Over the course of his decade-long career, UFC welterweight champion Georges St. Pierre has become known for his mental and physical preparation, including his ability to maintain a positive mindset when facing adversity.
The champ has continued in that vein ahead of his UFC 154 title unification bout against interim champion Carlos Condit, a man St. Pierre calls his most dangerous opponent to date. “The Natural Born Killer” captured the interim strap this past February, outpointing Nick Diaz after St. Pierre withdrew from his UFC 143 title defense against the Cesar Gracie pupil due to a torn ACL.
Now fully recovered from the serious knee injury, St. Pierre says the time on the sidelines actually proved beneficial as he prepared for his Nov. 17 showdown with Condit at the Bell Centre in Montreal.
“This last year has allowed me to take a break, mentally and physically,” St. Pierre said at the UFC 154 pre-fight press conference on Thursday. “A year-and-a-half ago, I realized I had kind of lost the fire a little bit. Now, after everything I’ve been through, I’m coming back motivated and stronger. I’ve rekindled the passion for the fight game.
“Before my injury, I was at the point where I had to train, not because I wanted to. I lost motivation, and I learned that sometimes you need to break something [on purpose] and fix it before it breaks by itself,” St. Pierre continued. “I don’t need to lose a fight to improve my training schedule and make me a better martial artist. I need to stay on top of the game before the fight game catches up on me. That’s what the long layoff allowed me to do. I can’t make everyone happy, but I need to make changes in my training for myself that makes it more efficient.”
In Condit, St. Pierre faces a fellow disciple of vaunted trainer Greg Jackson, who has declined to help either man prepare for the bout. Though he would obviously prefer for Jackson to be in his corner on fight night, St. Pierre says that a fighter’s corner can help only so much within the confines of the one-minute rest period.
“[Carlos and I] both have the same problem right now. The corner doesn’t really matter in a fight,” said St. Pierre. “Of course it does a little bit, but even if I had the Pope in my corner, the truth is that when you come back from a round, you’re exhausted. You have maybe 20 seconds where [your corner] can tell you what to do or change your strategy to help you out. The rest of the time, you just recuperate and try to [catch] your breath.
“Also, it’s about the hours of repetition and training that will [take over] in the fight without you thinking about it. So it’s really the instinct that takes over. It happens so quick that you don’t have time to think about it.”
St. Pierre has made a career of honing those fight instincts, which have guided him to 22 victories in 24 career appearances. One of the major knocks on the dominant champion, however, has been his inability to finish the majority of his opposition while competing at or near the top of the UFC welterweight division. While “Rush” has previously explained the inherent difficulties of stopping challengers in a category as talented as welterweight, St. Pierre says he has nonetheless made an effort to further develop his finishing instinct in preparation for Condit.
“For me, I think the key to getting more finishes is to be more of an opportunist, not taking more punches or having less defense,” said St. Pierre. “It’s more about having the instinct for the finish, and I’ve been working a lot on that these last few months. The ultimate goal is to entertain, but it’s also to win and hurt your opponent. That’s how you win the fight.”
When St. Pierre steps into the cage in eight weeks, it will mark his first fight in nearly 19 months. As a result of the extended layoff, St. Pierre says he actually views himself the challenger -- not the champion -- in his return to the Octagon.
I have two challenges in one. I’m fighting the most dangerous, well-rounded martial artist that I’ve ever fought, and I’m also coming back from a long period of inactivity,” said St. Pierre. “In my contract, I was supposed to defend my title every year, and I couldn’t do it because of injury. So the champion, for me, is Carlos Condit, and it’s up to me to take the title.”