SOME SAY THAT IN ORDER TO BE GREAT, YOU HAVE TO BE INSANE. Take for example Mozart, Einstein, Muhammed Ali, Bo Jackson. They operated outside the spectrum in which their peers operated, and most certainly outside the spectrum of a normal person. In their training, their learning, their practicing, they devote thousands and thousands of hours in the pursuit of perfection. With their utter and crazy devotion to their craft, they achieved a level of greatness that is universally recognized, respected, and admired. George St-Pierre is the most dominant UFC welterweight champion in the history of MMA. He is one of the most worshiped and idolized fighters of all time. I recently watched “Takedown: The DNA of GSP” (the documentary about George St-Pierre) and I realize that George St-Pierre’s devotion to perfection and his ability to learn, practice and repeat for thousands and thousands of hours is simply because George is not a normal athlete and does not operate in the same spectrum as normal athletes. George is an athlete with Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder.
I wasn’t always a George St-Pierre fan. When I watched him defeat Matt Hughes to win the welterweight championship in 2006 for the first time, I thought he was undeserving of the title. Too young to be the champ. Too inexperienced, wasn’t in enough wars, too lucky, too good looking. I drew satisfaction from Matt Serra knocking him out the following year. I remember watching that fight and saying to myself “Yeah, that’s right George, you’re not championship material. You don’t stand a chance against these legends of the sport”.
But with that loss, George St-Pierre made a change to his training and his fighting. And after that night, George went 12-0 in the UFC, never losing a fight in the next six years.
The extraordinary thing about George St-Pierre’s 12 consecutive wins is that he consistently beats fighters that he isn’t supposed to beat. Josh Koscheck the wrestler was supposed to take George down and ground and pound him into oblivion. Thiago Alves was supposed demolish George with his superior Muay Thai. Jake Shields was supposed to submit George with his superior grappling. Nick Diaz was supposed to out-box George on the feet and out-JiuJitsu George on the ground. But George won, every single time.
You ask the question, in fact you beg the question “how is George able to do this?” “What is the key to George’s success?” Watching “Takedown”, I’d have to say that the key to George’s success is the level of preparation that he puts in to every one of his fights. George doesn’t prepare for his fights alone. He has help from a very close-knit team that is led by genius tacticians including John Danaher, Kru Phil Nurse and Firas Zahabi. But what truly puts George’s preparation on a different level compared to other fighters is George’s Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD).
In the documentary, George St-Pierre describes his OCD as a ‘craziness’. He is sitting outside a track and field stadium on a calm day, wearing a calm blue sweater. “On the outside, people see me and think I’m a gentleman. But they don’t know how crazy I am.” George admits to having OCD, in fact he embraces it. He even recognizes and laughs at how ridiculous some of his fears and actions are. “Walking on the side walk, I don’t want to step on a crack because I think something bad is going to happen. If I step on a crack with my left foot, I’m going to have to step on a crack with my right foot so that I have an equal number. I know it’s completely ridiculous but I have a little disease called obsessive compulsive”. George’s OCD may sound funny, especially when the disease was made comical by the popular TV show Monk. But when George brings his OCD into the gym, you see something truly incredible.
Most fighters will learn a technique and practice it a few times during the training session. Some fighters will learn a new combination, hit the bag a couple times and continue to work on it tomorrow. Not George. When George learns something new, he will need to practice it until he gets it right. He will repeat the technique a thousand times. He will repeat the same punch, the same two punches, then the same combination a thousand times. He will repeat the same JiuJitsu transition until each and every part of his body is comfortable with the position. If that means repeating the transition a thousand times, then he’ll do it a thousand times and move on to the next technique. Freddy Roach flashes on the screen in between scenes of George hitting focus mitts with the legendary boxing trainer. In his signature slur that is heard distinctly above the sharp pounding of gloves on mitts in the background, “George is one of those guys that, when you teach him something new, and he’s just feeling his way through it, he’ll go home and come back the next day and he will have it perfectly done.” Freddy pauses, pondering something for a moment “Then I say to myself, I wonder how long he worked in the mirror last night.”
Now take George’s training style and put it into the context of preparing for a fight. With the help of John Danaher’s JiuJitsu, Phil Nurses striking, and Firas Zahabi’s strategy, a plan of attack is carefully put together. Scenarios are predicted and solutions are formed. Then the team will imagine, predict, and recreate every single scenario with team mates and sparring partners. The benefit of repeatedly preparing for each scenario in a fight is to train George’s muscle memory to react to an attack far faster than George’s brain would be able to. George’s OCD means that he is more than willing to run through ever single scenario a thousand times.
Fighting Josh Koscheck, George St-Pierre trained wrestling and out-wrestled the four-time Division I NCAA All American and NCAA wrestling champion. Fighting Thiago Alves, George St-Pierre trained wrestling again and completely disarmed the Muay Thai specialist with takedowns and ground control. For Jake Shields the submission specialist, George St-Pierre focused on his boxing with Freddy Roach and Howard Green to take advantage of Jake’s weak stand-up. George also started gymnastics for coordination and strength to bring his ground game to the next level. For Nick Diaz, George St-Pierre trained Shoot Box to nullify Nick Diaz’s skill in both boxing and JiutJitsu, taking the fight to the ground when Nick wanted to box and exercising ground control when Nick tried to set up a submission. Each of these game-plans, carefully put together by George and his team. Each scenario in the plan practiced, again, and again, and again.
Greatness means that you are able to do something outside the spectrum in which your peers perform. In many ways, you are able to reach greatness in the pursuit of perfection. The dedication, the sacrifice, and the repetition it takes to reach perfection is something that is achievable by those who possess a mind different from the average person. That night George St-Pierre lost to Matt Serra in April of 2007, he changed something in his training and his fighting. George changed from hiding his OCD, to embracing it. He learned to incorporate his OCD into his training and the result is one of the greatest UFC champions in the history of MMA. Maybe it takes a little bit of insanity to become great, maybe it doesn’t. But I can guarantee that a little bit of OCD doesn’t hurt.
Watch two different trailers here