After a dominating victory over B.J. Penn at UFC 94, Georges St. Pierre is clearly the better fighter. GSP left no doubt. And yet now there is, thanks to one of his cornermen, Phil Nurse. It's pretty clear by watching the video that Nurse had some Vaseline on his hands when he rubbed St. Pierre's shoulders, back and chest between the first and second rounds.
Why is that a big deal in mixed martial arts? It's significant because of all the grappling and maneuvering that takes place on the ground. St. Pierre was on top of Penn in the second round and the Hawaiian tried several times to shift his legs up to work for a triangle choke or an armbar. Grip and some friction is huge in these cases and a slippery fighter would make it more difficult to lock on one of those holds. Above you can see, Nurse apply Vaseline to GSP's face, then get more Vaseline, then rub his shoulders, arms and back.
Penn's trainer Rudy Valentino told InsideFighting that St. Pierre cheated and the Vaseline thwarted his fighter's strategy:
"To cheat to win is not honorable. Why need another edge? Our gameplan was on the ground, not striking because we knew Georges had good kicks. We planned to work off the back."
Valentino says they warned the Nevada State Athletic Commission before the fight alleging that St. Pierre did it before their meeting in 2006 and that Matt Serra's camp claimed the same thing happened in Serra's second fight against GSP.
"I respect Greg Jackson but to do something like that, his integrity has been compromised."
"In between rounds, you always want to put on vaseline on (a fighter’s face). So Phil Nurse put all the Vaseline on his face, so his hands might have had a miniscule amount left over from that, when he went around the side and rubbed a little point on his back, and tapped on his chest."
Jackson chalked all of this up to an overreaction by the NSAC:
"At that point, somebody in the audience thought we were greasing George down, and ran over and told the commission that we were greasing his body down. The commission came in and said ‘you can’t grease him down,’ which didn’t work. They said ‘you’re putting Vaseline on his back,’ and Phil’s like, ‘oh, there might be a little on my fingers, but it wasn’t intentional at all, and of course they wiped it right off and it was gone, so it wasn’t a factor in the fight at all."
"The Commission" was actually NSAC executive director Keith Kizer. He bolted into the cage when he saw Nurse doing the same thing between the second and third rounds. Cage Writer spoke with Kizer after the fight and he was still steaming, saying that the rubbing of the back with Vaseline was completely inappropriate. But he was unsure if it had been done between the first and second.
UFC president Dana White also thought it was a serious violation:
"I saw the commission jump up there and flip out," said White. "They said one of the guys was rubbing Vaseline on Georges' back in between rounds. It was one and two, I think. I personally didn't see it, the commission did. And that's about as illegal as you can get... I'm sure the commission is going to deal (with it)."
White didn't believe that it affected the outcome of the fight but he re-stated that illegal is illegal:
"You could have put Vaseline on from head to toe, that wasn't the point, the point was you don't do it. It's illegal. The guy who did it needs to be punished, it's not (St. Pierre's) fault. The question is what happens to a guy that does that. You've got to put the smack down on him. He should lose his license."
Ultimately, did the use of the Vaseline win the fight for St. Pierre? No. But Penn's camp does have a right to complain.
St. Pierre should be getting props for being the better conditioned fighter, designing and executing the perfect gameplan. The way he wore down Penn in the first round by holding his left leg up on three occasions with the threat of a single-leg takedown, was brilliant. It allowed him takedown a tired Penn with ease in each of the next three rounds. More importantly, GSP was able to pass guard and shift between full guard and side control as if he were fighting a first-year jiu-jitsu student. Now Penn, other fighters who dislike St. Pierre and fans may call for an asterisk on his dominant victory.
- Phil Nurse