Saturday 24 July 2021

GSP - The Blueprint for MMA Success

Georges St Pierre is arguably the greatest MMA fighter of all time. It is difficult to compare MMA to more established sports like boxing or wrestling. However, GSP achieved milestones that can be regarded as characteristics of the greatest athletes. During his time, he became the champion of the dominant organization winning the UFC Welterweight & Middleweight Titles. He had Nine title defenses. His final record was 26 wins and 2 losses 

What makes GSP so impressive is his continual improvement from one fight to the next. Whereas most fighters eventually stagnate & decline in performance as their career goes on GSP actually kept improving. Additionally, he retired at the top. He won the middleweight title in his retirement fight against Michael Bisping, probably one of his most impressive performances.

GSP also had many disadvantages. Canada had a strong combat sports culture, but it was not known for MMA in the early days. The USA, Brazil, Russia, and Japan dominated MMA. As most of the champions of major organizations came from these countries, anyone else competing in UFC was not considered to have much of a chance. 

In addition, he did not train with one of the major fight teams, such as Brazilian Top Team, Team Quest or Chute Boxe. He was not deterred, however. He worked relentlessly to refine his skills in the individual styles, learning from the best wrestlers, strikers and jiujitsu teachers he could find, and then he worked even harder to combine them.

Additionally, GSP was not a full-time athlete during the early stages of his career, working several other jobs to pay the bills and only becoming a fulltime fighter after several fights with the UFC.

What was it that separates GSP from the rest and made him so great? There is a trend to imitate what successful fighters are doing right now in the hope of replicating their results. Watch the UFC countdown and see what they are doing to prepare for their upcoming title fight. The focus should be on what the top fighters were doing at the beginning of their careers. 

A great fighter must lay the foundation for future success during the early stages of training and fighting. If they had done things wrong early on, they would never have achieved their full potential and we would never have heard of them.

Don't look at what the successful fighters are doing right now. Find out what he did early on in his career that helped him succeed.

Fortunately, I have a good resource for accurate information on GSP’s early days. My friend and former training partner Oliver Jones. Oliver and I trained, sparred and competed together for many years in the UK BJJ & MMA scene. Oliver is a life long martial artist who has trained and competed extensively in Karate, Amateur boxing, BJJ, Freestyle Wrestling and MMA. He has trained and competed all over the world including Brazil, Japan & the UK.

He also studied in Canada for one year and trained with GSP almost every day. This was just before GSP made his UFC debut.

I recently spoke to Oliver to get a better understanding of what made GSP so great and what he was doing back then that laid the foundation for his career as one of the greatest fighters of all time.

A life long martial artist, not just a Fighter

Just like Oliver, GSP was a life-long martial artist. He didnt just train for fights he was constantly training and improving all the way through his life. Unlike the majority of fighters who just train when they have a fight coming up and then lose motivation between fights.

Those who are introduced to martial arts early in life often display this characteristic. It becomes more than just learning the techniques or getting in shape, but gaining the confidence and mentality that will last for a lifetime. This is why people who started training in their youth tend to stay in the sport for a longer than those who start as adults.

As a child, GSP was introduced to Kyokushin Karate by his father, who believed that it would help him deal with bullying. He trained in Karate until he was a teenager, when he became fascinated by the fast-growing sport of MMA. He dreamed of one day stepping into the cage and testing himself, but realized he needed grappling skills to be successful. During his late teens, he began training in BJJ and wrestling.

This background in traditional martial arts as well as a commitment to continuous daily improvement no doubt set GSP on the right path for future success.

The Professionalization of Mixed Martial Arts

GSP was among the first generation of fighters to treat MMA as a serious professional sport. Unlike previous champions, he wasn't fighting simply to showcase his martial arts skills or promote his school or style. He seemed to understand how big MMA was going to be in the future, so he prepared accordingly.

MMA (then known as No Holds Barred or Cage Fighting) was considered a freak show sport in its early days. No one could have predicted how popular & mainstream it would eventually become. In particular, that one day GSP would be named Canada's sportperson of the year. 

My conversations with Oliver indicate that GSP had an intuitive understanding of the future of the sport. Knowing it would keep growing and evolving, he knew it was worth dedicating his life to. For this reason GSP had a big advantage over other fighters at the time who mostly viewed it as a niche sport, which had already reached its peak. They were more focused on short-term success and relatively small paydays than thinking long-term.

Focus on becoming a well-rounded fighter

Previous generations of MMA champions were experts in one area, like striking or groundwork, but lacking in others. Champions in individual sports such as wrestling or BJJ knew that if they could reach their preferred range, they would have a huge advantage, but if they couldn't, they would be defeated.

George was determined to become skilled in all areas, according to Oliver. Even after many years of martial arts training, he recognized he still had holes in his game and room for improvement. He knew that he would need to follow a disciplined schedule to acquire all the necessary skills in wrestling, BJJ, boxing, and combine them in MMA. 

GSPs greatest strength was this ability to build upon their weaknesses. While many fighters are happy to just stay in their comfort zone. GSP showed the true white belt mentality. He put in the effort to become one of the most well-rounded fighters in MMA history. He was dangerous at every range and had perhaps the largest arsenal of weapons of any fighter in UFC history. He was an effective puncher, kicker, in the clinch, he had explosive takedowns, dangerous ground and pound and also submissions. On top of this he also had great defence in every area, phenomenal fight IQ and mindset.

Even though he wasn't the first fighter to blend and use the techniques of all the different styles, GSP took this to a higher level and was able to execute this seamless blend of styles in battle better than anyone before him.

This set GSP apart from other fighters and also created the blue print for future MMA fighters to follow.  

Commitment to constant improvement 

At the time they started training together, GSP already had an impressive MMA record and had won the title belt in Canada's biggest MMA promotion. Many would be happy just to rest on their laurels and rely on their fight experience & natural talent instead of continuing to improve. GSP had a true white belt mentality. In the year spent training with Oliver, he was constantly training, learning and improving. 

They first met Gelinas Martial Arts Academy, a traditional martial arts club which had several BJJ classes per week.  The BJJ instructor was Ahmad Zahabi, who was a purple belt at that time. and the brother of Firas Zahabi, who eventually became GSP's head coach. GSP worked hard to develop his Jiujitsu skills in both Gi & Nogi which would go on to serve him well in future years.

Oliver and George also trained three days a week at the Montreal Wrestling Club. The club's head coaches were Victor Silberman and his son David Silberman. In each three hour training session, the format was the same. Drilling the same basic high percentage takedowns followed by lots of rounds of sparring.

GSP also began training & competing in amateur boxing around the same time that Oliver was leaving Canada. In addition, they often traveled to other gyms on weekends to train, compete, or coach.  

Fighers often lack this dedication to learning new skills and fixing holes in their games. Fighters need a certain amount of ego. Often, however, this ego works against the fighter. GSP did not let his ego prevent him from doing the hard work he needed to do to become one of the greatest fighters ever.

Attitude & Work Ethic

In between fights GSP & Oliver would develop everything in isolation, then put it all together during training camp for an upcoming fight.. 

GSP didnt have particular special attributes or talent At least not compared to any other high level figheter but his coaches and training partners could see his potential and how far he would go due to his consistent hard work. He had an aura of achievement, positivity, and friendliness. He always seemed positive about everything and never complained. GSP was never late for training and was always the hardest working athlete on the mats staying right to the end of class and doing extra reps of techniques.

Georges was getting beaten in the training room by specialists in each style, but he was making incremental progress. He was gradually improving as a fighter, and eventually combining everything into MMA training. Many strong wrestlers were better than him in pure wrestling training, many BJJ specialists would tap him out on the mats but gradually there were less and less training partners & opponents who could combine the skills as well as he could. The vast majority of fighters won't go through the process of losing a lot in practice to eventually win.

Oliver was very impressed with GSPs work ethic,he described the typical Sunday of training with GSP. They would go to wrestling practice for three hours, eat a large lunch at a buffet, then GSP would head off to go swimming for two hours. The next morning, GSP would be up early to go to work as a garbage collector. In addition to his busy training schedule he also managed to find time to study at college, and also work as a nightclub bouncer several nights a week.

The correct mentality 

Oliver & GSP often discussed being nervous before fights. GSP was very honest about it. He would not sleep the night before, but he managed to turn all that nervous energy into hyperfocus. What impressed Oliver most was Georges ability to hold together his game plan.

GSP was very methodical with his career plans. He turned down some fights early in his career because he felt he wasn't yet ready for them. He never allowed himself to be pressured into accepting fights which he felt wouldnt ultimately benefit his long term career aspirations. He didnt feel the need to prove a point to anyone or to build his own ego. He made very conscious decisions about his career path. He gradually fought tougher and tougher opponents while working hard to build his skillset. His breakthrough fight was against Pete Spratt. This was GSPs 5th MMA fight compared to Spratt who had 18 fights including 3 fights in the UFC and was coming off a UFC win against Robbie Lawler. This was the fight which earned him a shot in the UFC.

He made his UFC debut by beating Karo Parisyan, followed by one of the most successful fight careers in the history of MMA. But as we can see, all of that is a result of the years of preparation leading up to this moment.

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