Fear a motivating factor for St. Pierre
Throw out the first fight between UFC welterweight champion Georges St. Pierre and challenger Josh Koscheck. Both fighters have developed significantly since their August 2007 encounter, which St. Pierre won by unanimous decision.
Each man has become a more complete mixed martial artist in the past three years. Both have improved tremendously as strikers. Their improved physical skills are easy to see and measure.
What can't be observed are the emotions St. Pierre and Koscheck have experienced in the days leading into their rematch.
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Koscheck appears calm and collected, at ease with the situation before him. That is not the case with St. Pierre.
The champion is afraid -- and admits as much.
Despite all his success inside the Octagon, St. Pierre (20-2-0) will step into the cage Saturday at Bell Centre a nervous man. He faces a tough opponent in Koscheck, whom he knows has the skill and determination to dethrone him.
It would be a mistake, however, to assume that St. Pierre's fear is a sign of weakness; the champion surely doesn't. St. Pierre views it as a key element to his fighting success.
"I don't hide that I'm nervous, that I'm scared," St. Pierre told ESPN.com. "But I'm at my best when I have that feeling. I embrace it."
While St. Pierre openly embraces his fears before every fight, he doesn't see the same from Koscheck.
"Josh Koscheck doesn't embrace it," St. Pierre said. "He's not like me."
St. Pierre believes that his willingness to embrace fear, and other emotions, represents a level of maturity that Koscheck lacks. And in the fight game, maturity is an indispensible part of success.
But St. Pierre takes it a step further: He classifies Koscheck as immature, a bully who tries to intimidate others.
The champion points to his opponent's behavior on Season 12 of "The Ultimate Fighter," in which both men were coaches. Koscheck taunted St. Pierre throughout the program.
St. Pierre offered his opinion why the top-ranked welterweight contender behaved in such a manner.
"From the outside, [Koscheck] wants to look like a bully, like a guy who can bully me around," St. Pierre said. "But inside, he is very worried. He's very insecure about himself.
"That's why he acts like this. He tries to insult me, to make me worry. But in reality, he's the one who's worried; he's the one who's nervous too."
Koscheck (15-4-0) dismisses St. Pierre's assessment of him. He admits directing most of his trash talk at the champion, but says it wasn't personal -- it was just part of his prefight strategy.
From the moment he was named a TUF coach, Koscheck intended to get inside St. Pierre's head. Season 12 of TUF offered the perfect setting to hatch his plan.
"First off, it's a reality TV show," Koscheck told ESPN.com. "Second, we all knew what we were getting ourselves into by going on to it. I know [St. Pierre] doesn't like conflict. He portrays this image that he wants to come off as very squeaky clean. He tries very hard to keep that because of his sponsors.
"There were times when Georges wanted to backlash at me, but bit his tongue and mumbled under his breath and kind of walked away."
One thing is for sure, there will be no more trash talk coming from Koscheck. That stage of his fight plan is over.
But was it successful?
Koscheck says yes. St. Pierre tells ESPN.com that the challenger wasted valuable energy and time.
Trash talking is often used to get under an opponent's skin, to make him angry. While sometimes annoyed by Koscheck's harsh words and antics, St. Pierre denies any of it angered him.
Anger is the one emotion St. Pierre refuses to carry into a fight.
"I don't fight with my anger; I fight with my art," St. Pierre said. "If you fight with your anger sometimes you make mistakes, and that's exactly what Josh Koscheck wants me to do.
"He knows he can't match my skills, so he's trying to distract me by saying those things and hope that I make a mistake. I'm not going to fall into that game."
Maybe not, but each fighter knows there is another factor that could determine the bout's outcome: pressure. And all the pressure heading into UFC 124 is on St. Pierre. He is the champion, regarded as one of the top two fighters in the world. St. Pierre will also be defending his title at home, before more than 20,000 supporters.
This pressure is part of the fear that St. Pierre embraces. Most fighters would crack under the weight of such a high level of pressure, but not St. Pierre. He has proven time and again he's able to raise his game during these situations.
"It adds pressure on me because I'm fighting at home," St. Pierre said. "But it's going to turn out on my side because the fans will give me the energy to push myself even further during the fight.
"I'm at my best when I am fighting under pressure."
On the other hand, Koscheck prefers being in his position. He feels no pressure whatsoever and is extremely confident heading into his rematch with St. Pierre. That confidence has Koscheck looking to do serious damage to the champ.
More than winning the title, Koscheck is motivated to hurt St. Pierre in his hometown. And he still insists it isn't personal.
"I don't dislike anybody really," Koscheck said. "It's business.
"I've fought him once. I beat him one round and I believe I can beat him this time. I'm more mature as a fighter. Three years ago is a long time; I've improved. I've put my time in. I know what's at stake. I know that I have to perform," he said.
"I'm coming into this fight to hurt, Georges is coming into this fight to eke out a decision -- to grind it out. I'm coming into this fight to hurt him."
Franklin McNeil covers MMA and boxing for ESPN.com. He also appears regularly on "MMA Live," which airs on ESPN2. Follow him on Twitter at www.twitter.com/Franklin_McNeil.
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