MONTREAL – With three title fights against him, Matt Hughes knows a thing or two about Georges St-Pierre.
When it comes to Saturday’s UFC 158 welterweight title fight between St-Pierre (23-2 MMA, 17-2 UFC) and Nick Diaz (26-8 MMA, 7-5 UFC), Hughes believes the champ has the edge.
But, Hughes said at a Friday Q&A session at Montreal’s Bell Centre, site of Saturday’s pay-per-view, there are ways Diaz could give the hometown favorite some fits.
Hughes was the first fighter to beat St-Pierre, submitting him with one second left in the first round at UFC 50 about eight and a half years ago in a 170-pound title fight. Hughes won four in a row after that, which included a pair of title defenses.
But at UFC 65, St-Pierre got his revenge with a first-round TKO to win the belt. The two met again at UFC 79 for the interim title while champ Matt Serra, who beat St-Pierre in arguably the biggest upset in UFC history, recovered from a back injury. And again, St-Pierre got the win, that time with a second-round armbar.
Because St-Pierre has a strong wrestling pedigree, like Hughes, the UFC Hall of Famer believes that’s his key to winning the fight: by being able to control where the action goes.
“The wrestlers have the big advantage in this sport,” Hughes said. “If GSP’s going to stand, he’s going to stand. If he’s going to go to the ground, he’s going to go to the ground. So I think that’s going to be great for GSP to be able to control the fight – no doubt about it. I think Diaz is OK in the wrestling game, but you can’t compare it to GSP.”
Hughes also believes St-Pierre will have a speed advantage and should be able to use that, as well.
“I think GSP is going to be the faster fighter,” he said. “So if I was coaching GSP, I’d say, ‘If you feel comfortable on your feet, get in and throw some bigger punches. Then come back out, out of range, and do whatever you want. If you feel comfortable taking him down, take him down.’”
Diaz, regarded as one of the sport’s best boxers, might pose a few problems for St-Pierre on the feet. But unless he brings something else to the table besides his two hands, Hughes believes St-Pierre can neutralize that part of his game with his strengths elsewhere.
“If Georges wants to stand with him, all he has to worry about is two hands,” he said. “He doesn’t have to worry about kicks or knees. He can really do whatever he wants. I don’t know what the game plan is, but Georges is going to be faster, and Georges is going to be able to control the takedown game. The advantage is to Georges because he’s going to be on top, and most judges see if you’re on top, you’re winning the fight. I don’t think I really see Diaz throwing an elbow to win the fight. Georges has a lot of good things going for him in the fight.”
It seems as if Hughes might give the nod all the way around to his three-time nemesis. But not so fast.
If Diaz can stretch the fight to the championship rounds, Hughes believes the tide could turn in the challenger’s favor.
“Diaz is in great shape, and this is the first time that Georges is probably going to be facing someone that’s in better shape than he is,” Hughes said. “So if I was Diaz, I’d push the fight and try to get in GSP’s mind: ‘Hey, I’m here to fight, and I’m going to try to take it to you.’ Diaz is going to want to brawl, so Georges needs to play a smart game and if he comes hard at him, just take him down. Don’t keep backpedaling.
“The fourth and fifth rounds could be very interesting because that could wear on GSP. ‘Is this guy really coming at me this hard? Is he going to have better cardio than me?’ It’s going to be really interesting in the later rounds.”
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