Georges St. Pierre is not taking his UFC 111 welterweight title defense lightly. Although the welterweights at the American Kickboxing Academy don’t believe that Dan Hardy is a worthy contender for St. Pierre’s championship, his team at the Tristar Gym in Montreal disagrees. St.Pierre is bringing in an all-star team to work with him for his fight. In addition to regular training partners like Rashad Evans and Nate Marquardt, St. Pierre will be tested by one of the world’s best light heavyweights Gegard Mousasi and one of the most experienced jiu jitsu players alive, Renzo Gracie.
Heavy.com sat down for exclusive interview with St. Pierre’s trainer Firas Zahabi to talk GSP, Tristar Gym, and why training Georges is becoming such a challenge.
Heavy.com: As a coach, you kind of slid under the radar until the UFC special for the BJ Penn-Georges St. Pierre fight. Did you like being under the radar like that or is it better to be in the spotlight?
Firas Zahabi: I always worked a lot with Georges. I trained him six days a week. But people see we are close to the same age, so when they see us together or me in the corner, they just thought I was a friend of his that he brought along. They don’t know that I’m responsible for the majority of his training. It hasn’t really made much of a difference for me. The one reason I liked it is because it brought more attention to the gym, which brought more fighters. We have more guys to work with, the gym is always full. The publicity from that show helped our gym grow even further and become even stronger. People in Montreal didn’t even know that all this was going on here. Before that show Georges was very popular in Montreal, but not as popular as he is now. We didn’t get the support we are getting now. It’s a lot more fun now.
Heavy.com: How is Georges progressing preparing for Hardy. Is his health where it should be?
Firas Zahabi: It’s getting scary. Georges is getting better and better, believe it or not. If I compare him to last year he is far beyond where he was. He’s a very scary individual. I can’t even put him in with anybody his size. I have to bring in guys who are much bigger, much stronger. I had Nate Marquardt and Rashad Evans come in last week to challenge Georges. It’s getting very tricky now. I can’t put him with another welterweight because there is no other welterweight right now I can bring in who can make Georges sweat. We’re looking to bring in Gegard Mousasi who is at 205 to work with Georges. I’m reaching out for big, strong guys to challenge him.
Heavy.com: This problem has been growing for some time. I remember Rashad Evans saying awhile ago that he had trouble putting Georges on his back. And he’s a 205 pound guy.
Firas Zahabi: I can count on one hand the times we’ve seen Georges on his back. The times he is on his back, I usually force him to go on his back. Sometimes when we do situational sparring I’ll start him there, because otherwise he doesn’t see much time on his back. I want to make sure he has no weaknesses because you never know what will happen in a fight.
Heavy.com: It could be something as simple as a slip.
Firas Zahabi: Exactly. In his last fight with Thiago (Alves) he tried an armbar from the back and missed it. There’s no guarantee you’re going to get it, it’s always a risk. He missed the armbar and ended up on the bottom with Thiago. It’s a good thing he’s well trained there and he knows those positions. Georges does an awful lot of jiu jitsu work and he often starts on his back but it’s hard to force him to his back. You’ve got to ask him politely. “Georges, would you kindly mind starting on your back?’
Heavy.com: Dan Hardy should just ask him politely then, if he doesn’t mind starting from his back.
Firas Zahabi: (Laughs). He should ask him nicely and if Georges is in a good mood, maybe he’ll accept.
Heavy.com: Did Georges learn from the Serra fight that anything is possible? Because a lot of people are already checking the win column for him.
Firas Zahabi: Georges is way more mature than he was when he was champion for the first time. If you ask him now, he’ll tell you ‘Anything can happen.’ He realized how dangerous everybody is. That’s why there is nobody in our camp who is looking down on Hardy. A lot of people are calling this an easy fight and asking how the UFC can even put this fight together. That he doesn’t deserve it. I’m always quick to say that’s not the case. This guy, if you watch his fight with Swick, he’s very sharp. He caught Swick was some very tricky counter punches. He’s working with Freddie Roach, he’s working with Eddie Bravo for his jiu jitsu. This guy’s going to come prepared. He has a world title fight. He’s not crazy. He’s not going to give up this opportunity. He’s going to walk in there ready. All the coaches are going to have to make sure Georges in 100 percent ready for this fight, because Hardy is a dangerous guy.
Heavy.com: Anybody on the level to fight Georges in the UFC has the potential to win on a given night.
Firas Zahabi: That guy didn’t get his spot for free. He worked his way there. People can’t forget that. Hardy earned his spot, he’s there, and he’s a force to be reckoned with. Georges is doing more than just get prepared. He is doign everything he can to get ready for this fight.
Heavy.com: How does Georges handle the trash talk that Hardy is throwing out there?
Firas Zahabi: I’ll tell you something-Georges gets very pumped up when people talk trash. He gets very excited and motivated to train more. I actually like it when the opponent’s talk more because Georges comes in and puts in a lot more work. Eight weeks before the fight we put up Georges opponents picture in the gym. His face is all over the gym. Just to remind Georges to come in a little earlier, just to remind Georges to work a little harder. Georges is always thinking about the guy. He’s never forgetting. Trust me, believe me, the more Matt Serra talked the harder Georges was training. The more BJ talked, the more Georges worked on his conditioning and his boxing. It really fuels Georges St. Pierre. To me, it has really back fired on every opponent.
Heavy.com: Who are some of the specific training partners Georges is working with for this fight?
Firas Zahabi: We’re going to try to get Gegard Mousasi to come down. Kenny Florian, as usual, is going to be coming down. Jon Jones is going to be coming down, he has a big fight coming up also, against Brandon Vera. Georges just went to Denver for the week. He’s with Nate and Rashad. They spent a week here, so Georges will be spending a week there. The whole Greg Jackson team. We’ll be working with John Danaher in New York and the Renzo Gracie team. Renzo is getting ready for a fight in Abu Dhabi with Matt Hughes. Ricardo Almeida is getting ready for a fight. So we’re all working together in New York, Denver, New Mexico, and Montreal. All these four camps work together.
Heavy.com will have more with Firas this week as he talks about Tristar’s latest sensation, lightweight Mike Ricci. Ricci, who signed with Bellator for their lightweight tournament, as been described as a mini GSP. More on Canada’s greatest prospect this week on Heavy.com.