Georges St-Pierre is already considered one of the best pound-for-pound mixed martial arts fighters in the world, but the Canadian star is aiming to take his game to another level at UFC 129.
Firas Zahabi, who has been St-Pierre’s head trainer since an April, 2007, loss to Matt Serra at UFC 69, continually used the word “perfect” Tuesday to describe the training camp to prepare for St-Pierre’s welterweight title defence against Jake Shields Saturday at Rogers Centre.
“His nutrition was perfect, his conditioning was perfect, his martial arts training was perfect and the sparring partners he had were perfect to mimic his opponent,” Zahabi said during a promotional event at a downtown Toronto gym.
“We’ve also worked a lot on recovery, which has allowed us to train at a more intense level. Look for a Georges who has never been trained at this level before. His training has gone far beyond what we’ve normally done.”
St-Pierre heads into the fight having largely cleaned out the upper echelon of the UFC welterweight division en route to compiling a 21-2-0 record. He’s on an eight-fight winning streak and hasn’t lost a single round of a bout since 2007.
The only blemish on the Montreal fighter’s record is a lack of knockouts, which has led some UFC observers to label him a boring fighter.
Zahabi, a two-time Canadian Muay Thai champion who trains professional MMA fighters from all over the world out of the TriStar Gym in Montreal, admits St-Pierre has heard the criticism.
“He wants to keep the fans happy and I do, too,” he said. “That’s why we brought in [legendary boxing trainer] Freddie Roach recently to help with Georges’s mechanics. The ideal way to fight someone is to finish him in the first 10 seconds. That’s everyone’s goal, but doing it is another thing.”
Shields, who fights out of San Francisco, is no pushover. He’s on a 15-fight winning streak dating back to 2004 and is a former Strikeforce middleweight champion and EliteXC welterweight titlist who Zahabi considers the biggest challenge of St-Pierre’s career.
“If you underestimate Shields you must not have been following his career,” Zahabi said. “He’s won titles in two different weight classes. There’s not many guys who can manage that feat. He’s a unique and special fighter.”
A focus for St-Pierre ahead of the fight has been preparing for Shields’s strong grappling and extensive jiu-jitsu background.
St-Pierre has worked with more than 20 different black belt fighters from the Manhattan academy run by Brazilian jiu-jitsu legend Renzo Gracie with the goal of neutralizing Shields’s strength.
“When you’re going with guys who are as good or better than your opponent you create a confidence in yourself that you can handle whatever your opponent is going to throw at you,” Zahabi said.
The other challenge facing all the fighters on the card is handling the unprecedented hype and media obligations that come with the largest mixed martial arts card in North American history.
St-Pierre is in the spotlight more than most as the defending champion in the main event, but Zahabi said he takes it all in stride.
“After 10 world title fights, Georges realizes where to put his focus,” he said. “Today’s he doing PR with UFC, cutting weight and getting his workout in. Tomorrow there’s another list of things to do. I just tell him to stay focused on the task at hand. I really think Georges is going to be able to block it all out and focus on Jake Shields.”