St. Pierre defends title, delivers on promise
Say this about UFC welterweight champion Georges St. Pierre: He's a man of his word.
Vowing to make up for his stunning loss 16 months ago to Matt Serra in what was expected to be the French-Canadian's first defense of the UFC title, St. Pierre did everything but put away the second best 170-pounder in mixed martial arts Saturday in Minneapolis.
In taking the one-sided match on points (50-43 on one card, 50-44 on two others) against Jon Fitch in front of 15,082 fans at the Target Center, St. Pierre, who recaptured the belt in April over Serra, more than lived up to his "never make the same mistake twice" mantra.
Throughout St. Pierre's training camp, Fitch's aptitude for spinning bad situations into his favor was a consistent theme. Each day, not only did trainers and sparring partners help chisel St. Pierre's impressive physique, they hammered into his mind that Fitch, 30, would never wilt, not even under the most intense attack.
As such Greg Jackson, St. Pierre's chief second, said he prepared his charge for "Punching Bag Syndrome," an ailment that occurs when "you keep beating on somebody and you're not mentally prepared. When they don't go away, you get frustrated or exhaust yourself.
"The thing with Jon Fitch is you think you finish him and you gas out so much that he takes control of the fight. We didn't want to do that at all."
What St. Pierre wanted was control over tempo.
Fitch, despite what hard data of an overwhelming result might suggest, didn't make it easy on the 27-year-old fighter from Montreal. Hoping to force St. Pierre into a mistake, the challenger pressed from the outset.
The champ was ready.
"When Fitch was going to come in and pressure us, we took him down to prove he would not be able to do that," Jackson said. "We knew his game plan. He said he wanted to create scrambles and do a lot of pressure. It was nice of them to tell us."
After the welterweights returned to where they started, St. Pierre countered a low kick with a crushing right to the face -- the first of several attacks that floored the man G.S.P called the toughest test of his career.
Fitch's ability to endure a 25-minute stitch-requiring beating was almost as impressive as the fighter responsible for the bloody mess. "He had to dig deep just to get out of the first," said "Crazy" Bob Cook, one of Fitch's head trainers at the American Kickboxing Academy in San Jose, Calif. "It was rough."
Bouncing back in Round 2, Fitch put his mettle on display. Midway through the period he'd taken the advice of his corner -- again -- and went after the champion with punching combinations. On the whole, Fitch's team felt good seeing their man put a halt to St. Pierre's early momentum, even if it was for but a moment.
"Fitch's greatest attribute is he's tough," Jackson said. "He'll get out of submissions that you think are done. He'll survive knockouts that you think are done. We knew that going in. We knew not to rush it, make space and look for the finish when we can; but just be really careful and make sure we took into account this stuff so that you don't get mentally frustrated."
Any thoughts of a Fitch comeback dissolved at the start of the third when another right dropped the challenger to the canvas. Somehow the 30-year-old former Purdue University wrestler by way of Fort Wayne, Ind., mustered enough courage to survive even as St. Pierre unloaded in the last minute.
"I think if it was somebody lesser he probably would have been finished half a dozen times," Cook said.
"I've never seen someone take that kind of damage and get dropped," Jackson said. "Over and over. I've never seen it. You just have to take your hat off to Jon Fitch. What an amazing competitor."
In his previous eight fights promoted by the UFC -- all wins -- Fitch, who found himself a win away from breaking Royce Gracie's record for consecutive victories inside the octagon, dictated the action. He intended to do the same on Saturday by tying up on the inside and trading in the clinch. When they were separated, Fitch wanted St. Pierre moving backwards, thus slowing down his offense.
But there wasn't any slowing St. Pierre. From the opening bell through the final seconds, the impressive champion retained his quickness, strength and agility, and there wasn't anything Fitch (17-3, 1 NC) could do about it.
"After the fight he was in disbelief" that he couldn't finish Fitch, Jackson said of St. Pierre.
Fitch, too, expressed amazement about the welterweight champion's unrivaled speed.
"He was definitely disappointed," Cook said of Fitch, who told his trainer that he couldn't see clearly out of his left eye because a jab popped him in the opening frame. "I think they were basically the same fighter. We were just a step behind on the speed."
In the cage immediately after his victory, St. Pierre said Fitch would return a better fighter following the loss. And while there are always lessons to be learned in defeat -- such as how to retain a title -- it's also possible to gain knowledge in victory.
"He is going to improve so much," Jackson said of G.S.P. "Now he knows he can go five hard rounds."