Commentary

St. Pierre-Koscheck could be a changing of the (old) guard

It's a classic matchup of good guy and villain when Georges St. Pierre takes on Josh Koscheck in UFC 74, writes Michael Woods.

Updated: August 22, 2007, 12:17 PM ET
By Michael Woods | Special to ESPN.com

UFC president Dana White will not go out on a limb and predict a winner in Saturday's showdown between two of the UFC's best all-around athletes: comebacking Canadian Georges St. Pierre and reality-show villain Josh Koscheck.

White will, however, admit that the two principals in the featured undercard possess different personas, and it's quite likely that when Bruce Buffer does the intros at the Mandalay Bay in Las Vegas, that fact will be made quite clear, even to a UFC newbie.

The cheers for St. Pierre, 26, a karate/Brazilian jiujitsu specialist, will be loud and sustained.

When Koscheck's name is announced, the noise will be loud and sustained too, but it will be from the boos raining down on the 29-year-old former NCAA wrestling stud from California.

The 13-2 St. Pierre has beaten a who's who of UFC welterweights since he debuted in the octagon in 2004 -- including Karo Parisyan, Frank Trigg, Sean Sherk, B.J. Penn and Matt Hughes -- notching six KOs and four submissions along the way.

He put a rear naked choke on the hearts of sentimental fight fans when he dropped to his knees after beating Sherk in 2005, and begged White for a title shot. After a stellar showing against ground-and-pound robot Sherk, he showed a touching level of humility as he asked for a title opportunity.

That display contrasts, in the minds of many MMA devotees, with Koscheck's less-humble antics. In the first season of "The Ultimate Fighter," the Spike reality show that kicked off in 2005, Koscheck (11-1) didn't endear himself to viewers when he doused a passed-out fighter, a gritty all-action hitter named Chris Leben, with a hose.

White explains the contrasts in personality.

"Georges has that thing, people are born with it," the UFC honcho says. "Koscheck has that thing too, that thing that pisses people off.

"There was a fight when the entire arena was booing Josh and I said to him, 'That's awesome.' And he's like, 'What?' They care, I told him. You don't want to have someone come up on the Jumbotron and people are like, 'Who's that?' If they tune in to see you win, or lose, at least they tune in."

They were tuning in, en masse, to St. Pierre, and digging his ample arsenal and his goofy/cute French-Canadian accent, as the fighter marched on a six-fight win streak that culminated in a TKO win over welterweight legend Hughes in UFC 65 on Nov. 18, 2006.

White said St. Pierre was the best athlete in the game, and he was being presented with Chuck Liddell and Rich Franklin as a poster boy of the organization.

That poster got defaced, in a big way, when Matt Serra, an undersized journeyman from Long Island, took it St. Pierre as a 10-to-1 underdog. Lagging 4 inches in height, he caught St. Pierre with a right-hand haymaker, and followed up with more of the same. St. Pierre couldn't answer, and after eating a slew of more bombs, the fight was halted. He lay on the canvas, dazed and dismayed, wondering how it came to be.

The fighter pondered the outcome for a spell, and decided that he needed to turn his life upside down and start over. He dumped his manager and his training team, and added a whole new squad of teachers (including a sports psychologist). He now looks back on the whuppin' as a positive.

"I don't want to come offering excuses," he told ESPN.com. "I believed I was the best fighter in the world, but on that night, Matt Serra fought a better fight than me. In my life leading up to the fight, though, bad things were happening at the same time. Health matters, family problems, people were sick, people died, it was the hardest point of my life."

He is hesitant to give the gory details on his personal meltdown, saying that the people involved are not public personalities and deserve their privacy. Us Weekly and MMA fans can rest assured, however, that there were no romantic entanglements muddying up his mind.

Koscheck enters Saturday's fight off a win over Diego Sanchez in UFC 69 in April, but it didn't bulk up the numbers in the Josh Koscheck Fan Club.

The two went back and forth in a prefight war of words that proved to be far more fiery and entertaining than the actual contest, which went the distance -- three rounds of watching paint dry. He could have then tried to reach out to the fans, who do after all put money in the fighters' pockets when they buy a seat or a PPV, and apologize for not walking the talk. He did not.

As an explanation, Koscheck is respectful, but his characteristic anti-charisma shines through.

"I've been competing since I was 4 years old in wrestling," he says. "So it's another day at the office for me. I don't really pay attention to what people are saying, I could honestly give two craps about what people say about me. I'm the person that I am, I'm the fighter that I am, and I'm trying to be the best fighter in the world."

And while Koscheck has a dismissive aura, St. Pierre admits he's been devouring self-help literature to understand why he slipped off the rail against Serra. Who can't identify with the man who's still striving to better himself and admits that he hasn't conquered this puzzle that is life?

He says Nietzsche's "That which doesn't kill you makes you stronger," and the power of positive thinking literature are "the secret" to his new ways.

"My focus before was on the wrong stuff. I was young, I made mistakes. I learned from myself," he says.

Back to White's nonprediction. The UFC chief cannot bring himself to pick a winner.

"Before his last fight, St. Pierre was nervous, his leg was jumping up and down in the locker room," White says. "The big question is, which GSP shows up, the gifted athlete or the one who was KO'ed? Josh is a sponge, anything you teach him, he picks up. Two of the best athletes in the UFC will clash, and I don't know which GSP will show up. Josh is that talented. He can pull it off."

There's little doubt that the majority of the people watching at the Mandalay Bay will be hoping Koscheck doesn't pull it off. But as anyone who's lived on this Earth for any length of time knows, charisma doesn't always carry the day. Sometimes the nice guys find themselves on the canvas, battered and bewildered, destined to read many more self-help books to figure out where they went wrong.

Michael Woods is the editor of TheSweetScience.com.

Michael Woods, a member of the board of the Boxing Writers Association of America, has been covering boxing since 1991. He writes about boxing for ESPN The Magazine and is the news editor for TheSweetScience.com.