice power. St. Pierre rarely steps inside to fully power those shots through. Koscheck's face tells you that those jabs do indeed add up, but GSP's strikes lack that finishing power. So far that inability to finish has only cost him fans, not fights, but it's definitely a danger. His other much discussed potential weakness is, of course, his heart. People point to both the first Serra fight and now the Shields fight as evidence of this problem. I'm not sure I buy it. Is using a fight from 4 years ago, plus one where he was partially blinded for half the fight really the best barometer? Still, it's a question. Does St. Pierre employ those rangey techniques because he is so strongly averse to being hit and mixing it up?
The simple fact is, Nick Diaz WILL hit GSP, and he'll probably hit him a lot. To prepare, I'd like to see St. Pierre work on fighting back after taking those shots. Also, Diaz's style is very unorthodox, with punches coming it at odd angles. Perhaps some sparring with another unorthodox fighter like Keith Jardine or Jon Jones will help St. Pierre expect the unexpected. If he can handle the bigger, longer Jones, it will be a strong plus against Diaz.
Diaz has essentially invented his own style of MMA striking, and its unique-ness alone is a big strength. He also adds in a ridiculously high volume of punches and a significant reach to gain an advantage. But his biggest stand-up asset in my opinion is his hook. Diaz uses that reach to bring his hook in again and again. Each time he throws it in a somewhat lazy manner, almost lulling his opponent into not blocking it. But he also loops it in so far and maintains such control that it's very difficult to block - try to block and he'll just make the adjustment mid-punch. Against St. Pierre, this ability to connect could be a massive asset. If GSP does indeed wilt under the pressure of repeated punches, he's going to have a very tough time against MMA's most frequent puncher.
In this particular match-up, Diaz's biggest weakness is that his primary punch - the hook - is best countered by St. Pierre's primary punch - the jab. With his speed and accuracy, it should be easy for St. Pierre to snap that jab in and beat Diaz to the punch every single time. And St. Pierre is the kind of conservative, intelligent fighter that won't deviate from that plan. If he is landing the jab, he'll just keep landing it, and no matter how tough Diaz may be, those jabs will take a serious toll. Add in the scar tissue Diaz deals with and his propensity for bleeding, and you can see Diaz taking a lot of visual damage over five rounds.
Simple - plan for that jab. Work the defenses, work on bringing the hook in faster, work head movement, work a counter combo, but be ready for what to do when that jab keeps coming.
I think this one comes down to that mental X factor. If St. Pierre can deal with the volume of punches coming at him, his superior jab and distance fighting should win him this fight. But if he gets off his game, Diaz will continue to connect and could take it. So can St. Pierre deal with it? To steal a line from a certain hype machine, I don't know, but (hopefully) we are all going to find out.