Friday, June 26, 2009 | midnight
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Georges St. Pierre has squared off in super fights and fought against arguably the sport’s top champion, but the popular Canadian says his biggest challenge will come from Thiago Alves on July 11 at UFC’s historic 100th event.
“Skill-wise he’s bringing a lot more problems to the table than everyone I’ve fought so far,” said St. Pierre, the welterweight champ.
“Just recently, he’s beaten (Karo) Parisyan, (Matt) Hughes and (Josh) Koscheck. After those fights, I knew he was going to be a potential opponent for me and I truly believe he’s the biggest challenge I’ve faced so far.”
After a shaky start to his UFC career at 2-2, Alves, a devastating Brazilian striker, has run off seven straight victories — a fact not overlooked by “GSP.”
“He’s always a better version than he was the time before,” said St. Pierre, who’s coming off a dominating (but quite controversial because of greasing allegations) victory over B.J. Penn at UFC 94 in January.
“Thiago Alves is a gentlemen. He’s not somebody who needs to trash talk to promote himself. He’s a very respectful guy, that’s what makes him even more dangerous.”
Alves (22-4 overall record in mixed martial arts), appreciative of St. Pierre’s compliments during Thursday’s media conference, returned respect to the Quebec native who is making his third title defense.
“I think it’s going to be a well-rounded fight because GSP is a complete athlete. He’s a complete fighter. He’s the champion,” said Alves, who’s making his first title fight.
“I think I’m ready in every situation, be it stand-up, wrestling or the ground. I have a lot of respect for the champion and I’m ready 100 percent for whatever he throws at me.”
The 25-year-old Alves, known as “The Pitbull,” said he’s grown up since his TKO loss to Jon Fitch in the summer of 2006.
“After my loss to Jon Fitch, I realized, 'Oh man, what are you doing?' Not even that, after my suspension, I was like, 'I can't do that to myself.’ That's just the way to take the sport. Either you're in 100 percent or you’re not,” Alves said.
“If you're in, take everything you got and put it into sport. Make it your life. That's what I did. I've been living it since I was 14. But in the last couple years, I made it even more clear what I want to be and what my goals are. That’s making me work harder every day to get there.”
Both fighters — who said they were near the 190-pound mark on Thursday, some two and a half weeks away from their bout at the MGM — are significantly big guys for the 170-pound division. But neither thinks size will particularly factor into the fight.
“I don't think it will make a big difference because I always train with bigger guys than me," said St. Pierre (18-2 MMA).
"And I truly believe that in our sport, skill and technique always beat strength and size, so the guy who will win the fight is the better fighter not the bigger guy."
St. Pierre, who called Alves’ wins over similar opponents in Parisyan, Hughes and Koscheck more impressive than his own victories, says his game plan of tiring out Penn will have to be tweaked against “The Pitbull.”
“Thiago has devastating leg kicks, but that’s not the only thing he’s got. He’s got great knees, a great left hook, and heavy hands,” St. Pierre said.
“I do have a special strategy that I will use to take him out of his comfort zone, but it’s like when you play cards, you don’t want to show your hand. Thiago Alves is a way different fighter than B.J. Penn, so it will be a different strategy. You guys will have to find out in the fight.”
Both GSP and Alves said the historic night at Mandalay Bay will provide both with the opportunity to make quite a statement in the sport.
“Emotionally I think I was born for this. I was made for that day. This is what I’ve been asking for my whole life. I think you get in life what you ask for,” Alves said.
“I’m really excited. UFC 100 is a dream come true.”
St. Pierre obviously says he wants the win over the top contender, but he said for his name to truly carry weight in the sport over time, he has to win these exact kind of matches.
“I want to be thought of at the end of my career as the best pound-for-pound fighter that ever fought in MMA history,” said St. Pierre. “I have to make a legacy. I have to fight the best guy and to win, and win in a good fashion. That’s what I want to do.”
Andy Samuelson can be reached at email@example.com or 702-948-7837.