Karate to the Core
Exclusive Interview With Top UFC Contender Georges St. Pierre
Interview by Edward Pollard
Georges St. Pierre is set to face reigning Ultimate Fighting Championship welterweight titleholder Matt Hughes on September 23, 2006. Black Belt recently caught up with the feisty Canadian to discuss, among other things, his preparation for that much-anticipated bout.
Black Belt: Describe your fight with B.J. Penn in the UFC 58. It looked like he was going to finish you early on, but you made an inspiring comeback.
Georges St. Pierre: The thing is, when I fought B.J., in the first minute I received a shotóI donít know if it was a glove or a thumbóI received a shot in the eye. For a good three minutes, I couldnít see him well. I saw double, like when youíre cross-eyed. Every time I had to exchange blows with him, I had to close one eye and fight like that. When you punch with one eye open, youíre not as accurate.
BB: Are you saying you had no depth of field?
St. Pierre: Exactly, but I didnít want to let him know that I was hurt. Thatís why I didnít back up. Mentally, it was hard because I had to make him believe that I still wanted to attack, but in my mind I just wanted to survive. Iíve looked at the tape [of the fight], and Iím very proud of myself. It looks like Iím not even hurt, but I was pretty bad.
My vision came back at the end of the third round. I donít know what happenedóhe caught me on the nerve (points to his lower eyelid) and messed up my vision for a couple of minutesóbut afterward I was all right. But I took a lot of punishment because he saw me well and punched with accuracy. I just traded with him to make him believe that I was good, but I wasnít. If he caught me in the eye, it was my mistake because I should have blocked the shot. Stuff happens.
BB: How are things shaping up for you training-wise now that youíre set for a title shot?
St. Pierre: After my fight with B.J. Penn, I [took a weekís vacation] in Mexico. I didnít even do a push-up; I just swam, kayaked, stuff like that. But now Iím training every day. I donít train because I have to; I train because I love my job. I canít stay home and not do anything; I would feel bad. So I train because I like it. Even if I didnít fight professionally, I would still train.
BB: When did you start competing?
St. Pierre: I started karate when I was 7 years old. My dad started teaching me, and afterward I went to a school and competed in full-contact tournaments.
BB: Did you participate in any other sports?
St. Pierre: Yeah, I did kyokushin karate and played ice hockey. But at one point when I was maybe 12 years old, my parents told meóbecause Iím not from a rich family, you knowómy parents told me, ďYou have to make a choice: ice hockey or karate.Ē
BB: You canít do it all Ö
St. Pierre: It costs too much money. My parents were very good with me; they wanted to keep me in sports because they didnít want me to hang out with bad people and become a criminal or anything like that. I was in a very tough school; my childhood wasnít easy.
BB: Why did you choose karate?
St. Pierre: I liked karate better because hockey is a team sport and in karate, like any other martial art, youíre alone. You decide your own destiny. Sometimes when you play hockey, you play very well but your teammates donít, so it messes up everything.
BB: Has karate affected your personal growth and discipline?
St. Pierre: Iím very happy that I learned karate when I was young. A lot of people told me that itís useless in fighting, but theyíre wrong. Iím pretty sure if I hadnít done it, I wouldnít be at this level today. Karate made me a lot stronger, and it made me flexible and athletic like I am right now. When Iím fighting, Iím not doing kata, but I use a lot of kicks and techniques that I learned from kyokushin.
BB: When did you begin to branch out and learn ground skills?
St. Pierre: I started learning jujutsu because when I was 12 or 13 years old, my karate teacher died. Before he died, he gave me my second-degree black belt. I stopped doing kyokushin and started doing muay Thai. I liked muay Thai, but then I saw the first Ultimate Fighting Championship with Ken Shamrock, and those guys inspired me to become a mixed-martial arts fighter. As soon as I saw the UFC, I wanted to train for it, but at that time jujutsu didnít exist in Montreal. I decided to train in muay Thai, and later on I got my third-degree black belt in karate. When I was 16, I found a good place to do Brazilian jujutsu. When I was 18 or 19, I started wrestling and boxing.
BB: Obviously youíre talented enough to pick things up easily.
St. Pierre: Itís because I like what Iím doing. Iím very dedicated.
BB: Do you find a lot of similarities between the disciplines youíve learned?
St. Pierre: Itís all the same. Even in wrestling, even in striking, itís all the same. If you look at all the techniques, you see a lot of similar things. In muay Thai and wrestling, all the techniques are connected. When it started, at the beginning of the beginning, it was called pankration. All the techniques were in one art. You had wrestling techniques, ground techniques and striking techniques. We just separated the different styles of fighting. Before, the sport was certainly harder because you could break fingers, punch the groin, bite and gouge eyes.
BB: Have you thought about teaching or doing seminars?
St. Pierre: Sometimes I teach seminarsówhen I have a chance. I have a lot of offers I canít accept. I never teach before a fight because Iím focusing on my training.
BB: What training routine do you follow when you have a lot of time before a fight to prepare?
St. Pierre: I always train. The difference is, as I get closer to the fight, I try to mix everything togetherólike sparring and MMA. When I donít have a fight soon, I do specific training: I train only in jujutsu with jujutsu guys, only in wrestling with wrestlers, only in boxing with boxers, only in muay Thai with muay Thai guys. Thatís how you become a better fighter. When you train MMA all the time with only MMA fighters, youíre going to get a little bit better maybe, but youíre not going to develop your skills.
When thereís a long time before a fight, I correct my mistakes, improve my skills, improve the little details, the weaknesses. Maybe one month before the fight, I stop that kind of training and do more in MMA.
BB: Do you do much weight training?
St. Pierre: I do it once or twice a week, not too much. I prefer plyometrics or training with a partner. I do a lot of workouts with a partner. I use my partner as a dummy. I think itís more useful because when you fight, youíre fighting another human being. When you lift a bar, the weight is balanced. When you fight a guy, his weight is not fifty-fifty.
BB: Do you have any other special routines?
St. Pierre: I swim a little bit. I also do sprints for conditioning. I do a lot of sparring. I love sparring. Right now I spar with advanced people, but I also spar with beginners because when I learn a new move, it wonít work on a guy of my caliber. So I have to perfect it on somebody who has less experience than me. That way, I can work on the move and afterward try it on somebody at my level.
Before you internalize a move, sometimes you have to do it 500 times. Maybe after 500 times, youíre ready to use it in a real fight against someone at your level.
BB: Tell us about the psychological pressure of fighting a champion with a strong record. How do you deal with that?
St. Pierre: When I fought Matt Hughes the first time, I wasnít ready mentally. It was way too big for me, all the pressure that I had. Now Iíve learned how to deal with it. Iíve had a lot more fights. I got a lot of experience in my last fight, and Iím not the same guy I was when I fought him the first time. Physically, Iím a lot stronger, a lot faster and more mature. Iím 25, and Iím ready for him. I donít think anybodyís going to be surprised because a lot of people expect me to win this time.
BB: Are you more motivated than Hughes is?
St. Pierre: Yeah, but Iíve proved that Iím better than I was. Of course Iím going to surprise some people, but even Matt Hughes knows that Iím a lot better than I was. (laughs) Iím more confident, you know?