On Saturday night, the greatest welterweight on the planet defends his title against the clear number one contender.
Reigning champion and pound-for-pound great Georges St-Pierre hopes he experiences déjà vu when the action gets underway. Just over three years ago, he summarily defeated Josh Koscheck in an entertaining, though clear-cut, three round battle that helped erase the putrid taste of defeat that lingered from a shocking technical knockout loss to Matt Serra half a year earlier. The outcome unquestionably gives GSP a tremendous foundation of confidence heading into the rematch.
Kos hopes that Saturday is a sequel with a completely different storyline, rather than a remake of the original. While the first fight can’t possibly leave him feeling good about the rematch, Kos is the type of athlete who is never lacking in unyielding self-belief. He has no doubts about his chances at UFC 124.
All that is great, but what makes anyone believe that the rematch will turn out any differently than their first matchup? Simply put, Kos has the perfect style to defeat GSP, and the champion did such a good job of showing him the flaws in his preparation and game plan that the path to victory is clearly illuminated this time around. And it begins and ends with Kos' wrestling.
It is no secret that there are two ways to beat GSP: catch him on the chin or put him on his back. Serra went the former route in his stunning 2007 upset, and Matt Hughes went the latter route when he handed the then challenger the first loss of his professional career.
Kos is one of very few welterweights who combine tremendous knockout power in his fists with a world-class wrestling base. He has repeatedly demonstrated both attributes during his five-plus years fighting inside the Octagon. In fact, he has the edge over GSP in both categories. They key to victory, however, will be Kos' ability to seamlessly blend together his striking and wrestling so that he can capitalize on those advantages.
In the first fight, Kos was overconfident about his ability to touch GSP's chin. He thought that all he had to do was come out throwing haymakers, and he would eventually catch the then former champion and deliver him his second consecutive loss. The assumption wasn't totally baseless, either. After all, Matt Serra had defeated GSP in precisely that fashion just a few months earlier, removing the air of invincibility that had begun to form around the Canadian superstar.
What Kos failed to realize heading into that fight was that Serra's knockout would make GSP much more cautious on the feet, thereby greatly reducing the number of openings to land a fight-ending blow. GSP has been much more conservative about engaging on the feet since that loss. He instead uses his strikes almost exclusively as a means to create openings for takedowns.
Kos never dreamed that a guys like GSP, who had no competitive amateur wrestling experience, would be able to take him down. He was, after all, a four time NCAA Division I All-American wrestler out of Edinboro University, not to mention the fact that he was a perfect 42-0 en route to winning the collegiate national championship in 2001. No matter, GSP took him down on multiple occasions because Kos continually left himself off balance and out of position to effectively defend GSP's takedown attempts due to the extra heaping of mustard he kept putting on his punches.
Kos knows better this time around. He will probably come out swinging again because that is just his personality. He would love nothing more than to score an emphatic knockout in the opening minute of the fight. If the knockout doesn't quickly materialize, however, it would shock me if Kos didn't begin striking solely to create openings for his own thunderous takedowns.
He can do that by fighting in a much more controlled fashion on the feet. Rather than winging crazy overhand rights and long roundhouse high kicks, which are easy to see coming and thus easy to avoid, he needs to keep his hands up and throw short, crisp, snapping punches, preferably starting with the jab and working combinations from there.
If Kos remains tight and technical with his kickboxing, he will land shots. Those shots won't result in a quick knockout, but they will force GSP to pull straight back (a flaw that only Serra has been able to exploit) or raise his guard in defense. Either way, he will be more susceptible for a takedown.
Of equal importance, throwing short, crisp shots within foundation of his fighting stance will leave Kos in great position to sprawl if GSP changes levels in an attempt to take the fight to the ground. Anyone who watched the first fight knows that Kos lost because GSP was able to take him down multiple times. Take away those takedowns, and the result might have been different.
Once the fight hits the ground, Kos must quickly move to control the position. The champion is very good at quickly working back to his feet, so Kos must make sure he is flat on his back. As GSP posts up on an arm or turns to his side, Kos will want to work to pass, or even try to snake around to his back. But that is what GSP wants because it is easier for many guys to scramble back to the feet when a guy moves to side control than it is from the guard. GSP is one of those guys.
Unless there is a clear opening to take his back, Kos should not take the bait. He should take a page from vintage Hughes or Tito Ortiz, pull GSP back to a flat position and pound away from inside his guard with fists and short elbows. The key is to put GSP on the ground and keep him there. That is the best way to beat him, absent touching his chin with a bomb.
Speaking of touching his chin, GSP will also become more susceptible to strikes once Kos puts the fear of a takedown into his mind. As the champion focuses on anticipating double-leg attempts, he won’t be nearly as effective at slipping strikes and changing levels for his own takedown attempts. But again, Kos should refrain from going all out early if he experiences a little success on the feet because that will open him up to being taken down, just like it did in their first matchup.
The American Kickboxing Academy star knows that it is very unlikely that he will be able to pull out a startling submission or land truly concussive blows from his back. GSP's top game is too good. Thus, he should do whatever it takes to avoid being taken down. If that means he fights a bit more technically early in the fight, then so be it. Two or three rounds of mixing good technical striking with takedowns will leave GSP frustrated and battered. That is when Kos can begin swinging for the fences, if he wants a spectacular knockout. To do so any earlier is akin to giving GSP a get out of jail free card, because this is a winnable fight for Kos, regardless of what his critics are saying.
On the other side of the fence, GSP also knows exactly what he needs to do in order to win the fight. He merely needs to put Kos on his back early and often, just like he did in the first fight. Kos has a great defensive guard, but like GSP, he isn’t going to confuse anyone for Demian Maia any time soon. He doesn’t want to spend a lot of time playing the guard game because minutes spent defending on the ground are minutes spent losing the fight under the current standard for judging mixed martial arts fights.
GPS knows that, which is why he always remains completely committed to taking down opponents early and often. Since the loss to Serra, GSP has approached every fight with a highly technical game plan designed to put himself in a dominant position while taking as few risks as possible. Until someone can stop his takedowns, GSP will continue to fight that way because he has become virtually unbeatable with that style.
That may seem counterintuitive against a guy like Kos who is a far superior wrestler. In fact, I’ll go so far as to label Kos the single best pure wrestler in the UFC. But, alas, MMA bouts typically aren’t decided solely by wrestling, not when guys are fighting at the truly elite level. More often, they are decided by how well a fighter blends the various disciplines of MMA, including wrestling. And nobody blends striking and wrestling better than GSP, which makes him one of the very best functional wrestlers in the sport.
As a result, GSP, who has no competitive amateur wrestling experience, beats even the best wrestlers by taking them down inside the Octagon. He did it to Hughes. He did it to Jon Fitch. Sean Sherk. Frank Trigg. And he will do it to Kos for a second time, if the AKA star isn’t careful.
What intrigues me most about this matchup is seeing what happens if GSP is unable to take Kos down. I really believe that GSP has lost confidence in his standup from the Serra fight, which is a shame because he is such a good standup fighter. This is a guy who can pick apart opponents with beautiful combinations and crowd-pleasing kicks, if he commits to doing so. The question, of course, is whether he will have the confidence to commit to his standup if Kos removes takedowns from the equation.
I don’t know the answer to that question. I’m not sure if GSP’s renowned training team knows the answer, either. What I do know is that I like the challenger’s chances if the fight unfolds that way. Nobody in the UFC has improved his standup more dramatically over the last four years than Kos. He has rapidly become one of the better strikers in the division, on par, in my opinion, with GSP. I also believe he carries more destructive one-punch power.
None of that will matter, though, if he throws crazy haymaker after crazy haymaker. Those are too easy to defend and counter.
I’ve been writing for years that Kos is a champion in waiting. This guy has all the tools to be champion, and his otherworldly wrestling is the great equalizer in our sport. He just needs to put it all together at the right time.
GSP is rightfully regarded as the very best in the sport, along with middleweight kingpin Anderson Silva, on a pound-for-pound basis. Conventional wisdom suggests that he will win on Saturday night. Guys who score clear decision victories repeat the feat more often than not when it comes time for a rematch.
But I’m not a conventional type of guy, so I smell an upset brewing.
• 29 yrs old
• 5-10, 170 lbs
• 20-2 overall (14-2 UFC)
• 2x UFC Welterweight Champion
• 40% of wins by KO/TKO (8 out of 20)
• 35% of wins by judges’ decision (7 out of 20)
• 25% of wins by submission (5 out of 20)
• 8-2 in title fights*
• 5-0 in his last 5
• 9-1 in last 10
• Has never lost a judges’ decision (7-0)
• Stopped in both professional losses (submitted once; TKO’d once)
• 9 wins in UFC championship bouts ties for 3rd all time**
• Current streak of 4 consecutive successful UFC championship defenses ties for 4th all time**
• 9 UFC championship bouts ties for 4th all time**
• 14 UFC wins ties for 4th all time
• Submission of the Night at UFC 79 (SUB2 by armbar over Matt Hughes on December 29, 2007)
• Fight of the Night at UFC 87 (UD5 over Jon Fitch on August 9, 2008)
• Current 7-fight UFC winning streak ties for 6th all time
• 16 UFC bouts ties for 12th all time
• Current layoff of 259 days (UD5 over Dan Hardy on March 27, 2010) matches his career long (2-0 in fights after 259-day layoff)
• 33 years old
• 5’10, 170 lbs
• 17-4 overall (13-4 UFC)
• 26.7% of wins by KO/TKO (4 out of 13)
• 33.3% of wins by submission (5 out of 13)
• 40% of wins by judges’ decision (6 out of 13)
• First title fight
• 4-1 in last 5
• 7-3 in last 10
• 6-2 in bouts that last the distance
• Submitted once; TKO’d once
• 13 UFC wins ties for 6th all time
• 17 UFC bouts ties for 8th all time
• Fight of the Night / Submission of the Night (SUB2 by rear naked choke over Anthony Johnson on November 21, 2009)
• Knockout of the Night (KO1 over Yoshiyuki Yoshida on December 10, 2008)
• Current layoff 217 days is the longest of his career (UD3 over Paul Daley on May 8, 2010)
*Includes interim title bouts
**Excludes interim title bouts
Free Prelims on UFC.com/Live
For the first time ever, two preliminary bouts will be aired live and free online at http://www.ufc.com/live.
The Dustin Hazelett vs Mark Bocek and Dan Miller vs Joe Doerksen fights
will be available to everyone worldwide at no charge starting at 9pm
ET/ 6pm PT/ 2am GMT.
The Blueprint - GSP vs. Koscheck II
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