Recently Patrick Wyman and I sat down to speak with Tristar MMA's Firas Zahabi, famed trainer of former UFC welterweight champion Georges St-Pierre and current welterweight contender Rory MacDonald, who is set to challenge Robbie Lawler for GSP's old title next Saturday, July 11th.
MacDonald first met Lawler in a three-round bout in November of 2013. MacDonald withstood some of the most punishing strikes of his career in that bout. A Lawler uppercut in the third round sent MacDonald to the canvas, and he was forced to defend himself for most of the frame before he managed to take top position at the very end of the bout, from which he rained down elbows and punches for the final ten seconds. Lawler took the split decision win, and went on to defeat Johny Hendricks for the championship, while MacDonald returned to the drawing board.
We asked Firas about that first bout, and what's changed since:
"I think the first time around a lot of people were underestimating Robbie Lawler," Zahabi said. "I honestly wasn't. I thought he was a very dangerous opponent, but I feel a lot of the people in the media, and Rory's friends and entourage . . . everybody was kind of thinking that Robbie Lawler was an easier fight than normal, and that this should be a pick-up win for him. And it's not like that. I think Rory learned that every fight is dangerous."
He continued, "It's a valuable lesson, and I think that fight made him stronger. I think on July 11th you're going to see a more calculating Rory MacDonald, a more precise Rory, a more experienced Rory MacDonald. It's gonna make a big difference from the first fight."
Zahabi also told us that injuries in camp hurt MacDonald's preparation for Lawler just as much as his overconfidence did. "I wanted to pull him from that fight because I thought he was too injured to fight," he told us. "He wanted to do it no matter what and I said, 'Okay, fine. It's your career, it's your choice.' . . . I think on fight night he didn't feel it . . . but we had to cut a lot of practices, and a lot of sparring."
Firas Zahabi is one of the best trainers in the sport of MMA, and he had a lot more insight to share with us, including his thoughts on ground & pound as a specifically trained aspect of MMA, the difference between sport BJJ and jiu jitsu for mixed martial arts, and his thoughts on two other Tristar-bred prospects in Alex Garcia and Joseph Duffy. If you want to hear the rest, check out the full episode of Heavy Hands.
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Many thanks to Firas for joining us and sharing his knowledge, and we hope you enjoy the show!