Is St. Pierre the new pound-for-pound king?
LAS VEGAS – Welterweight champion Georges St. Pierre scored a one-sided win in what may have been the closest thing to a true “ultimate fight” in the history of a promotion with that name.
Between St. Pierre and lightweight champion B.J. Penn, you had two of the most gifted champions in company history – St. Pierre the world’s best welterweight and Penn the world’s best lightweight, with both at the peak of their careers.
And while St. Pierre was favored as the bigger man, it was still stunning how he dismantled someone who three years ago he struggled to beat in a controversial split-decision win.
St. Pierre (18-2) was ahead 40-34, 40-35 and 40-34 on the scorecards after turning it on at the end of the fourth round. At first it appeared the end of the round saved Penn. But as soon as the round was over, with Penn taking a bad enough beating that he was taken to the hospital after the match, both Nevada State Athletic Commission doctor William Berliner and Penn’s corner simultaneously decided to tell referee Herb Dean to stop the match.
Aside from the first round, where Penn stopped a few of St. Pierre’s takedowns, it was complete domination as St. Pierre ran his win streak to 14 straight rounds over his last five fights against highly ranked opponents.
St. Pierre came into the fight ranked No. 3 in the Yahoo! Sports pound-for-pound poll. He was behind middleweight champion Anderson Silva and Affliction heavyweight star Fedor Emelianenko, and one spot ahead of Penn.
But neither Silva nor Emelianenko has had to face a steady diet of fighters the caliber of what St. Pierre has faced since his 2007 loss to Matt Serra, let alone someone with the all-around skill set of Penn.
“My strategy was that he has small shoulders, which is good for hand speed, so I went to make him carry my weight and cause his shoulders to tire,” said St. Pierre, who earned $420,000 for the win before any extra bonuses kick in off the back end of the pay-per-view revenue. “I wanted to start out and make it a wrestling match.”
St. Pierre said he was about 187 pounds going into the cage, nearly 20 pounds heavier than Penn (13-5-1), who weighed in at 168 pounds and was likely right at that weight going into the cage. St. Pierre was simply too strong and well-conditioned for Penn in a fight the promoters predicted would be the biggest non-boxing event in North American pay-per-view history.
If the event does as expected, it would also be the first time in the history of sports that three pay-per-view events in successive months drew more than 900,000 buys, let alone all from the same promotion.
“It was the craziest thing ever,” said Dana White about the event, which sold out the MGM Grand Garden Arena in Las Vegas with 14,885, paying a gate of $4.3 million. “The MGM Grand wanted more tickets. Other casinos wanted more tickets.”
St. Pierre got off first, winning standing exchanges in the fist round. But if Penn thought he was getting a psychological edge in the first round by stopping takedowns, it was gone early in Round 2. St. Pierre powered Penn down and connected with a relentless supply of punches and elbows. He continually passed Penn’s guard and then threw knees to the body. Penn was worn out by the end of the second round.
“You’ll notice I didn’t rush him right away going for the takedown (his style in his last few matches),” said St. Pierre. “The idea was to cause him to have to hop on one leg and get tired, and push off, having to carry my weight in the clinch. That was the idea in the first round.”
St. Pierre felt when the first round was over that he had already mentally broken Penn.
“I was fighting my fight and that made him uncomfortable, which caused him to get tired faster,” said St. Pierre. “It’s not that he wasn’t in shape.
“This was the biggest fight of my career,” said St. Pierre, ranking it ahead of the night where he captured the championship a second time, beating Matt Serra, in his home city of Montreal.
The fight was not without controversy. Between the first and second round, one of St. Pierre’s cornermen rubbed Vaseline on his back and shoulders, which was caught by ringside officials.
“It didn’t affect the outcome of the fight, but you don’t do it,” said White. “I don’t think Georges knew, but the guy who did it, he should never be allowed to corner another fighter again.”
St. Pierre’s next opponent will be Thiago Alves, who presents a different set of problems. Alves has mastered the art of cutting weight. Alves is far bigger than Penn and also tremendous at avoiding takedowns, plus he’s a more feared striker than Penn.
St. Pierre said it was too soon to give an accurate timetable on when he would want that match to take place, but did say he’d be happy with it being six months. St. Pierre said he was taking a few days vacation and would be back in the gym by the end of the week.
In Alves’ recent win over Josh Koscheck on Oct. 25 in Chicago, he went into the cage at an unheard-of 199 pounds after making 171, which would make St. Pierre the rare smaller welterweight if Alves could do it again.
The win also fueled talk of a potential St. Pierre vs. Anderson Silva match, where St. Pierre would move up to face the middleweight champion in an attempt to do what Penn failed to do in this fight – to become the first dual weight-class champion in the history of UFC.
White said he didn’t see doing that fight immediately, but if both fighters continue to win, he talked of it as a match he would like to put together, perhaps in 2010.
St. Pierre said he saw that fight as something he would be interested in as a test, but noted that he would need the extra time to train and add muscle weight to compete with the significantly larger middleweight king.
“I don’t fight for money or for fame, because when I started I didn’t have either,” he said. “I fight for the challenge.”