Monday, Feb. 2, 2009 | 2 a.m.
Sun Special Coverage
Looking back on the night he described as the pinnacle of his splendid mixed martial arts career so far, Georges St. Pierre said he could pinpoint the moment he knew for certain he had victory within his fearsome grasp.
It was at the end of the first round of his Ultimate Fighting Championship title fight with B.J. Penn at the MGM Grand Garden Arena, St. Pierre said Saturday night.
Oddly enough, the first round was the only round in which St. Pierre did not score a knockdown in successfully defending his UFC welterweight belt by a stoppage after Round 4.
This fact, coupled with St. Pierre’s logical and convincing explanation of how he executed his game plan, suggests St. Pierre might have, in fact, won it even before the first round — in prefight preparations.
As St. Pierre tells it, he took Penn out of his element first psychologically and then physically.
The mental aspect came into play when St. Pierre realized Penn, a strong boxer, was perhaps overly concerned about St. Pierre’s ground game.
That fear, as St. Pierre characterized it, allowed the champ to display his well-rounded set of fighting skills, most notably his standup game.
“It’s a mixed martial arts fight,” St. Pierre (18-2) said. “It’s not standup versus ground. It’s global ... If a guy is afraid of your ground game, it makes your standup look better.”
The physical part took center stage in Round 1. Aiming to neutralize Penn’s dangerous hand speed, St. Pierre pressured Penn, making him push back and forcing Penn’s blood to flow into his shoulder area, thereby slowing him down and leaving him vulnerable to a stoppage later in the match.
“I knew I broke him mentally after the first round,” St. Pierre said. “I fought my fight. B.J. had to fight my fight. I fought him according to my rules. I took him out of his comfort zone.”
The plan worked to perfection, leading to a one-sided victory by technical knockout for St. Pierre, a performance UFC president Dana White described as so good it was “scary.”
“He dominated one of the best fighters in the world,” White said. “He comes in with a game plan, he’s aggressive, he tries to finish fights. It doesn’t matter if the guy’s a world-class wrestler, a striker, he doesn’t care. He goes in and thoroughly picks them apart.”
With his victory in the headliner of UFC 94, an entertaining card that drew a sellout crowd of 14,885 and generated a $4.3 million gate, St. Pierre cemented his status as one of the world’s best MMA fighters in any weight division. White ranks St. Pierre in the No. 2 position behind only middleweight champion Anderson Silva.
Penn (13-5-1), the reigning lightweight champion, failed in a bid to become the first UFC fighter to hold title belts in two weight divisions at once.
As a “superfight” pitting the belt-holders of two weight classes, the bout generated even more energy than a typical adrenaline-laced UFC card.
“The casino was scrambling to add more seats,” White said. “Other casinos were looking for tickets. This was the craziest event we’ve ever done, by far.”
St. Pierre might have earned the No. 1 ranking on White’s list of the top pound-for-pound mixed martial artists if he had not lost to Matt Serra in a title fight in April 2007.
Since then, St. Pierre has won five in a row, including a rematch against Serra.
Both White and St. Pierre were amenable to discussing the possibility of making a fight against Silva, though not right away. Silva fights Thales Leites in April in St. Pierre’s hometown of Montreal, and St. Pierre’s next big match will likely be against top contender Thiago Alves.
St. Pierre also said he would need some time to build up muscle if he were to step up from the 170-pound division to meet Silva at 185.
“I’m a fan of superfights ... (but) I like to see weight classes cleaned out,” White said. “If you’ve emptied a weight class and you’re looking for a new challenge, that’s the time to step up and take it.”
St. Pierre declined to lobby any early verbal volleys toward Silva, seemingly channeling Ralph Kramden in stating the philosophy that has served him well in MMA: Be kind to people you meet on the way up, because you’re going to meet the same people on the way down.
“In a click you can go down,” St. Pierre said. “That’s why I treasure every moment of my career like it’s the last one. Maybe another fight I won’t have as much success. We’re all human beings. It’s going to be the same thing for me someday. I just hope I’m able to retire before it happens.”
At age 27, St. Pierre still has plenty of time left on his way up.