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Next weekend Britain will vote for its sports personality of 2010. The public will decide a winner from a shortlist of ten names plucked from across the sporting spectrum. Sports represented among the nominees range from the obvious (cricket) to the obscure (bob skeleton) via the dubious (darts).
Where am I going with this on a UFC blog? Well I'm not going to start banging on cyber walls about how mixed martial arts is not being recognised by the British mainstream as a legitimate sport. Even in a fantasy world where BBC Sport has its own online MMA section (like it does for darts, sorry Phil), I would still struggle to muster the enthusiasm to rally for one of our British fighters to receive a nod, because this year our best 鈥?Bisping, Hardy, Daley, Hathaway, Pearson 鈥?each lost a fight.
But over 3000 miles across the Atlantic, Canada is home to the best fighter on the planet 鈥?Georges St. Pierre (pictured). St Pierre's country doesn't have anything as twee and exhaustively overblown as the BBC Sports Personality of the Year award but for the last two years the man known as 鈥楻ush' to his Montreal faithful has been awarded the title of Canadian Athlete of the Year.
St Pierre's superstar status has grown so big that UFC president Dana White recently argued that his welterweight champion is the most famous athlete ever to come out of Canada. It's a contentious thought 鈥?Wayne Gretzky, Lennox Lewis and, *ahem* Ben Johnson would all have a say in that particular debate, but that such a case can even be put forward is a testament to how far the sport of MMA has come and what such a great practitioner and ambassador of it St. Pierre is.
St. Pierre's recent appearance in a typically chucklesome ESPN commercial, highlights the broad appeal that the mainstream North American sports media see in him. He's a polite, serene and humble personality within a violent sport that often falls victim to lazy, misconceived stereotyping. Rather than indulge in trash-talking or the type of extra curricular activities that may help validate or exacerbate this image, St. Pierre preaches calm, intelligence and the important yet unachievable quest for technical perfection.
On Saturday night St. Pierre will help set a new UFC attendance record as over 23,000 fans are expected to pack themselves in to the Bell Centre in his hometown of Montreal to witness the latest defence of his UFC welterweight title when he takes on Josh Koscheck. The fight is a rematch of a 2007 non-title bout in which St. Pierre out-pointed Pennsylvania's Koscheck.
Koscheck's personality registers at the opposite end of the scale to that of St. Pierre's. The dynamic between the two resembles that of a WWF rivalry, with St. Pierre taking the classic 鈥榙rink your milk and take your vitamins' role of a 鈥榖aby-face', while Koscheck revels in the hatred he proudly provokes as the 鈥榟eel'. After beating Paul Daley 鈥?thus securing this title shot 鈥?at the Bell Centre in May, Koscheck couldn't wait to tell the Montreal crowd what he was going to do to their hero.
To further build anticipation for this end of year clash, St. Pierre and Koscheck were pitted against each other as coaches in the recent series of The Ultimate Fighter. Throughout the series boots[/url] Koscheck persistently tried to get under St. Pierre's skin 鈥?gibing about the champion's French-Canadian accent, his Octagon attire and even St. Pierre's unflappable nature, which was either a radical attempt at reverse psychology or a poorly contained admission of defeat on the mind games front.
At one point in the series, frustrated by his futile attempts at riling his rival, Koscheck turned on one of St. Pierre's assistants, paramedic Brad Tate. Koscheck tirelessly ridiculed Tate for being a 鈥榤ale nurse'. Sure, the cameras were rolling and the footage will have been meticulously edited but the juvenile remarks were for real. If he wasn't already, then The Ultimate Fighter only enhanced Koscheck's reputation as the most unpopular personality on the UFC's roster.
Popularity contest aside, St. Pierre will have a genuine threat standing in front of him on Saturday night. To the surprise of many, St. Pierre outwrestled Koscheck in their first meeting but the American has improved significantly since then and will have focused on fending off the Canadian's takedown attempts this time around having admitted to previously underestimating St. Pierre's grappling ability.
Though Koscheck may be able to go tit-for-tat with the champion in the wrestling department, despite his improvements in his striking, I still feel Koscheck lacks the variety in his stand-up to get the better of St. Pierre on his feet. Koscheck is now a more patient striker and has garnered a much better sense of timing but he still favours his overhand right a little too much.
If one of those fastball pitches gets through then we could have a new champion but seeing as it will more-or-less be the only specific weapon from Koscheck's striking arsenal that St. Pierre will have diligently worked on avoiding, these chances are slim. Especially slim when you consider the concern Koscheck will have for defending St. Pierre's takedowns 鈥?telegraphed looping right hands will see the Pennsylvanian end up on his back before too long.
St. Pierre has failed to score a stoppage in each of his last two outings. He'll be keen to put that right in front of his adoring Montreal fans. And, having worked with boxing's best trainer Freddie Roach, St. Pierre will have renewed confidence in his punch power. Expect a vintage performance and a stoppage victory from Canada's two-time Athlete of the Year.
Daley is back with a bang[br]
One guy pulling for a St. Pierre win on Saturday night will be Britain's Paul Daley.
Last Saturday Daley fought in a mainstream MMA arena for the first time since being kicked out of the UFC. Daley threw a punch at Koscheck on the wrong side of the final horn following their ill-tempered showdown in May.
Subsequently Daley signed with Strikeforce and he made his debut in spectacular fashion, dispatching renowned tough guy Scott Smith in little over two minutes.
The left hook that finished the job was just one of a succession of knockouts on the Strikeforce show that will be considered among the best of the year. Former UFC champion Dan Henderson and middleweight Robbie Lawler also scored eye-catching stoppages.