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Tuesday, November 27, 2007

The Canadian Who Saved Christmas & Dana's Ass

No, not THAT Canadian, Jim Carey but another popular Canuck who gave ding-a-ling Dana White a ring-a-ding to ask for the match in Serra's absence. The one and only Georges St.Pierre.

What a nice guy to take the initiative to call Dana White for permission to be the Master of Ceremonies at Matt Hughes' retirement party on December 29 in Lost Wages, also known as UFC 79: Nemesis.

The Canadian Who Saved Christmas

By Thomas Gerbasi

Thanksgiving. A time for celebration and to get away from it all for at least a day or two.

Not for Dana White though.

Instead, the UFC President got hit with the worst possible news on Thursday night – the main event on the organization’s big year-end show on December 29th – a welterweight title bout between champion Matt Serra and former 170-pound boss Matt Hughes – was off after Serra suffered a herniated disc in his back last Monday night.

“I was on suicide watch for about five hours,” joked White during a media teleconference Monday. “But you’ve got to bounce back and we started working on what we could do.”

The next day, ironically the huge shopping day known as Black Friday, the UFC started shopping for a replacement, not even sure if Hughes would agree to fight another high level opponent on short notice and risk his guaranteed title shot at Serra. Soon, Hughes made it known that he wanted to fight. Then another call came in from a fighter looking to give White and UFC fans an early Christmas present – former welterweight champ Georges St-Pierre, who eagerly tossed his name in the hat for consideration in the UFC 79 sweepstakes.

By Saturday night, Hughes was in, GSP was in, and the UFC had a main event rubber match possibly even bigger than the fight it replaced. And no one was happier than the 26-year old from Montreal, who couldn’t contain his joy when told the news that night.

“I’m so excited to get this fight,” said St-Pierre, who broke off between sentences to shout to his friends about the impending bout. “I’m fighting Matt Hughes for the interim title right now, and then after that I’m going to go after Serra. I’ve wanted that rematch against Serra, and this is the best scenario that can happen.”

Monday with reporters, two days after the interim welterweight title bout was announced, St-Pierre was a little more subdued, but no less excited, not only because he will be fighting a man in Hughes he stopped in two rounds in November of 2006, but that a win will give him the chance to redeem his upset loss to Serra from last April. But St-Pierre isn’t about to take Hughes – who handed him his first pro loss in 2004 – lightly.

“I’m not overconfident at all,” said St-Pierre (14-2). “I remember that Matt beat me once and I beat him once. Now it’s equal. We’re both going to be different fighters this time. We both grew up from our wins and losses and it’s going to be a totally different match.”

Both fights between the two were vastly different, with Hughes winning the first via submission, and St-Pierre evening the score with a dominating two round stoppage. It was after GSP’s huge win that everything got a little cloudy for “Rush”.

Expected to dominate the division for as long as he wanted to after his one-sided win over Hughes (which was preceded by big wins over Jason Miller, Frank Trigg, Sean Sherk, and BJ Penn), St-Pierre was a heavy favorite against Serra in their UFC 69 bout in Houston. Instead, Serra blitzed St-Pierre via a first round TKO to send the 26-year old crashing back to Earth. It was a costly lesson for St-Pierre, who later admitted to a number of outside distractions in the lead up to his first title defense.

“I faced the greatest honor by winning the world title before, and I also faced the humiliation,” said St-Pierre. “I know what I want and what I don’t want right now. This loss to Matt Serra was probably the best thing that ever happened for my career. I don’t want to give any excuses. If you look at any sport, for example baseball, it’s not always the best team that wins the game. The team who is the most well-prepared and who plays the best wins the game. It’s the same thing in fighting. It’s not always the best fighter who wins the fight, but the fighter who is the most well-prepared and who fights the best. I will come very-prepared and my mental game can not be better than it is right now.”

Many questioned St-Pierre’s place among the welterweight elite after the upset loss to Serra, but in August, he silenced the critics who questioned his mental toughness under fire with a lopsided three round decision win over highly-regarded Josh Koscheck that not only got him back in the win column, it got him a measure of confidence back.

“I went through a lot of things in my life, a lot of personal issues, and I just had the worst time in my life,” said St-Pierre of his past. “But right now it’s behind me, and I just look up to the future. This win (over Koscheck) made me a way better fighter, and I’m the type of guy who won’t make the same mistake twice. I learned from it (the loss to Serra), I grew up from it, and what doesn’t kill us makes us stronger.”

So when the opportunity to face a fighter like Hughes on short notice came up, St-Pierre didn’t shy away. In fact, he asked for it.

“I’m at the top of my game right now, and I’m in great shape,” he said. “I’ve been training with Rashad Evans to get him ready for his fight, and the only thing I was doing wrong was not eating as well as I should have. I just have to change this and keep training like I was doing.”

It’s the mark of a champion, just like Hughes’ acceptance of the fight marks him as one of the greats to ever grace the Octagon. Now, what it all comes down to is training, gameplan, and execution. They’ve each won one fight each. Who will break the tie?

Georges St-Pierre has some ideas.

“I have a lot of respect for Matt Hughes, but that night when I put my shorts on, and my gloves, I’m gonna come out with my killer instinct,” he said. “I have a job to do and my job is to destroy my opponent.”

Visit later on Tuesday for Matt Hughes' take on his rubber match with Georges St-Pierre at UFC 79.

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