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…on GSP and Babalu

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After defeat to Matt Serra, Georges St-Pierre has enlisted a sports psychologist to help regain his confidence

This time last year, Georges St Pierre and Renato Sobral were at the top of the food chain but since then, their stocks have dipped. I look at a tough twelve months for “Babalu” and how GSP is trying to put his career back on track with sports psychology.

Georges St Pierre dabbles with sports psychology

In the build-up to this weekend’s welterweight contest between Josh Koscheck and Georges St Pierre, much has been made of St Pierre’s perceived mental weakness. With personal problems now being blamed for St Pierre’s shock defeat to Matt Serra, St Pierre has divulged that he has worked with a sports psychologist to regain his mental focus. Dana White questioned his mental state before the fight: “I’ve seen him fight many times. He’s very confident and very athletic and he didn’t seem that way before that fight. I went back to the dressing room before the fight started to talk to him and he just wasn’t himself.”

His now-former manager Stephane Patry claims St Pierre didn’t train hard enough and maybe “partied a little bit too much”, which seems very against type for a fighter who brought his mother into the cage after winning the UFC Welterweight title and used to restrict himself to one week of vacation after a fight. He paid the price for focusing on being the champ rather than focusing on how you stay as a champ. Other issues, such as family illnesses, also played a role. He is hoping his sports psychologist can reinstill a sense of confidence.

“The day I see him make an average player into a fantastic player I will put my hands up and say he is a genius, but so far that hasn’t happened.”

Every once in a while, sports psychology comes into sharp focus and never was that focus sharper than on the final day of golf’s Open Championship in July 2002. At Muirfield in Scotland, a nervous Belgian worked feverishly with his two clients, Ernie Els and Thomas Levet, before they embarked on a four-hole playoff to decide one of the most prestigious tournaments in golf. Jos Vanstiphout had come a long way in six years, from a period where he lost $135,000 trying to win clients on the circuit. By the end of the day, Els had emerged the winner and Vanstiphout was nearly $100,000 richer.

While many sneered at this former Belgian pop star turned ad executive turned golf guru, it had to be a mighty coincidence for Vanstiphout to turn the career around of not only Levet and Els but also Retief Goosen, who went from European Tour nearlyman to US Open champion. The above quote is from the disgruntled caddy of a former client who found Vanstiphout’s methods to be useless. He is woefully underqualified for a sports psychologist but those around him admit he works hard and a lot of what he says makes sense. 2005 US Open winner Michael Campbell says that Vanstiphout not only saved his career but saved his marriage.

What people miss, including our anonymous caddy above, is that sports psychology is not about taking an average player and turning him into a genius, this is the job of a coach. A psychologist takes the naturally-talented underachiever and works with them to eliminate the mental holes in their game. The winners have the mentality to be winners and they let nothing break their focus. Titles are won and lost on one square foot of real estate; the mind.

“My sports psychologist told me that in football and baseball, it’s not always the best team who won the game; it’s the team who plays better”

While sports psychology can be valuable, I feel the real problem here is that GSP didn’t have a plan B for Matt Serra. Sometimes plan A is so strong and you can overwhelm your opponent. If we think back, Matt Hughes has based his entire career on being a good plan A fighter. When GSP walked into the cage last November, his style worked well against Hughes. Hughes had no plan B and went home beltless. In April, Matt Serra fought a fight in an entirely different style to any bout he has ever fought before. GSP’s problem was that he did not recognise it and he didn’t have a backup plan. While this may have been a perfect storm of circumstances, there was still the case that Serra was fighting in a way which GSP had not prepared for. Unless this is acknowledged, then the problem remains.

How the “Babalu” burst for Renato Sobral

Puntastic titles aside, it has been a strange twelve months for Renato Sobral. Babalu was the clear number one contender for Chuck Liddell’s light heavyweight title and was lined up to fight the champion at UFC 62. Two losses and an arrest in Tampa later, Renato is mired in the light heavyweight pack and looking to put his career back together.

It was unfortunate for Babalu that he was in a division where, on his day, he could beat anybody but the champion. As has been proved down the years, Chuck negates many of the advantages that a grappler enjoys and the Brazilian was no different to the rest. His go-for-broke gameplan played into the Iceman’s hands. However, Sobral had not been truly tested for arguably three years, since he defeated Jeremy Horn, Mauricio Rua and Trevor Prangley in a one night tournament for the IFC light heavyweight title. That night he made himself into one of the great 205ers in the world but by August 2006, he was just a guy who had beaten Chael Sonnen.

It is a shame that an exciting ground fighter is struggling and it looks likely that he will beat an overmatched David Heath. However, as the MMA world expands, we will have to accept that some fighters will fall by the wayside.


Written by Michael Farrow

August 21, 2007 at 5:07 pm

Posted in MMA

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