Georges St-Pierre did his best on Tuesday to make Dan Hardy sound like the most fearsome welterweight he will ever face. And Hardy did his best to convince the assembled media that he agreed.
The two were part of a conference call hyping UFC 111, to be held March 27 in Newark, New Jersey. St-Pierre and Hardy will fight for the welterweight championship. Although the odds have settled somewhat, St-Pierre is still a 4-1 favorite.
Also on the card, Frank Mir and Shane Carwin will fight for the interim heavyweight championship.
Mir and Carwin were comparatively sedate next to St-Pierre and Hardy. The normally loquacious Mir was low-key, analyzing Carwin as if pondering a math problem. Carwin, who still works a day job, maintained his salt-of-the-earth persona and seemed humbled to be on the call at all.
Here are the fighters’ condensed thoughts on their upcoming bouts.
The welterweight champion (19-2) is one of the top pound-for-pound fighters in the world, one of the UFC’s top draws and a crossover star. GSP has beaten all the top fighters in his weight division. However this fight has drawn comparisons to St-Pierre’s worst defeat – a TKO loss to massive underdog Matt Serra at UFC 69.
On being a martial artist: “I call myself a martial artist because I come from a different background (than most fighters). When I am going to fight, I am not going to make a brawl. I want to win a beautiful fashion. When somebody who doesn’t know this sport watches, he knows (I) use a beautiful variety of techniques.”
On pressure: “I have a lot more pressure than Dan Hardy, of course. That’s good thing. All the fights I had a lot of pressure: BJ Penn, my rematch against Matt Serra. Matt Hughes. In all those great fights I was under pressure. When I’m under pressure I’m more nervous, more awake. So that’s a good thing for me.”
On Hardy: “A lot of people underestimate Dan Hardy and that’s a big mistake. He’s very well-rounded. He is a smart fighter, a thinking fighter. He is a great counter-puncher. These guys are the most dangerous guys. The worst thing I can do for this fight is underestimate him. I learned from my mistake before. I am the best Georges St-Pierre for this fight. I trained to fight an army of men.”
On being susceptible to knockouts: “There is only way to find out. I take a lot of shots when I’m training. When I lost to Serra, I got hit behind my ear and lost my equilibrium. After I lost my equilibrium, I got hit by five full range punches before falling. I’m not worried about me getting punched at all.”
On his weight: “I’m bigger than I was before. I am a good five pounds of lean muscle bigger. When I fought (Thiago) Alves, he was walking around at 215. I walked around at 185. I felt he was big. I am much bigger and more powerful than before. I’ve never had a problem cutting weight. It will be harder this time, but I have a program. It’s very important to have a protocol to follow.”
On Hardy training with Matt Serra: “I’m not really surprised. I don’t think it makes any difference. It doesn’t make any difference what Dan Hardy does. I’ve never been so pumped up for a fight. To me I am fighting the most dangerous fighter in my career. I look at this fight as a great chance to redeem myself because I am in a little bit of the same situation as when I fought Serra the first time.”
(Hardy vs. Swick at UFC 105.)
Hardy is on a seven-fight win streak and 4-0 in the UFC, but his meteoric rise to title contention has raised a few eyebrows. The “Outlaw” (23-6) has battled the perception that his mouth, mohawk and bravado has as much to do with a title shot as his victories. Hardy’s most notable win: Mike Swick at UFC 105. Swick is arguably the third-best welterweight in his own gym.
On being an underdog: “I’ve been in this situation 100 times before. Every time I step into the Octagon, I’m supposed to lose. I like that pressure. It raises my game. In this fight, if I was looking at it from a betting perspective, Georges is the favorite. But I know myself and what I am capable of. Me taking the belt off Georges will really open the place up.”
On English MMA: “The UK has come a long way the last few years. With me getting a title shot and in couple weeks when I take the belt back to the UK, it really establishes the UK on the international scene.”
On selling the fight with his mouth: “People need to be themselves. I’m just being myself. The thing that gets me noticed is the performance in the Octagon. I don’t do anything intentionally to sell a fight. If I get the fight because I’ve talked a good fight or beaten guys to get myself in position, I don’t know. But Georges has something I want and I’m going to take it off him.”
On the spotlight: “I love it. I’m all for the lights being on me. I like that feeling of everybody watching me. On Long Island, training with Matt Serra, we went into a bar to watch the boxing on Saturday and I saw posters with my face on it. It’s just awesome. There’s no time for nerves and no need for them. I’m very confident I can do the job. I can put myself on the line and take risks because I really have nothing to lose in this situation.”
On training with Serra: “He won one and lost one (against GSP). He has a lot of experience with the guy. He sees my situation as the same as his the first time. No one gave him a snowflakes chance in hell. He sees the opportunity I’ve got and wants to help me out with it. I’ve spent a lot of time working with him and I’m learning a hell of a lot.”
(Mir outboxes Big Nog.)
The former two-time heavyweight champion has been on a crusade for a rematch with Brock Lesnar since losing to the current champion at UFC 100. To that end, Mir (13-4) re-invented himself and added 20 pounds of muscle. One of the top heavyweight grapplers in the world, Mir has surprised with his stand-up. In his last bout, he dropped touted striker Cheick Kongo at UFC 107 with punches before finishing with a choke.
On looking ahead to Lesnar: “If I’m not victorious against Shane, the process for me to fight Brock again (is) not happening.”
On adding weight: “It wasn’t a factor against Kongo. I think actually, the greatest indication of whether (the weight gain is) beneficial or not will be how I do against Carwin. Cheick Kongo and I didn’t lock up to where the weight became an issue. If my (size) can nullify Shane’s strength without affecting another aspect of my game (will be) the greatest indication.”
On facing another giant wrestler like Lesnar: “I did learn my weaknesses against a good wrestling base. I realized the mistakes I had been making. I got to watch film on it and have other people who are better at it than I am explain it to me. There are areas I can improve upon. The great thing about it, if I make the same mistakes against Carwin it will be a short night also.”
On Carwin: He proved himself “against (Gabriel) Gonzaga. Before that, he went out and destroyed people really quickly. The first time you see someone under adversity, you will see if they are going to make it (in the UFC). Shane was in trouble early in the fight and in a bad position. He was able to get back to his feet and within 30 seconds get a knockout.”
Carwin (11-0) was scheduled to face Brock Lesnar at UFC 106 and again at UFC 108, but Lesnar pulled out with illness. The rescheduled bouts contributed to a year-long layoff. His last fight was a knockout win over Gabrial Gonzaga at UFC 96. Carwin has finished all 11 opponents. None have survived HALFWAY through the first round.
On the layoff: “I’ve had a year to work on technique. When I step into that Octagon I will be a lot different than when I stepped in against Gonzaga that last time. I’ve worked on my technique and become a more complete fighter.”
On Mir: “Frank is a legend of the sport. He has been around a long time and is one of the few fighters who have been around a long time that has evolved with it. I know he’s added new aspects to his game so I am glad to be fighting the best Frank Mir out there.”
On the interim belt: “To me the interim belt is just the semifinals of getting to that championship. This belt obviously isn’t for the championship and the one against Brock is. I’m glad Brock is back. He’s good for the sport and attracts a lot of fans and it brings attention to the heavyweight division.”
On conditioning: “We always train for the fights to go the distance. We train five rounds with a bonus overtime round. As far as cardio and weight-wise, I feel great.”