“It’s all about practice, practice, practice. You can only get better every time you practice, and if you get worse then you’re doing something wrong."
George Sotiropoulos knows that a win against Joe Lauzon at UFC 123 will keep him in title contention in the lightweight division, and he’s not worried about WEC standouts Ben Henderson, Anthony Pettis and Donald Cerrone being thrown into the mix.
“I’ve never seen Ben Henderson fight,” says Sotiropolous. “Unfortunately I didn’t get to see many WEC bouts, but I match up well against anybody,” he said.
After winning a unanimous decision against Kurt Pellegrino at UFC 116, many observers thought “Sots” would be in line for a title shot, taking on the winner of champion Frankie Edgar versus Gray Maynard in January.
With the UFC folding the WEC and all of its fighters into the mothership, the winner of that bout will now face the winner of a December tilt between WEC champ Ben Henderson and number one contender Anthony Pettis to unify the lightweight belt.
For Sotiropolous, however, recent events just mean a slight delay in the inevitable.
“The title is very important for me,” says Sotirpolous. “But I want to win every fight. I want to be the best lightweight in the world. I don’t look at what fights are going to get me a title shot. I don’t care who I fight or why. I care about winning. And if I continue to win, eventually I’ll be the champion.”
It’s that workmanlike attitude that has kept the Australian undefeated inside The Octagon (13-2 overall, 6-0 UFC) after making a name for himself on season 6 of The Ultimate Fighter as a member of Team Serra.
“I was 19 years old when I started training, and I have never felt better than I have during this camp,” he says. “Every day I can’t wait to train. After each session I am excited to start the next, and I’ve noticed the improvement, my training partners have noticed the improvement and my coaches have noticed the improvement. I’m having an epiphany in training right now and feel like I’m making leaps and bounds in all areas of my game,” he says.
That’s a scary proposition for anyone facing the former Australian amateur boxing champion, Brazilian jiu jitsu black belt and protégé of Japanese-American mixed martial artist Enson Inoue.
"I met Enson in Guam at one of my fights and he gave me an invitation to come and train with him in Japan,” he said. “That led to fights there and if it weren't for him I wouldn't have had the opportunity to fight in Japan.”
Indeed, it was in Japan against Shinya Aoki where Sotiropolous suffered his last loss after he hit Aoki with an illegal groin strike, but to him that seems like ages ago.
“I’m so much more improved now anyway,” he says. “My wrestling, Muay Thai, boxing, jiu jitsu; I’m very well rounded,” he said.
With Joe Lauzon’s last victory coming in impressive fashion against Gabe Ruediger at UFC 118 in front of his hometown crowd in Boston (he won via armbar 2:01 into round one), Sotiropolous knows he’ll have his work cut out for him against the Massachusetts native.
“He looked great against Gabe, and he looked really good against Sam Stout too,” he said. “I’ve studied all of his wins and all of his losses, and he’s an erratic fighter with good jiu jitsu that I have to be careful of, but I’m confident that I will be able to impose my will and my game on him. Technically and physically I am superior. I will dominate,” he said.
A former welterweight prospect, Sotiropolous dropped to 155 pounds at UFC 101 and has fared well there, winning against the likes of George Roop, Jason Dent and then Joe Stevenson in front of his hometown crowd in Sydney, Australia at UFC 110, before besting Pellegrino last July.
The former finance industry worker with a degree in business from Victoria University in Melbourne, Australia likes to say; “If you can move a grain of sand a day, eventually you can move a mountain,” and his philosophy hasn’t changed much even throughout his success in the UFC.
“It’s all about practice, practice, practice,” he says. “You can only get better every time you practice, and if you get worse then you’re doing something wrong. I’ve acquired skills along the way that have prepared me for a career in fighting, and every day I’m getting better and better. Competing allows me to execute the techniques that I practice,” he says.
Sotiropolous has proved that he has what it takes to compete against the best in the world. With both Stevenson and Pellegrino, he proved that he can hang with some of the best wrestlers in the game, even though as an Australian he didn’t grow up with wrestling in his blood.
“Australia is very much a mirror of England when it comes to wrestling,” he said. “We didn’t have it in the education system. But you have to seek out answers to the holes in your game," he says. "I went out and found what I needed to do. I traveled and so on. I have no weaknesses."
The former Australian national jiu jitsu champion is also evolving his ground game, and has added 10th Planet Jiu Jitsu founder Eddie Bravo, one of the sport’s innovators, to his team. Bravo cornered George for the first time against Pellegrino, and Sots says his presence has made a world of difference in his own confidence.
“I joined Eddie in November 2008 and he has a lot of faith in me and he joining the team shows that faith. His style will be the evolving force in MMA and jiu jitsu on the ground. I think his style is the future of submission grappling,” he said.
With three Submission of the Night honors under next opponent Lauzon’s belt, Sotiropolous will have his chance to prove that theory in Detroit.