LAS VEGAS – Georges "Rush" St. Pierre is back, if he really ever was gone at all.
The former UFC welterweight champion was the subject of ridicule after his upset loss to Matt Serra at April's UFC 69, even though it was just his second loss in 15 professional fights.
"Every bad loss adds humiliation," St. Pierre said. "But it was probably the best thing that ever happened."
The St. Pierre who rocketed his way to the title was in peak form at the Mandalay Bay Events Center on Saturday night. Already regarded as one of the world's top pound-for-pound mixed martial artists, the 26-year-old Quebec native took a few new tools out of his kit to beat Josh Koscheck.
Koscheck (9-2) is a former NCAA Division I wrestling champion. But St. Pierre dominated the match on the ground en route to a unanimous-decision victory. The judges scored the match 30-27, 29-28, 29-28.
St. Pierre set the tone early in the first round by scoring a takedown. He wasn't able to do much with his advantage, though, as Koscheck used strong defense to keep his opponent from doing much damage. After getting back to his feet, Koscheck went for a takedown. St. Pierre sprawled to avoid the first one, but Koscheck stuck with it and scored a slam. Two of the three judges gave Koscheck the first round.
The second round featured a ground fighting clinic from St. Pierre. He used a low kick to set up a takedown, then spent the rest of the round dominating the action. Three times St. Pierre managed to sink in a Kimura. When GSP wasn't working Koscheck's right arm, he was offering a steady mix of punches and elbows from the top position.
"It was a strategy," GSP said. "Kos is a very good wrestler. By being a good wrestler, he is not used to fighting from his back. My game plan was to push him from his comfort zone. That's what I did, and it works very well."
Koscheck had his moments in Round 3 and engaged St. Pierre in several solid standup exchanges. But St. Pierre sprawled to avoid a Koscheck takedown attempt, ended up on top on the ground and finished the match in total control.
"With one minute left, I was like, 'Hey Georges, congratulations,' " Koscheck said. "He said, 'What?' and next thing I knew I get hit with an elbow. … Georges St. Pierre, he's a true champion, and he was a better man."
St. Pierre instituted several changes in the wake of his title loss to Serra. He parted ways with his Canadian trainers and affiliated with Greg Jackson's camp in New Mexico, which also is the home of Rashad Evans and Keith Jardine. He also started seeing a sports psychologist.
"I cannot promise you I can't win all my fights, that is impossible," St. Pierre said. "But I can promise you will see the real GSP, 100 percent every fight."
St. Pierre is slated to get a welterweight title shot against the winner of the Serra-Matt Hughes match slated for UFC 78 in Newark, N.J., in November.
Babalu's antics: In case you're wondering what set off Renato "Babalu" Sobral against David Heath, the two had a near-altercation at Friday's weigh-ins at Mandalay Bay. Sobral gave Heath a intense stare as they posed for photographers after both made weight. Heath barely could conceal a smirk. As the two were leaving Heath made a comment, and Sobral turned around and glared before he walked off the stage.
Sobral battered Heath for the better part of two rounds before winning via submission. But he then held on to the choke until Heath went unconscious. Sobral already has had half his $50,000 payday held up by the Nevada State Athletic Commission pending a hearing. It remains to be seen if UFC president Dana White will impose additional discipline.
"What he did was really bad," White said. "I'm not sure what the commission will do, whether they fine him or suspend him. A lot of guys have a lot of emotion in the weigh-ins. But after you get done fighting, it's over."
Whoa, Canada: At times it seemed Canadians comprised the majority of the 11,118 in attendance at Mandalay Bay. The place erupted when Patrick Cote scored an upset win over Kendall Grove. Then dozens of fans displayed Canadian flags for St. Pierre's match with Koscheck.
"When you fight in Las Vegas and have a lot of Canadians in the crowd, it is unreal," said Quebec City native Cote. "It was awesome; it was good to have this kind of crowd behind us. In my last fight I had a lot of booing against me."
As has become a custom, White was peppered with questions at the post-show press conference about when UFC will hold a card in Canada. White continues to maintain he will hold a show in Montreal as soon as he can clear a Saturday night at the Bell Centre during hockey season.
Top undercard performers: Clay Guida: The UFC has not given the Chicago lightweight an easy path, but he has earned a real fan following due to his go-for-broke style. Guida bounced back from his controversial loss to Tyson Griffin at UFC 72 by taking it to the much-hyped Marcus Aurelio for 15 minutes on the opening match of the card. Guida won by split decision. Two judges scored the match 30-27 Guida, while Adelaide Byrd bizarrely scored it 29-28 Aurelio. Guida improved to 2-2 in the UFC (22-8 overall), with each of his past three matches going the distance.
Frank Mir: The Las Vegas hometown favorite and former UFC heavyweight champion had his best performance since his 2004 motorcycle accident. Mir (10-3) took down Antoni Hardonk right away and sunk in a Kimura from a half-guard. He stuck with it when Hardonk tried to roll out of it and Hardonk submitted in just 1:17. It was the first submission victory since his technical decision win over Tim Sylvia at UFC 48 in 2004, the match in which he won the heavyweight title.
Thales Leites: The Brazilian middleweight was losing Round 1 against Ryan Jensen. But he spotted an opening and maneuvered Jensen into an armbar so picture-perfect it should be used in jiu-jitsu training videos. Leites has won three straight in the UFC since losing his debut to Martin Kampmann.
Quoteworthy: I went to college and all that. In that situation, you get creative and start thinking. – Roger Huerta, on looking up at the big screens in the arena to help line up an elbow against Alberto Crane.
This is going to be the best press conference ever. I'm losing my voice, and you guys don't have to listen to me. – a hoarse Dana White.
- Josh Koscheck