Georges Rush St. Pierre dominated his division for years. He was skilled in every aspect of MMA, and absolutely masterful at wrestling.
GSP used his strength and superb sense of balance to rush his opponents, then slam them to the ground. He would then pass their guard, and rain down a relentless torrent of punches, elbows and knees. Those brave enough to try and outwrestle him failed time and time again. Once down, it was usually impossible for an opponent to get back up.
But even more than GSP’s wrestling, his greatest strength was his multilayered strategy. Every weapon in his arsenal was part of a larger, coherent system.
A system designed to take his opponents to the ground, and finish them.
GSP primarily set up his takedowns with the use of his jab. Establishing a strong jab, and then using it as a feint to set up a single or double leg is a well established technique in MMA.
To this purpose, George St.Pierre worked hard on developing his lead hand, even going to one of the all time greatest boxing trainers, Freddy roach.
GSP’s jab is tailor made for his style. It has a built in level change and seamlessly blended into his penetration step. This meant that he could feint a takedown for his jab, and a jab, for his takedown.
But to get his opponents to overreact to his feints, they would first need to fear his stand up just as much as his ground and pound. That’s a hard sell, especially because GSP didn’t have an incredibly powerful cross to threaten as a follow up.
This is where the superman punch came in. Thrown with his back hand, it gave opponents a powerful blow to fear off of his jab.
Thrown with his front hand, it made opponents weary of the jab itself. Because GSP was constantly pumping his hand, it was hard for his competitors to tell if a stinging jab, or a staggering superman punch was coming.
To add yet another layer of unpredictability, GSP’s lead leg kicks looked similar to the footwork setup for his superman punch.
And to add yet another layer, GSP’s kicks began with a hand feint.
This means that GSP was using a strike, disguised as a strike, disguised as another strike.
The superman punch allowed for a variety of creative shifting combinations, now commonly used and modified by fighters like TJ Dillashaw. But we’ll get more into that soon in an upcoming breakdown.
As effective as these multilayered feints were, any technique can become predictable if overused, as Barboza showed recently when his opponent tried a jab feint to takedown one too many times.
That’s why GSP had the most success with his reactive takedowns.
The same way that strikers can increase the power of their punch by catching their opponent as they come in, GSP could use his opponents momentum against them mid strike.
And the same way that some fighters like Tyson were aggressive counter punchers, GSP was an aggressive counter wrestler.
He used his constant jabs and kicks to pressure his opponents and bait them into letting their hands go, before ducking under their punch and taking them down.
GSP would often parry his competitor’s counter as he changed levels. This worked in the same way as an arm drag, redirecting his opponents punch to disturb their balance and clear their arm and shoulder out of the way.
Of course, his intercepting takedowns worked even better with kicks, and even better when combined with a punch.
GSP was excellent at reading his opponents and picking up on recurring patterns to intercept. Here, Mat Hughes repeatedly attempts to knee GSP from the clinch. So GSP times him and snatches up Hughes leg mid strike.
GSP is a big reason why the modern era of MMA has become so fascinating. It is no longer a mix of different styles competing, but people competing by mixing different styles.
GSP both evolved the sport, and paved the way for other fighters to build upon his success. If we ever get to see him fight again, it will be fascinating to see if the competition has passed him by, or if he is still, even now, ahead of the game.