MIAMI — The longer Georges St. Pierre trains, the more the 28-year-old welterweight star feels like he’ll never know enough about mixed martial arts.
As St. Pierre moves into week two of an eight-week process to prepare for his Mar. 27 title defense in Newark, N.J., the UFC champion isn’t about to waste days, even as he’s called to the road for autograph signings and GQ magazine parties. (St. Pierre appears in an advertisement for Affliction Clothing on the inside back cover of GQ’s February issue.) Such is the case in tropical south Florida, where SI’s 2009 mixed martial artist of the year has trained twice a day during a pit stop en route to Greg Jackson’s gym in Albuquerque, N.M.
Appearing a full stone thicker than the 180 pounds he said he weighed Sunday, St. Pierre made the most of his time by seeking out young Strikeforce light heavyweight champion Gegard Mousasi.
“I see myself” in Mousasi, St. Pierre said. “But two weight classes above. He’s a great fighter. He’s very open-minded. He’s amazing. He taught me two great techniques. Those two things I learned today are worth my whole trip. I’m very happy, and I’m going to be working on it a lot.”
The pair, who met Saturday at Strikeforce’s card in Sunrise, Fla., shared laughs, compliments and tips as 20 or so onlookers sat, hushed, inside six-month-old MMA Masters, which is run by Cesar Carneiro in downtown Miami. With few people milling about on the city’s darkened rain-soaked streets, the session adopted a top-secret feel, though their attitudes reflected quite the opposite.
St. Pierre, challenged by British contender Dan Hardy at UFC 111, said he chose to work with Mousasi (28-2) because the light heavyweight “does things that he doesn’t even know he does well. He does things he doesn’t think about. He just does it. It’s really amazing. It’s something not everybody has. You can’t teach that. There is something from him that I know I can learn. If I can help him at the same time, we both are going to gain from each other. It’s a great experience.”
It’s true that up to this point, Mousasi (28-2-1) has relied on talent, ambition and will power to succeed in an increasingly competitive sport. After being exposed, albeit briefly, to St. Pierre on Sunday, Mousasi acknowledged he has a great deal to improve upon, both in his technique and approach as a professional.
“Gegard is very raw,” said Cleo Ncube, a top Canadian wrestler and one of St. Pierre’s closest training partners over the past two-and-a-half years. “He doesn’t have a real specific training regimen. He just messes around, which is such an incredible story. Today we included him in our technique session and we were working through our regular scheduled techniques. I didn’t know if he was going to pick it up, and fair enough Gegard was picking it up.”
With St. Pierre (19-2) preparing for what most expect will be his fourth consecutive title retention, Mousasi seems likely to draw physical wrestler “King” Mo Lawal in his first defense of the Strikeforce 205-pound title this April. Lessons from sessions with St. Pierre, which might include trips to New Mexico and Montreal if schedules and personalities permit, could make time spent with Dutch kickboxing great Peter Aerts and renowned wrestling coach Bert Kops more valuable, efficient experiences.
Having trained in the past with Russian heavyweight king Fedor Emelianenko, Mousasi is quite familiar with greatness. Asked to compare Emelianenko and St. Pierre, who rank among the best mixed martial artists on the planet, Mousasi suggested the UFC champion is “more athletic and technical,” while Fedor, handled by M-1, has the ability to seamlessly transfer between MMA’s different disciplines.
As Mousasi answered the question, St. Pierre, assembling his training gear after a post-workout shower, couldn’t let a compliment pass without offering several of his own.
“No, no. He’s being nice,” parried the 24-year-old kid. “That’s the problem.”
St. Pierre again took his turn on the mutual-admiration-society merry-go-round: “He’s too humble, this guy.”
Even before the kempt French-Canadian uttered his last accented syllable, Mousasi smiled.
“Look who’s talking,” he said.
After the group exited Carneiro’s gym, a potential rival to American Top Team’s dominance in the area, St. Pierre stood in front of his manager Shari Spencer — who deserves credit for shaping the fighter’s image to the point that Gatorade and Under Armour chose to go into business with him — and practiced a punching-and-moving technique that Mousasi showed him half an hour earlier.
“Gegard, like this?” he asked.
Mousasi, who learned the technique the day before, looked over and nodded his approval.
“If I could have a choice between money, fame or wisdom and knowledge, I would take wisdom first, without hesitation,” St. Pierre said. “I’m already a better fighter than I was before the practice. I have more knowledge.”