Esther Lin / MMA Fighting
Georges St. Pierre is one of the best rounded fighters in mixed martial arts history but is returning from a year and a half hiatus due to injury. Jack Slack examines the weaknesses in St. Pierre's incredible game as GSP prepares to defend his title against Carlos Condit at UFC 154.
Georges St. Pierre is to my mind the most rounded fighter to ever compete in mixed martial arts but the Killing the King series is my commitment to examining all of the UFC champions with an eye for weaknesses which may be exploited by elite game planning. I will say up front that these men are champions for a reason - finding chinks in the armour of men such as Jon Jones, Georges St. Pierre and Anderson Silva is a very hard task. Everyone, however, has favourite techniques which they use more than others and every technique opens up a target (even the 'safe' ones: the jab, the side kick, the teep). The targets exposed by a fighter's favorite go to techniques are the most intelligent ones to exploit.
A great example from a Brazilian Jiu Jitsu perspective is Frank Mir's use of Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira's favourite sit out technique to lock in an unusual kimura. Frank Mir doesn't have as good a positional BJJ game as Nogueira has shown in the past, but he is an excellent hunter of submissions and a decent gameplanner. These are the sort of openings which are the best to target against the men who can force their will on a division.
Today we will examine:
- St. Pierre's Striking
- Availability of the Body Shot
- Countering GSP's Explosiveness
St. Pierre’s striking in recent years has evolved along the Bruce Lee-esque philosophy of absorbing what is useful and discarding what is not. Georges has really simplified his game down to the basics and he lands them basically whenever he throws them. Gone are the high kick and back kick which GSP used to sprinkle in as often as he threw a punch, the new GSP is built around that king of strikes: the jab. There is a great deal of misconception surrounding the jab and the two most popular are that:
- The jab is a point fighting move, unable to do any damage beyond the superficial cutting and bruising of the face except in freak cases.
- The jab is a single technique.
I shall address both of these points by referring the reader to Georges St. Pierre’s second bout with Josh Koscheck. The damage which St. Pierre did with his lead throughout the bout was far more than superficial and he prevented an iron headed opponent with heavy hands from doing anything. One does not stupefy a man as passionate for throwing leather as Josh Koshcheck with point scoring techniques, because he has shown himself happy to walk through other fighters' punches to land his own. Review the fight and note that a great many of the times on which St. Pierre connects his jab he visibly stuns Koscheck and the latter ceases his forward motion almost immediately.
The second belief is something which most people are not even aware that they have but when you hear people saying "all GSP does is jab, jab, jab" as if it is just a case of St. Pierre going through the motions exactly as in practice they are suffering from this misconception. Josh Koscheck, Jake Shields, Matt Serra, Dan Hardy; none of them are considered elite in their striking defence but they all know how to deal with "the jab". They have each spent hours and hours in the gym with pad men simulating "the jab" and probably learned several counters for it. To land a hard, jolting jab with any degree of consistency on anyone with a full time striking training program is a hard thing to do. St. Pierre’s fights are a masterclass in how to use the jab to damage and discourage an opponent – here are just a few factors to look for when reviewing his recent bouts. (G)
- GSP will fake a jab two or three times to dive in with one hard one.
- St. Pierre will jab while leaping in straight or while circling to the left in what is called a Safety Lead.
- St. Pierre will use a non-committal jab to hide the step up with his rear leg for his hard inside low kick, and conversely will use a faked inside low kick to throw a leaping jab / cheat punch (commonly called his Superman Jab).
- When St. Pierre sees his opponent attempting to parry his jab with their rear hand (basic boxing form) he will occasionally fake the jab and throw a lead hook instead. GSP does not commit to this technique as often as I would love to see him do, but when he does he is capable of dropping fighters of the calibre of Josh Koscheck and Thiago Alves.
The Availability of the Body Shot
St. Pierre’s favourite jabbing method of late has been the Safety Lead – which is performed by circling left while jabbing. When an uneducated boxer attempts this he will often eat a hard overhand for his troubles – as Michael Bisping did when he continued to circle towards Dan Henderson’s right hand. The way to alleviate the danger of circling into a right hand is for the fighter to tilt his head off line to his own right and raise his left shoulder tightly to his cheek as he jabs. This and a correct sense of distancing (the jab being longer than the right straight) should almost always be enough to keep the fighter safe. Georges St. Pierre demonstrated mastery of this technique against Josh Koscheck, who seems a reasonable measuring stick as his modus operandi is to throw a looping right hand in counter to everything.
1. St. Pierre approaches Koscheck from the front.
2. St. Pierre dives his left foot out to the left and circles with a jab. The black line illustrates where his foot began. Notice how St. Pierre is leaning slightly to his right and that his left shoulder is high.
Notice also that Koscheck attempts to parry and jab back as Penn did so effectively in his first fight against GSP. Clearly the champion's boxing has come a long way.
One disadvantage of the safety lead is that it leaves a fighter’s flank dangerously unprotected against attack. Every time St. Pierre dives in with his jab or circles with his safety lead his lead arm comes away from his ribcage and his shoulder moves to his chin – exaggerating the unguarded area. A counter right hook to the rib cage rather than overhand as St. Pierre circles would certainly at least hurt the champion and either make him timid to jab or simply add up damage to the body every time he attempted. The cumulative effect of body punches is well known and a man with as little shock absorbing fat around his midsection and ribcage as GSP seems a great target for body shots.
The availability of the right hook to the body is not simply an observation but has worked against him in the past. So many want to write off Matt Serra’s knockout of St. Pierre as a lucky punch that they often overlook the numerous right hooks to the body which Serra threw before throwing his right to the head and catching St. Pierre with his hands down. St. Pierre’s hands were down because of the over-reaction to body shots which is common among MMA fighters as they are not used to dealing with them. It is tough to stay disciplined when getting hit in the torso, something which UFC heavyweight champion, Junior dos Santos has demonstrated on numerous occasions.
Matt Serra went to the right hook to the rib cage time and time again throughout his one round meeting against Georges St. Pierre.
Here is the shot which toppled the welterweight king for the first time. Notice that St. Pierre's hands are far out of position either to defend body shots or to try to catch Serra's head as Serra changed levels for a body shot. (Gif) This right hook to the body and right hook to the head strategy has carried Sergei Kharitanov's entire career.
St. Pierre’s self-preserving fighting philosophy is well known, and intelligent, but often this means that he guards his head at all costs and exposes other openings. Whenever an opponent bares down on him and St. Pierre opts to retreat he either extends his lead arm or covers his head with it – opening up the hole for a body shot which B.J. Penn was happy to exploit in the first round of their initial meeting.
Here Penn jabs at St. Pierre and St. Pierre over commits to guarding his head. Penn follows by digging a right hook to the floating rib.
While St. Pierre has become more disciplined, the hole is still there in his jabbing retreat. Notice that his right side is entirely exposed.
Carlos Condit is a competent body puncher – and against Nick Diaz he showed the right hook counte ra couple of times which would serve him so well against St. Pierre. Unfortunately allowing St. Pierre close enough for Condit to counter with a right body hook would be walking right into GSP’s wheelhouse and likely result in a takedown for the far superior wrestler.
Photo by Esther Lin / MMA Fighting
Georges St. Pierre’s great weapon in his bouts throughout his UFC tenure has been his explosive charges into takedowns or strikes. The nickname Rush is truly apt as St. Pierre uses superman punches and diving jabs to engage and ‘runs’ into his takedowns. A St. Pierre double leg takedown is something truly beautiful to behold. GSP is however coming back from a year and a half off due to a knee injury and these are truly the worst kind for explosive athletes and wrestlers. A couple of examples of men who careers rapidly declined due to a combination of time off and extensive injury to their knees are Mauricio Rua and Norifumi Yamamoto. Both men were explosive fighters with huge punching power and Yamamoto had the same reliance on his explosiveness to get takedowns that GSP has shown – yet both rapidly declined after their knee injuries. Both Yamamoto and Shogun Rua could be accused of coasting on natural attributes – neither learned a great deal of striking strategy or technique – so it will be interesting to see how much of St. Pierre’s ability will have disappeared with the health of his knee or whether he can buck this trend.
While it is true that St. Pierre’s natural attributes have been a large part of his success it is not true that he lacks intelligence and strategy altogether. St. Pierre’s set ups for his takedowns are some of the best in the business and his ability to anticipate an opponent’s reaction to his strikes has made his shot almost impossible to stop.
The main way to counteract GSP’s explosiveness would be similar to what I speculated on in Killing the King: Jon Jones – to not allow St. Pierre to plant his lead leg. He needs to plant his lead leg to shoot and to run in with strikes, taking that away would be a great start in limiting the exchanges to those taking place on his opponent’s terms. Carlos Condit has shown himself adept in limiting exchanges through attacking the lead leg with push kicks and low roundhouse kicks.
Georges St. Pierre is a far cry from Nick Diaz however – he not only knows how to check outside kicks and how to stop opponents simply circling away from him, he will also catch any kicks on the outside of his thigh. To attempt outside low kicks against St. Pierre is effectively giving him a takedown, which is of course a terrible idea against one of the sport’s best ground and pounders. (G)
Consequently Condit’s best options are to kick the inside of St. Pierre’s lead leg and to use his push kicks to St. Pierre’s knee to prevent the champion from getting close enough to shoot or jab. Against a man coming back from knee surgery this seems a pretty cheap tactic – but it’s the exact same thing that most sensible strikers will do unless the rules are amended and certainly what Anderson Silva will do if you believe that super fight will ever come to fruition. St. Pierre is better off facing it against Condit than for the first time against Silva – and Condit is certainly better off kicking the knee than trying to box St. Pierre who would rough him up and take him down in retaliation.
Carlos Condit's last two fights have been clinics as far as jamming the opponent's offense is concerned. He kept Dan Hardy from committing to power punches by push kicking Hardy's knee. This set up the knockout as Hardy's left hook lacked the power Condit's owned - due to Hardy being tentative to set his weight on his lead leg.
There is a reason that I consider Georges St. Pierre the most rounded fighter in the sport today. Where Anderson Silva's game revolves around striking the strikers and striking the grapplers, Georges St. Pierre is strong enough in each discipline to do almost anything he wants to anyone in his weightclass. It all stems from his control of where the fight takes place - he owns the fastest feet for closing and opening the distance between the combatants, and he owns the best wrestling in seemingly every match he takes part in. So much of St. Pierre's game is in his legs that it makes his recent knee injuries even more worrying. I severely doubt we will see GSP return to the form he has shown lately if his injuries were severe enough to keep him out for a year and a half, and so Condit might get the win regardless, but let us consider this match up as if St. Pierre turns up in his usual form.
Condit cannot wrestle with St. Pierre, this much is obvious, because he will be taken down and put through the meat grinder. Condit's job then is to stay at range - which he will likely accomplish with his usual push kicks. Unfortunately even against Nick Diaz - whose feet are notably slow and whose kicking defense is non-existent - Condit routinely found himself turning his back and sprinting to get off of the cage. While St. Pierre doesn't possess the frightening flurries of body hooks which Diaz does, he can easily shoot into a takedown or get the clinch from the position which Diaz so often squandered. If Condit's back goes to the fence he will likely be pushed against it and taken down. If GSP truly returns to the form of old we might even see the back kick which he used to slam Matt Hughes back into the fence when the great American wrestler let himself get too close to the edge of the octagon. (G)
The wrestler who can box is rare, and the wrestler who can kickbox is even rarer. Georges St. Pierre stood astride the welterweight division for so long because he is competent and in fact great in every area of the fight game. If a healthy GSP can recapture the abilities which put him at the top, Condit might still be able to eek out a win by:
- Kicking St. Pierre's legs to keep him at range.
- Allow St. Pierre to engage only on Condit's terms, then counter with the right hook to the body.
- Use the body shots and low kicks to set up a meaningful strike to the head in hopes of a knockout.
- Wear down St. Pierre's body and knees to take a late decision or stoppage as St. Pierre gets tired and makes mistakes.