Patient Sotiropoulos trudges toward title

The numbers say George Sotiropoulos’ next fight should be for the Ultimate Fighting Championship lightweight title.

The videos of his seven consecutive UFC wins, especially the past three over Joe Lauzon, Kurt Pellegrino and Joe Stevenson, suggests the same, albeit more strongly.

And UFC president Dana White concedes that Sotiropoulos is more than ready. Sotiropoulos, though, won’t be fighting for a belt when he meets underrated kickboxer Dennis Siver on Feb. 26 at UFC 127 in Sydney, Australia.

Seven consecutive victories have helped George Sotiropoulos is making his presence known in the UFC lightweight division.
(Getty Images)

And, assuming he defeats Siver to run his UFC win streak to eight in a row – which would tie Jon Fitch, Royce Gracie, Gray Maynard and Lyoto Machida for second-longest in company history – he won’t be fighting for the belt in his next outing.

It seems patently unfair and you want to shout to the heavens at the injustice of it all. And then, you talk to Sotiropoulos and you understand.

You understand that he’s so committed to being the best mixed martial artist he can be that he’s not concerning himself with things as trivial as title shots. It will come, he knows, in due time. He’s obsessive in his determination to improve and treats each workout as the most significant in his life.

“I don’t need to say anything because people like yourself are asking me these questions and writing about it,” Sotiropoulos said. “Fans are Twittering about it and talking about it. It’s out there and I don’t need to say anything about it.

“I’m not bothered [by being passed over] because I look at everything with a long-term view. In the bigger picture, it’s like a little pebble in the road. If I was looking at it as the be-all, end-all right now, maybe I’d make it bigger than it is. If you’re looking to get in one day and out the next, fine, but that’s taking a big risk. I want to make a long-term investment in myself.”

The former banker then begins to discuss investment strategy and notes that Warren Buffet is in for the long haul when he decides to invest his money. There are ups and downs along the way, he points out, but Buffet is rich because he makes wise investments and rides out the occasional storms that hit.

In the same way, Sotiropoulos looks at the fights like the Siver match as an investment in his career toward making himself the best fighter he can possibly be.

“My strategy in life, and in fighting, is pretty much the long-term view,” he said. “I am not as worried about immediate gratification today. I want to plan for the bigger picture and look at where I’m heading down the road.”

His fighting portfolio, though, is extraordinarily impressive. He’s 14-2 and has won eight in a row overall, including one bout outside the UFC. He’s fought progressively better competition each time and has looked increasingly better.

He’s gotten more dominant as the competition has gotten better, which isn’t an easy thing to do. It hasn’t escaped the notice of White, who wasn’t sure what to make of Sotiropoulos when he first saw him on the cast of “The Ultimate Fighter 6.”

But Sotiropoulos, who lost to Tommy Speer in the TUF semifinals, slowly kept getting better. It was hard not to notice as he added more aspects to his game each time out until he became a very complete fighter.

“If he can win and pull this fight out [against Siver], then he’s in line for the title shot, no doubt about it,” White said. “This kid has been on a tear. He’s so incredibly exciting to watch. A lot of people talk about standup wars. Well, I love jiu-jitsu wars, too, and this guy has been in a ton of them. He’s very exciting, very fun to watch and incredibly talented. If he wins, he’s on his way.”

The long-term view he carries, though, will serve him well, because the title picture is filled to the brim. Champion Frankie Edgar will meet Maynard in a rematch at UFC 130 after their controversial draw at UFC 125.

White promised the final World Extreme Cagefighting champion, Anthony Pettis, a shot at the belt when the WEC was merged into the UFC. Pettis was supposed to face the winner of the UFC 125 bout, but with the draw, he’ll face the winner of the UFC 130 rematch.

But Pettis opted to fight rather than wait and will meet Clay Guida. If he wins, he’ll fight the Edgar-Maynard winner, likely in the fall. But if he loses, it’s anybody’s guess whether the UFC will give the shot to Guida or stick with Sotiropoulos.

In any event, it will be a long time before Sotiropoulos is fighting for the belt. And that’s OK with him.

He came of age as a fighter in 2010 with dominant wins over Stevenson, Pellegrino and Lauzon. He dominated Stevenson, winning a decision at UFC 110 in what was expected to be a dogfight. He routed Pellegrino at UFC 116 and submitted Lauzon in impressive manner at UFC 123.

There’s a chance he won’t get a shot at the championship until 2012. While that may be disappointing to some, the way Sotiropoulos looks at it, he’ll simply be a better fighter by the time the championship shot finally arrives.

He’s traveled the world many times to try to improve his game. And he’ll continue to try to push the bar until he gets the call that seems to be overdue already.

“The year I had in 2010 was kind of a coming out party to some people who didn’t know who I was or what I’d been doing for years in this sport,’ Sotiropoulos said. “I had done a lot in this sport and had fought a lot of top guys all over, but the big stage that the UFC provides kind of showed people who hadn’t been paying attention what I could do.

“I had committed myself to this sport for the long-term long ago and everything I have done is an investment in getting better and being the best I can be. And that’s what I’ll continue to do until the day I leave. Nothing is ever going to change.”

Kevin Iole covers boxing and mixed martial arts for Yahoo! Sports. Follow him on Twitter. Send Kevin a question or comment for potential use in a future column or webcast.
Updated Wednesday, Feb 16, 2011