Esther Lin, MMA Fighting
Heading into Georges St. Pierre's fight Nick Diaz, Connor Ruebusch looks at the striking of the UFC Welterweight champion.
This is a guest post by BE reader Connor Ruebusch
In fairness to Nick Diaz, whose virtuous name I dragged through the mud over the weekend, I'm going to write today's analysis with an eye for GSP's weaknesses on the feet. Majestic and godlike though he may be, Georges St. Pierre is not without his stylistic imperfections. Let's see what they are.
GSP has excellent footwork for a mixed martial artist. This is particularly evident when he has his opponents beyond arm's length. He is a master at pot-shotting his opponent with jabs, which he usually throws while circling to his left, always forcing his opponent to turn to face him before they can attack in return. But on occasion Georges' opponents have managed to predict him, timing his jabs and preempting his lateral movement with punches. Josh Koscheck threw clubbing right hands again and again as GSP moved to his right.
In the sequence above, St. Pierre and Koscheck begin in a neutral position. Koscheck leaps in behind a flicking jab and loads up a wide, swinging right hand. Georges attempts to intercept him - in this case he throws a long left hook, but the footwork is the same as that which usually accompanies his jab. He slides his rear foot around and pivots on his lead, bringing his head towards Koscheck's counter. Fortunately, Josh punches like he's throwing the world's slowest fast ball, and Georges' shoulder stops the blow from connecting solidly.
GSP hasn't always been so lucky, however. He attempted the same intercepting left hand against Serra in their first bout, and got himself clipped by the right hand heard round the world. Check out the notorious .gif, and notice how Georges is loading up his jab and preparing his habitual pivot to the left when Serra connects over the top of his shoulder. Nick Diaz is a southpaw who has learned that the right hook is often more dangerous for orthodox opponents than the straight left, and he knocked out Paul Daley with a chopping right hand behind the ear, not at all unlike the overhand that Serra used to dethrone St. Pierre. Georges will need to be cautious of that punch when engaging Stockton's favorite son on the feet.
Georges has also shown a tendency to back straight away from rushing opponents. This works against the majority of the welterweight division's fighters, since most of them charge straight forward hurling telegraphed power punches that are easily avoided with the simplest of footwork. But Carlos Condit managed to find a chink in the welterweight king's armor with his creative offense.
As Condit rushes forward, GSP covers up and backs away, attempting to use a lazy left to keep Condit at bay. Carlos bobs under the left arm and uses the momentum of the evasive movement to launch into a head kick. Notice, in the top right frame, that Georges is fixated on the upper body of Condit, completely unprepared for the kick that is sneaking up from outside his field of vision. Notice also, that the kick connects as GSP is preparing to lunge in with a counter, his lead foot off the ground in the middle of his characteristic deep forward step. His balance compromised, and with no solid framework to absorb the force of the blow, Georges stumbles and falls to his back with Condit following Matt Serra's example and hungrily pursuing the champ to the canvas.
And while we're on the subject of GSP's compromised stance...
St. Pierre is famous for his jab. Infamous might even be a better term: in recent years the French-Canadian has, among some cynical fans, garnered a reputation somewhere between that of Jon Fitch and Tim Sylvia by jabbing and top-controlling his way to a record six unanimous decision wins in title defenses. But you can hardly fault GSP for repeatedly utilizing this one weapon when it has single-handedly (ha-ha) proven that the feared "boxer-wrestlers" of the welterweight division are still much more wrestler than boxer.
And for all the talk of GSP lacking punching power, his jab is both fast and unquestionably hard. The shattered orbital of Josh Koscheck can attest to that. GSP's explosiveness is not merely relegated to takedowns, and there is no one in MMA who can throw weight into a jab the way he does. Georges' jab is not perfect, though, and his particular style of jabbing actually explains why he is not renowned for his knockout punches. Take a look at this still of St. Pierre jabbing Josh Koscheck at UFC 124.
See how GSP lunges in behind his jab. He throws his left hand much like legendary boxing champion Jack Dempsey's "straight jolt," in which the weight is brought down hard on the lead foot and the body's elevation lowered as the arm extends, bringing gravity into the force of the punch. This lunging method is also very similar in appearance to the straight punches thrown by early bareknuckle boxers, whose distance-closing attacks looked more like a fencer's thrust than the straight punch of a modern boxer.
This style of punching makes sense for GSP's game. He pot-shots his opponents to keep them at bay and punish them, until they get hasty and he can take them down. But there are reasons the best modern boxers are not taught to jab this way.
First, such a lunging jab is essentially a one-off attack. GSP often tries to throw a follow-up right hand, but aside from a knockdown of an off-balance Jon Fitch, the punch rarely sees results. This is because a good rear-handed punch relies on the transfer of weight from the rear foot to the front foot, or at least for the weight to be back at the start of the punch. In the following stills of GSP throwing a combination, you can see that this is impossible with the mechanics of his jab.
Georges plants his rear foot and prepares to step hard into his jab, which he cleverly throws from underneath Koscheck's guard. As his hand shoots up, his body sinks down into the punch, and his shoulder protects his chin. These are all positive aspects of a solid power jab. But, in the top right frame, you can see that Georges' right foot has already nearly left the ground with his explosive leap into the jab. His weight stays forward as he throws the right hand. Certainly, since St. Pierre's musculature makes Greek gods insecure, there is still some power in his right hand from trunk rotation alone. But there is no weight on the rear foot to put into the punch, and Koscheck steps back, still blind, but far from being knocked out.
GSP will be facing a dangerous combination puncher in Nick Diaz. That is not a game that GSP utilizes, nor one that he faces often. Furthermore, his lunging style of jab could potentially leave him open for counters, as it did against Condit. It is doubtful, but we will see Saturday if Diaz has made the necessary changes to his plodding footwork to take advantage of this opening.
Georges St. Pierre's game is not without its holes, but he is still by far the most complete fighter to have ever competed in mixed martial arts. He has faced top competition for years (and Dan Hardy) and has beaten every single opponent he's faced. He answered the two men who managed to beat him with dominating, definitive stoppage wins, and effortlessly had his way with the rest of the division. People may complain about GSP being boring, but it's hard to fault a man who is so utterly predictable in his victories.
GSP has the best wrestling in a division of accomplished wrestlers. He has arguably the best jab in the entire sport, and a powerful array of kicks to go along with it, as well as ever-improving boxing skills. Most importantly, Georges has shown an impressive ability to adapt. No one has ever beaten him without being completely crushed in the rematch. I'm not a fan of MMAth, but GSP and Diaz' respective bouts with Carlos Condit bear comparison. Diaz was unable to change his game plan once in a five round fight in which he was constantly being outmaneuvered, and seemed completely perplexed by the lateral movement of his opponent. After the win, he and his team refused to acknowledge that they had been beaten at all. Georges, on the other hand, not only corralled Condit into the fence repeatedly throughout their bout, but proved his heart and ability to adapt after being knocked down and still managed to carry the day, even coming back to stun Condit with a series of punches mere moments after the shocking knockdown occurred.
There's no such thing as a lock in MMA, and no fistfight is ever a sure thing. But this Saturday, we are likely to see a GSP even better than the one that fought Condit, and the same Nick Diaz as ever. Time will tell if Diaz will be able to shock the world, but no one is more prepared to spoil a challenger's hopes than Georges St. Pierre.