Josh Koscheck hunts for weakness in Georges St-Pierre’s armor leading up to UFC 124
In mixed martial arts, they say that a fighter is only as good as his last fight. UFC welterweight contender Josh Koscheck found out just how misleading that statement can be when he faced Georges St-Pierre for the first time at UFC 74 in August 2007.
The four-time All-American collegiate wrestler for Edinboro University, who gets a second crack at the UFC welterweight champion this Saturday at UFC 124 at the Bell Centre in Montreal, never expected St-Pierre to surpass him at his own game.
In a time that’s hard to fathom now, the French Canadian fighter, then mostly regarded for his striking, was still an unproven commodity in wrestling and had been dethroned by Matt Serra’s first-round punches a few months earlier at UFC 69 in Houston.
At UFC 74, Koscheck (15-4), a graduate of Spike TV’s first season of “The Ultimate Fighter,” honed in on what he perceived to be St-Pierre’s weakness: the shaky standup game that Serra had so successfully exploited before him.
It proved to be a fatal misjudgment, as St-Pierre (20-2) shot and grounded Koscheck repeatedly over three rounds to earn a unanimous nod.
“I’ve watched that fight many times,” Koscheck told The Times this week. “I almost tried to play a jiu-jitsu type of strategy, rather than be a wrestler/brawler. He had a smart game plan and he was the better fighter that night.”
St-Pierre’s explosive wrestling abilities would soon become commonplace in his fighting-winning repertoire and he was eventually lauded as the most functional non-credentialed wrestler to ever enter the game. Meanwhile, Koscheck was sent back to the bottom of the 170-pound division’s ladder, and has painstakingly risen again rung by rung, adding the disciplines and experience he lacked along the way.
On the eve of their rematch more than three years later -- which marks the first time the 17-time Octagon vet will compete for the title -- Koscheck is still all about finding chinks in the seemingly unflappable St-Pierre’s armor.
“After his knockout loss to Matt Serra, he obviously hasn’t fought the same since,” said Koscheck, who has become a standout “bad boy” during his five-year tenure with the promotion. “He’s been a totally different fighter since Serra. It seems like he’s afraid to stand up and he’s afraid to get punched.”
In the last few months, a contentious Koscheck has hurled abrasive statements like these his opponent’s way in the hopes of getting under the champion’s skin. With the boost of appearing opposite one another on the TUF reality series this past fall, the 33-year-old self-made villain has thoroughly exploited the platform by attacking St-Pierre’s abilities, strategy choices, coaches, and even his personality on national television with the sole aim of jolting his pragmatic rival.
“I wanted to get in his head, let him know that I’m not afraid of him and that it’s going to be a different fight than last time,” said Koscheck of his appearance on the show.
St-Pierre is the first to admit it’s worked.
“I didn’t enjoy my time with him,” said St-Pierre, who makes his fifth title defense on Saturday. “He’s not the kind of person I’d like to hang out with. I wouldn’t go out with him as a friend, but it’s a business for me, so I had no choice (but) to do it.”
During the series, St-Pierre said he took particular insult to Koscheck’s remarks mocking his nationality.
“He hurt my pride by talking .... about me, but it’s a good thing because it motivates me in training,” said St-Pierre.
The 29-year-old champion, who enlisted a sports psychologist following his unlikely defeat to Serra in 2007 and hasn’t dropped a bout since in seven outings, said the taunts never reached the point where he felt he’d lose his cool.
“Talking never hurt nobody,” said St-Pierre. “I read a lot about psychology. I know what to do.”
Still, the pair’s simmering intensity on the TV show has come to a boil during fight week and the mental warfare between the two is now palpable.
Koscheck hasn’t been the only one throwing daggers.
St-Pierre –- often commended for his calm, all-business attitude toward fighting -- hasn’t taken great pains to hide his agitation and told ESPN.com earlier this week that he understands Koscheck better than the American Kickboxing Academy fighter knows himself.
“He’s a dumb fool (to say that),” said Koscheck. “Shrinks need shrinks. Georges is seeing a shrink to build his mental state and that shows that he’s mentally weak…he has no clue what he’s talking about.”
Koscheck has also focused on recent criticisms that the champion can’t finish fights (St-Pierre has won three of his last four by decision). The emerging striker knows that his pre-fight banter affords him an opportunity to possibly bait St-Pierre into fighting his game on Saturday. If words cut deep enough, lip service can become a game of chicken.
“His coaches say he’s going to knock me out with a left hook and they got him believing that. We know that’s not the case,” Koscheck told the Times. “We haven’t seen St-Pierre stand up for more than two minutes in a fight since the Serra fight.”
It remains to be seen if St-Pierre will bite, though it’s obvious he’s on his own quest to expose flaws in his challenger’s game.
“I knew the first time that he hadn’t really worked from his back so that’s why I put him there,” said St-Pierre. “He was out of his comfort zone. But now I know he knows how to fight from his back.
“The first time I fought him I had the element of surprise, which was the wrestling,” he added. “Now I have another element of surprise but I can’t talk about it. You’re going to have to wait for the fight.”
And though St-Pierre insists he’s no master in the art of trash-talking, that doesn’t mean Canada’s most beloved athlete-of-the-moment doesn’t know how to sell a fight or give his foe a little taste of his own medicine.
“After I beat Josh Koscheck on Saturday, I won’t fight him again,” said St-Pierre. “I’m turning the page to the next chapter in my career.”
And as it turns out, Koscheck doesn't like to be dismissed either.
“He’s made it personal by taking it personally,” said Koscheck, who'll fight Saturday in front of 23,000-plus fans, most of them supporting his hometown opponent. “He said this is the last time he’s going to fight me. That kind of [angers] me and is almost an insult to me, but I’m not going to take it that way. I’m going to beat you and you’re going to be begging for a rematch.”