Georges St. Pierre was talking a lot, but answers were hard to find. He promised "a brand new, better version" of himself when he takes on Josh Koscheck at UFC 74 on Aug. 25, but one gets the impression his thoughts keep drifting back to April 7.
The Quebec native is struggling to come to grips with his welterweight title fight loss to Matt Serra at UFC 69 on April 7 in Houston, which was more stunning than a Navy football rout of Notre Dame.
In the weeks after the fight, the 26-year old St. Pierre showed less class than Britney Spears as he tried to justify how an 11-1 favorite couldn't make it out of the first round.
"At one point, it got pretty rough, some of the things he was saying," Serra said.
UFC president Dana White frequently calls St. Pierre the most talented athlete in the sport, but he conceded he can't rely on St. Pierre to come into the ring in peak form each time out.
Serra says St. Pierre (13-2) is a prototypical mixed martial artist with the well-rounded game most fighters can only dream of having.
This is a guy with wins over Matt Hughes, B.J. Penn, Sean Sherk, Karo Parisyan, Jason Miller and Frank Trigg.
Yet somehow it always seems there is an explanation needed after a St. Pierre fight. The tantalizing part about St. Pierre is that there shouldn't be.
He blends wrestling, jiu-jitsu and boxing like few others, prompting UFC heavyweight champion Randy Couture to call him "one of the leaders of the new generation of fighters."
His fight with Koscheck at Mandalay Bay is a bout that figures only to be as difficult as St. Pierre makes it.
Koscheck (9-1) is a superb wrestler and has made remarkable strides in his three years in MMA, but St. Pierre is so gifted and so well-rounded that on talent alone, he should have no problem winning the fight.
But Koscheck has proven his mental toughness repeatedly since joining the UFC, most recently when he handed Diego Sanchez his first career loss after a long war of words.
St. Pierre's mental state always seems fragile and, while he frequently says the right things, you're frequently left with the impression that he's not always sure he believes what he's saying.
Yogi Berra once said, "You've got to be careful if you don't know where you're going, because you might not get there."
If there ever were an elite athlete in the UFC who gave off the distinct impression he doesn’t know how to get where he's going, it's St. Pierre.
St. Pierre is polite to a fault and can be charming and engaging when he chooses. But he's also the type of guy who is far too quick to point fingers.
He denigrated Serra after Serra's surprising knockout victory and told Hughes in the octagon after Hughes’ stirring UFC 63 win over B.J. Penn that he wasn't impressed.
Hughes forgave St. Pierre – "He came to me like a man and apologized and said he did what he did because of a misunderstanding," Hughes said – but it took Serra a while to relax.
He heard St. Pierre repeatedly make excuses for his loss. St. Pierre claimed in post-fight interviews that he was injured and would not have taken the bout had he been fighting Hughes, but went ahead with the fight with Serra, so confident was he of victory.
That briefly infuriated the likeable Serra, an Everyman kind of a guy from Long Island who has taken to the spotlight like Jesse Jackson.
Serra said he calmed down when he realized St. Pierre's words were a product of his insecurity.
"I was pretty pissed when I heard what he had said, but after a while, not really too long, I realized he wasn't taking anything away from me or my win," Serra said. "What he was doing was hurting himself. Think about it from his standpoint for a second: He's one of the best guys who's ever gotten into the cage and he loses in maybe the biggest upset in the sport's history.
"When it first happens, he's so shocked, he does the right thing and gives me my credit. But then when he thinks about it, and he sees me, this short, stocky guy, and it kind of hits him: 'How could I lose to that guy?' I understand now that he's a good guy who just took a tough loss pretty hard."
St. Pierre on Wednesday attributed the loss to issues in his personal life. He said there were things going on that he would prefer to keep private that took him off of his game. White noticed it shortly after he walked out of St. Pierre's locker after wishing him luck before the fight with Serra.
"I said, 'What the (expletive) is wrong with him?' " White said. "I knew something was up. It was pretty obvious."
St. Pierre declined repeated requests to what had bothered him.
"I'm a public figure and my life is an open book, but this is someone close to me who wants privacy and I'm going to respect that," he says.
But whatever was going on, it was enough to make him split with manager Stephane Patry and the majority of his entourage. It also made him decide to hire a sports psychologist, Brian Kane, whom he says has helped him cope with the devastating loss. This is a guy who once fell to his knees and begged on national television for a shot at the UFC title. He valued the belt above all else in his life, he says, and losing it, particularly to someone he felt he was superior to, devastated him.
"I let my personal life get into my job and it devastated me," St. Pierre said. "But it's a mistake I will only make once. I will never do that again. I honestly was torn up by the loss to Matt Serra. After that fight, I didn't want to talk to anybody. I had so much anger in my heart.
"I couldn't forgive myself for what I did. I knew I was the person to blame, but Brian helped me so much. A lot has changed."
One of the points Kane repeatedly stressed to St. Pierre was that the best fighter doesn't always win. At first, St. Pierre struggled to understand what Kane meant.
But as they went through these long, frequently emotional talks, St. Pierre said he suddenly began to understand where Kane was going.
"It's not always the best team who wins, it's the team who plays the best on the night of the game," St. Pierre said. "That's what I learned. I learned that even if I am the best, I need to fight like the best on the night of the fight to win."
Hughes raves about St. Pierre's ability and said he has more ways to win than Koscheck. Many who watched UFC 69 on television saw Hughes beaming after Serra knocked out St. Pierre and assumed Hughes was pleased because he wouldn't have to fight St. Pierre. But Hughes said he was only excited because it meant he would get a shot at Serra, with whom he has had a long and loud public feud.
"All that was was me excited when I realized I would get to fight Matt," Hughes said. "It had nothing to do with Georges. I respect Georges as a fighter and as a person. Serra had been running his mouth about me for a while and I was excited to know that because of that fight, I'd get to fight Matt.
"But Georges is a guy I have a lot of respect for. I know how good he can be when he's right."
The athletes who are truly great are the ones like Hughes, who are right night in and night out, who perform at the same high level event after event and year after year.
St. Pierre still has to stand the test of time and prove that he can mentally handle the rigors of being at the top of the heap.
"There are always going to be doubters and there are always going to be critics," St. Pierre says. "That's OK. It's good to hear what they say. I know the kind of fighter I am and the ability I have.
"I believe I'm the best fighter in the world, but what I realize is that every night, I have to prove that. It's that simple. The best fighter doesn't always win. It's the fighter who fights the best that night. That's my new motto."