Strikes to Takedowns: A breakdown of George St-Pierre’s game

Author’s note: this article is based heavily on my previous articles on Bloody Elbow in regards to MMA game-planing and Greg Jackson. Sources: 1, 2)

This post is both a tribute to one of the greatest MMA fighters who ever lived in Georges St-Pierre, and a blueprint on how to fight from range and get takedowns based on GSP’s highly successful individual game.

In his upcoming fight against Michael Bisping, Georges will face a difficult task as Bisping is bigger, and an underrated but consistent fighter with solid takedown defense. Nevertheless I root for GSP as he is my favorite fighter, a role model, and a great representative for MMA.

St-Pierre has proven in the past that an MMA fighter can stay classy and respectful and still be a solid pay-per-view draw, contrary to the recent trend of fighters who disrespect everyone in order to become popular and make a name for themselves.

https://youtube.com/watch?v=PngDeCFmbDQ

Georges St-Pierre was the first MMA fighter to conduct himself as a traditional martial arts practitioner in and out of the cage. He was a kyokushin karate practitioner and his philosophy is based on the ideals and philosophy of Japanese budo.

A young GSP training in Kyokushin karate Source: UFC Presents, GSP A Legend Returns on Youtube

His image relies heavily on traditional martial arts. Georges wears a walkout gi to the cage and the tattoo on his chest is Japanese for ‘Jiu-Jitsu’.

Jiu jitsu kanji Source:Wikipedia

As a true professional, Georges never fails to make weight, cross-trains in gymnastics and other fitness related activities, and is one of the first fighters to embrace specialized training with different coaches.

Georges cross-training in gymnastics Source: UFC Presents, GSP A Legend Returns on Youtube

St-Pierre has training bases in Greg Jackson’s and now mainly Firaz Zahabi’s gym but also trains with a boxing coach in Freddie Roach, a Muay Thai coach in Ajarn Phil Nurse, a wrestling coach, and a BJJ coach in John Danaher.

In order for fighters to expand and sharpen their MMA arsenal, they need to train with specialists of other fighting sports as much as possible. This provides a fighter with the opportunity to raise his level way above the average MMA sparring partner’s. Rolling with BJJ world champions is not the same as grappling with your average MMA grappler. Finding good sparring/grappling partners is always a difficult task but is worth the effort.

GSP’s philosophy is heavily influenced by coach Greg Jackson. Jackson’s fighters apply gameplans and tactics that go well beyond your traditional kickboxing or grappling game. For example, they combine the use of the cage, wrestling, and grinding to make opponents carry their weight and work harder.

Like his former head coach, GSP’s conceptual framework is the “study of the game”: understanding the fighting game as a whole rather than a list of individual techniques. Each move is a part of a puzzle, creating opportunities or countering attacks. What comes before and after every move is important, but the game is not just comprised of techniques in chains or combinations. Tactics and objectives are also very important.

When fighting St-Pierre, opponents can be sure of one thing: His coaches have done their homework and know all there is to know about them. They might know if a fighter runs out of gas after the fourth round; how they react under pressure; and if they can handle punches to the body. Everything is important. The coaches will come up with game-plans to exploit every weakness and GSP, a great student, is more than prepared to follow the plan.

Like his former teammate Jon Jones, there are generally two gameplans for the Canadian: a specialized plan, taking into consideration his opponent’s strengths and weaknesses; and a general plan, which is the backup plan for every fight.

The general plan:

St-Pierre has great cardio and is a five-round fighter. He looks like a point fighter, but as is often said in boxing, he “makes the investments in the early rounds and collects the interest later”. His jabs and low kicks take their toll on opponents over time and so do his relentless takedowns. Usually, if the fight makes it to the last round, GSP’s opponents are exhausted from getting up from takedowns and out-punched in standing exchanges .

In every fight GSP gets busy early to:

  • Use jabs, inside low kicks, superman punches, and takedowns to confuse opponents and make them lose confidence in their striking ability, along with their ability to keep the fight standing.
  • Win every round on the scorecards using high-volume striking.
  • Be the fresher fighter at the beginning of the last round by controlling the pace of the fight.
  • Try to finish the fight at every given opportunity while continuing to collect points in case of a failed attempt at a finish.
  • Ensure complete and utter dominance.

The main problem for his opponents is St-Pierre goes from striking to takedowns in an unexpected fashion. An opponent may be trying to match him strike for strike, like in a point fighting match, then without warning, Georges may go for a takedown and this disrupts their rhythm.

Telegraphing and Mixing Things Up

In striking, fighters defend attacks by reacting to their opponents “telegraphing” their movements. In sporting terminology, to telegraph is to unintentionally alert an opponent to one’s immediate situation or intentions. In boxing for example, fighters will unconsciously notice how their opponent’s shoulder moves before a jab is executed and this provides them with the reaction time needed to parry the punch.

The more fighters are able to apply economy of motion in their execution of techniques, the more they are able to land strikes as there is less telegraphing of movement.

However some telegraphic is unavoidable and St-Pierre capitalizes on this by using a series of techniques that have obvious similarities in the initial stages of their execution. In other words, when GSP attacks, his opponent cannot tell if a jab or a takedown is coming their way as both are similarly launched from the same stance.

We will list these moves as individual pieces of a chessboard and then we will examine how each move makes it easier for the next one to be successful by using a tactic often described as “mixing things up” which is used to confuse opponents. The individual moves are:

The Jab

 

Notice how Georges throws the jab from a slightly staggered stance, fully extending his arm, pivots left and gets out the way of the incoming lead right hand. There is no telegraphed movement and if I were to ask you in photo 3 which move is coming next you will not be able to tell if it will be a strike or a takedown. The importance of the jab is often neglected in MMA and the jab is GSP’s main punch, used to set up distance, keep opponents busy, and disguise other optional attacks.

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The Lead Left Hook

 

From the same staggered/shooting stance Georges often throws a lead left hook as his opponent tries to push him away or cover. Notice in photo 2 that GSP can go for a takedown instead of a punch from this same stance.

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The Shooting Feint

 

St-Pierre will often use feints to read his opponent’s reaction. In photos 2 and 5 Josh Koscheck has been hit so many times from a low stance that when GSP uses a change of levels as a feint, Josh, instead of preparing for a sprawl as he should, puts his hands up to cover, thus opening himself up for a possible takedown.

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Of course when St-Pierre feints using a level change there are a number of attacks that can follow. Below you can see him change levels and come back up with a jab.

 

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The Left Inside Low kick

 

In Muay Thai, the left teep kick can be described as a “foot jab”. In MMA, a left teep is easy to grab for a takedown so the “foot jab” for an othodox fighter is a left low kick attacking the inside of the thigh. This kick can accidentally hit the groin instead of the thigh and fighters often get distracted by fearing this possibility.

Like a jab, when used correctly, the inside low kick is a great long range attack. Notice the efficient execution of the kick by GSP. In photo 2 of the sequence above, his right foot lands where his left foot was and his head pulls back while launching the kick. When the foot connects Georges is out of reach and in perfect position to proceed with follow-up attacks, as we will examine in the combinations section of this post.

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Shooting for a Takedown

 

Georges is not a wrestler. However he uses his Kyokunshin base to shoot for takedowns, just by widening his stance and changing levels. When he connects with his opponent, he crosses his feet driving forward and “cuts the corner” to finish the takedown. What makes his shooting attempts so successful can be seen in photo 3 above. Having seen St-Pierre use similar set ups to attack with strikes, Dan Hardy pulls his hands up instead of changing levels. When Hardy notices the takedown attempt and goes for the sprawl it is too late and is taken down.

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Superman Jab to a Right Low Kick

 

Georges uses the superman jab more often than a superman right cross (which can be countered with a left hook). This superman jab covers a lot of distance. Usually, this is a follow up attack from a jab, an inside low kick or a teep so the opponent does not expect an attack which can cover so much distance.

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Here is a detailed instructional of this move:

In the sequence below you can see another application of this attack. Matt Serra tries to counter the superman jab with an overhand right and GSP, is able to duck under the punch mid-air and land the right low kick:

 

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Here is GSP’s coach Kru Phil nurse with more details on the superman punch:

Superman Right Punch

 

As I noted above, Georges does not attack with a right hand superman punch as often as he attacks with a jab. However in the sequence above he is able to land on Matt Hughes using this punch. I have to note that GSP landed a right low kick prior to launching the superman punch. It is important to attack with right kicks before attempting this punch in order to distract your opponents, forcing them to lower their guard as you push the foot back and launch yourself forward.

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Here is GSP with the details:

The Left High Kick

 

Georges loves the left high kick and his execution is a thing of beauty. Notice in photo 2, as he goes for the switch his opponent might think he is about to launch a superman jab.

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St-Pierre consistently attacks opponents with inside left low kicks. In photo 3 of the sequence below, Matt Hughes is expecting a low kick and drops his hand to catch it but Georges instead goes high and lands a left high kick.

 

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Punching Combinations

So now that you know the ABCs of Georges’ striking game, let’s examine how these moves form combinations and counters.

(Note: Moves in parentheses are opponent’s attacks)

(Jab) Counter Jab

 

Matt Hughes attacks with a jab and GSP slips/parries, attacks with a jab and pivots left. A common boxing counter, parrying the jab is an important element of Georges’ striking game.

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(Jab) Duck Under, Jab to the Body, Jab

 

One way to defend the jab is to change levels making your opponent miss and land a jab to the body, then come up with a jab to the head. This double attack can also be used as a standalone attack and to set up takedown attempts.

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(Lead Right Cross) Counter Left Look

 

I love how GSP counters lead right hands with left hooks, while pivoting left. I really discourage fighters to attack with lead right hands as they can easily get countered by a fighter with solid boxing fundamentals.

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(Left Hook) Counter Right Cross

 

Here is another beautiful counter. Jon Fitch loads power on his left foot to attack with a left hook and St-Pierre pulls back to avoid the punch and connects with a beautiful right hand. Wrestlers are all about lead left hooks and lead right hands so these counters are very essential in a fighter’s arsenal.

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Double Jab to Right Cross

 

St-Pierre uses the double jab to disrupt his opponent’s defensive rhythm and close the distance. Sometimes the second jab is just a feint hiding the incoming overhand right. Notice that this is also a great set-up which can be used to attack with a takedown instead of a right hand. GSP usually uses a wide stance in order to attack with the double jab.

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Kicking Combinations

Time to mix things up and add some kicks.

Jab (Jab) Pull, Jab, Inside Low Kick

 

GSP attacks with a jab and Carlos Condit jabs back. Georges pulls back to escape from the jab and comes back with a jab of his own and a left inside low kick. The jab and the inside low kick compliment each-other offensively and can be used in a number of variations.

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Left High Kick, Superman Jab, Right Low Kick

 

In this combo St-Pierre uses all his long-range weapons one after the other in perfect form. Notice that there is power behind all moves. He goes kick-punch-kick and at the same time high left-penetrating straight- low right. This is how you mix things up to diversify your game.

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Left Inside Low Kick, Jab, Lead Left Hook

 

In photo #1, St-Pierre checks/traps Josh Koscheck’s hand and lands an inside left low kick, pulls back, attacks with a jab, resets, and lands a lead left hook. This sequence is a clear example of how Georges uses certain patterns both offensively and in counter-punching mode (compare this one with the next sequence).

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Left Inside Low Kick, (Jab), Parry, Jab ,(Lead Right), Slip, Left Hook

 

This is the same series of moves as above modified for counter-punching using an almost identical pattern. GSP attacks with an inside low but this time Josh Koscheck attacks with a jab. St-Pierre slips the jab and lands a counter jab of his own. Josh attacks with a lead right and GSP lands a counter left hook. This ability to switch modes from offense to counterattacking is a sign of a unique and talented fighter.

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Getting Takedowns

As you can see so far, GSP employs a versatile set of moves in an unpredictable fashion. There is a reason he is so successful in landing both long-range strikes and takedowns. He follows a rule that makes MMA striking unique:

The fear of takedowns distracts the mind and confuses reflexes. Takedown attempts make it easier for strikes to land and successful strikes make it easier to get takedowns. So a fighter needs to set-up takedowns with strikes and strikes with takedowns.

This is why St-Pierre is more successful in getting takedowns than most wrestling-based MMA fighters. Another thing to note is that landing strikes from a semi-staggered stance helps him avoid getting taken down himself. Here are some ways that he uses to get takedowns:

Superman Jab to Takedown

Here is Kru Nurse explaining how the superman punch helps GSP close the distance and opens up takedown opportunities:

Over Under Clinch to Knee-Tap Takedown.

The way GSP lands punches and his stance makes it easy for him to get the over-under clinch (a 50/50 clinch where each fighter has an overhook and an underhook). From this position Georges lifts the underhook high and lowers the overhook to touch and block (tap) his opponent’s knee. Finally he pushes forward to get what is called a “knee tap” takedown. Here he is using it against Matt Hughes:

 

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This is an instructional video of a knee tap takedown variation:

Using Takedowns to Get out of Trouble

 

In this exchange notice that GSP, although pressured with strikes towards the cage by Thiago Alves, does not lift his chin up. He blocks as many strikes as as he can and closes the distance shooting forward while catching a kick. He then goes for a takedown (similar to the knee tap variation) to get Alves to the floor. Georges uses takedowns consistently to counter striking aggression and this demoralizes opponents as they soon realize that if they overcommit to their offense they will land on the canvas. This forces them to hesitate and disrupts their rhythm.

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(Right Low Kick), Grab, Punch/Takedown

 

Another way for Georges to get takedowns is by catching kicks, especially right low kicks. Sometimes he shoots for a takedown once he grabs the leg but most of the times he will take them down by landing a right cross.

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The mechanics of this takedown are similar to the following knee-tap takedown variation. Just replace the push with a right cross for the same result.

Jab Feint, Takedown

 

The reason St-Pierre loves using the jab is because a successful jab (with power behind it) makes fighters pull back or counterpunch. Georges takes advantage of this to shoot for a takedown. He will either jab or feint a jab and change levels at the same time. In the sequence above he attacks Jon Fitch with a jab, resets and attacks again with a jab. Jon lifts his guard up and tries to jab back but misses as St-Pierre has already changed levels for the takedown. Notice in photo #5 that when attacking with a jab to get a takedown, Georges steps his left foot under his opponent’s center of gravity. This enables him to close the distance without unnecessary movement.

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Ducking Under Punches

Finally, GSP gets a large percentage of takedowns by ducking under punches and shooting to connect with the hips or legs. Here are some basic variations:

(Jab) Duck under, Takedown

 

Here, although Josh Koscheck tries to land a jab from a very low stance, GSP is still able to duck under the punch and get the takedown.

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(Right Cross) Duck Under, Takedown

A lead right hand is a risky move and is also the easiest way for GSP to get a takedown. It is easy for a fighter to see this move coming if used without a set-up strike. Also please notice how low Georges’ hips can go from such a wide stance.

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Jab (Left Hook), Duck Under, Takedown

Finally, Georges loves to shoot under counter left hooks. Here GSP attacks with a jab and as Thiago Alves tries to attack with a left hook, St-Pierre ducks under and grabs a foot to get the takedown.

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These are the basic elements of Georges St-Pierre’s striking/takedown game. See you again this week before UFC 217 with a breakdown of Joanna Jędrzejczyk’s game. For a list of my previous technique breakdowns on Bloody Elbow, check out this link.

About the Author: Kostas Fantaousakis is a researcher of fighting concepts, tactics, and techniques, and a state-certified MMA, grappling, and wrestling coach in Greece. He teaches his unique Speedforce MMA mittwork system © which combines strikes, takedowns, knees, and elbows applied in the Continuous Feedback © mittwork system of the Mayweather family. Kostas is a brown belt in BJJ under MMA veteran and BJJ world champion Wander Braga (the teacher of Gabriel Napao Gonzaga).

Follow Kostas on Twitter: https://twitter.com/kostasfant and search #fantmoves for more techniques.

Website: www.embracingthegrind.com

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