MMA legend Georges St-Pierre is in Moscow to attend his friend Yukinori Akazawa’s fight at ACB 57 on Saturday. He spoke exclusively to RT Sport about his upcoming bout with Michael Bisping, weight difference, the ‘master plan’ for his comeback, and much more.
Arguably one of the best pound-for-pound mixed martial artists ever, St-Pierre made the headlines again in February, when he announced his official comeback to the sport after a three-year hiatus.
The move was also confirmed by legendary boxing trainer Freddie Roach, who is not only preparing St-Pierre for his comeback, but also turned out to be his representative in the negotiations with the UFC.
At the beginning of March, St-Pierre, who stands at 25-2 in professional MMA, was already facing off with English middleweight champion Bisping at the T-Mobile Arena press conference to officially announce their upcoming fight.
Although the date for the bout has not yet been set, MMA fans around the world are eagerly awaiting the acclaimed Canadian’s comeback.
Visiting Moscow to support his training partner Yukinori Akazawa in his debut for Russian MMA promotion ACB this weekend, St-Pierre found time to talk to RT Sport at the Holiday Inn Suschevsky hotel in the northwest of the Russian capital.
RT: Welcome to Moscow, welcome to Russia. Is it your first time here?
Georges St-Pierre: It’s my first time and I’m very happy and excited to be here. It’s a beautiful city, one of the biggest cities in the world. It’s a classic, you know? I couldn’t live without coming to Moscow at least once in my whole life. So I’m very happy.
RT: Tell us a little more about what brings you here.
GSP: I have a friend, a training partner who’s fighting on the card of ACB 57. I’m going to corner him. His name is Yukinori Akazawa. He’s mostly from a judo background, and he also trained for few years in karate. He’s a young, very promising athlete, he’s very good. He migrated to Montreal, Canada to train with us at the Tristar gym. We’ve been training with each other for a few years now and he did an amazing progress.
RT: Had you ever heard of ACB before coming to Russia?
GSP: Yes I’ve heard of ACB before. I’ve seen some fights of course. It’s a major organization. And it’s growing really fast. They are all over the world. They came to the United States, to England. And now they’re talking about going to Japan. So my friend Yukinori is very excited. It gives him extra motivation to win his fight.
RT: What do you think of their concept of ‘Less Show, More Fighting?’
GSP: I think it’s a good concept. But it depends what you mean by ‘Less Show.’ I’d say more respect. More of traditional martial arts respect. The purism of martial arts. You don’t get into a dojo (a training place specifically for Japanese martial arts) whether if you are in judo, karate or taekwondo, and start swearing or talking trash about people. I remember when I used to do karate, I come from a kyokushin background, when I get into the dojo, when I say ‘Oss!’ (traditional karate greeting) to someone, it means ‘yes,’ it means ‘from the heart.’ If I say something, that means you have my word for it. I’m going to do it. When I say ‘Oss!’ that’s what it means. But in life, unfortunately a lot of people don’t have that concept. They say something but they try to do something else. They don’t have that respect. I understand that it’s a business for a lot of them, they want to use that as a tool to elevate themselves, to separate them from the rest. There’s also this idea of ‘love me, hate me, but don’t ignore me,’ so to speak. We’ve seen it through the years in all kinds of fighting sports. In boxing, I remember Muhammad Ali, one of my great idols. When he was competing – he was hated by a lot of guys. A lot of people in the United States didn’t like him because of his ideology, you know. But he was loved by many. So ‘hate me, love me, but don’t ignore me,’ I think that’s what makes the sport popular. They not only need good fighters, but characters. I like the concept of ‘Less Show More Fighting.’ But I think they mean more respect.
RT: We also know that you have another friend. A Russian-Canadian boxer, Artur Beterbiev.
GSP: Yes, Artur Beterbiev is a friend of mine. He migrated to Montreal. He’s an amazing boxer. I think he’s in a tough position because he’s so good. He doesn’t have a lot of fights but everybody in his division has so much to lose fighting him. So a lot of contenders in his division are afraid to fight him. Because they know who he is. They know how good he is. But unfortunately for him it’s hard for him to get a good opportunity. I’m sure that one day he will be a world champion. No doubt in my mind. Because he’s got all the tools and talent in boxing to be one of the best in the game.
RT: Is he helping you with the striking aspect of the game?
GSP: No, we haven’t trained with each other. Even when we speak with each other we have a friend in common, his name is Damir, to help translate the message. But we like to talk about life, about fighting. Sometimes we go to eat in restaurants and stuff. He is a very, very nice guy. I like to hang out with other great fighters because it allows me to learn from them. The way they prepare themselves, their mindset. No matter which combat sport you do – boxing, wrestling, sambo, judo or mixed martial arts, it’s something we call the art of war. So we can all learn from each other from that point of view.
RT: Speaking of boxing. You’re now training with Freddie Roach, one of the greatest boxing trainers. When did you start working with him?
GSP: I started working with Freddie Roach a few years ago. Boxing was, I would say, the discipline that I was a little bit lacking behind. So I decided to start working with the best trainer I know in the game – it’s Freddie Roach. He’ll be in my corner for my upcoming fight with Michael Bisping. I’ll make sure everything is well done to have the best performance possible.
RT: We spoke to Freddie Roach when he was in Moscow in December, and after the interview he said that he’d start to train you. The next thing we learn – he’s representing you in the negotiations with UFC. How did that come about that he started representing you in the negotiations?
GSP: Well, there were a lot of problems with the negotiations. It took a lot of time. I needed some time off, but if I could I would have come back earlier. There were some issues with management and UFC. But Freddie, he is represented by an agent called Nick Khan, who helps us in the negotiations in between CAA and WME-IMG, because these are I would say two of the biggest sports agencies in the world, so they might sometimes compete with each other. But we had a guy, Nick Khan, who made a bridge and got that deal done. So I’m very happy for that. I’d say it was like a team work. Freddie introduced Nick Khan and he helped us to seal the deal.
RT: Now you have a three-fight deal with UFC and the first fight that’s on the radar is the fight with Bisping, who is a middleweight. Back in the day you defended your welterweight belt as many as nine times, but you never seemed to be interested in moving up in the weight. Why is it the case right now? Why do you want to move up?
GSP: I’ve never been interested in moving up in the division because I had a lot of work to do. Every time I finished a fight I had another challenger to come at me. And also if you remember I blew up my ACL (anterior cruciate ligament) in my knee, so I had an injury. So I took some time off. So I had to come back and right away defend my title. Also one of the reasons in the weight, I’m not a big welterweight. I’m an average-size welterweight. Now as I took some time off I gained a little bit of weight. I’ve never been afraid to compete at 185, the problem is when you train, you need to train with bigger guys. When you train with bigger guys there are more chances to get an injury. But now it’s a perfect opportunity for me to do it as I had some time off, I gained some weight. Still putting on some weight. And of course Michael Bisping will be bigger than me, but I believe that will be the only advantage that he’ll have. I believe technically, tactically, athletically I have all the edge on him.
RT: Obviously he is bigger than you. But what weight you are looking to have when stepping in the cage against him?
GSP: It doesn’t matter if he is taller and bigger than me. The only difference it’s going to make is when he’s going to hit the floor, it’s going to make a bigger boom (laughs).
RT: Any dates you have in mind when that fight can happen?
GSP: There’s no date yet because we have to go through a lot of processes with USADA, the anti-doping. Before we’re cleared to fight we have to go through that process and some other stuff. But soon we should have a date.
RT: Bisping is saying that if your fight is not happening this summer, he’ll fight Yoel Romero instead. Does that bother you at all?
GSP: I think he’s lying and he really wants to fight me. And I really want to fight him. This fight will give him more money. Well it comes down to his decision. But if he wants to do it, I’m down for it. That’s who I’m getting ready for. If things change, I’m going to have to do a quick turnaround. No problem I can do it. But he’s the man. He’s the one who has the belt. For me he is the highest stock right now. And I always aim for the higher guy.
RT: Are there more chances that we’ll see that fight in the summer or in the fall?
GSP: I think it’ll be after the summer.
RT: Bisping also said that he thinks that you have a master plan of collecting three belts in three different weight divisions. After you fight him you’ll go back to welterweight, and after that step down to lightweight and possibly fight against Conor McGregor for the lightweight belt. Is it your plan? And if not, do you like the idea?
GSP: That’s a very ambitious plan. I have a plan in the back of my head, but I’m not going to talk about it right now. The reason is – I’m not a talker, I’m a doer. A lot of people, they need to talk to promote themselves. Everybody knows who’s who here. I’m not a new fighter. They know who I am. My resume talks by itself. It’s going to depend on what’s going to happen and how it’s going to happen when I fight Michael Bisping. When this fight will be finished, I’ll go to reorient my career. But it could be anything, it’s a lot of opportunities.
RT: Talking outside of your possible fight, even if it’s not happening, what’s your opinion of Conor McGregor, as a fighter, as a personality, and all the things he’s doing for mixed martial arts?
GSP: I think he’s a great fighter. I think he’s a really great fighter. He’s a very charismatic fighter. He’s the biggest seller in the sport of all time. He’s the biggest draw. But I think now he’s going to fight Floyd Mayweather, I’ve heard, in a boxing match.
RT: Do you think it’s going to happen?
GSP: I think it will happen. I know Floyd will never fight Conor in a mixed martial arts fight, but Conor could fight Floyd in a boxing match. I don’t think he’s going to win, I don’t think he’s going to win at all, but I think he wants to do it and he’s going to make a lot of money out of it.
RT: Do you think it could be damaging for mixed martial arts, if loses in the first round for example?
GSP: If he loses, and I’m pretty sure he’s going to lose if it happens, the odds are not in his favor. But if he manages to survive, it could be like a win for him. Because after he’s going to start talking, ‘Hey, I’ve stepped into your game, why don’t you step into mine?’ So it depends not only on the result, but how it’s done. It all depends on how things play out.