Commentary

Wild Card helps GSP grow in spades

Originally Published: July 15, 2011
By Josh Gross | ESPN.com

 Georges St-PierreEric Williams/Getty ImagesHop to it: With help from Freddie Roach, Georges St. Pierre is getting his striking game up to speed.

HOLLYWOOD -- Freddie Roach, the estimable boxing trainer, has staked out a place behind the front desk of his jam-packed Wild Card Boxing Club where he can survey the lay of the land. Monthly membership dues, coming in at a reasonable $50 a pop, are in need of collection, so the fact that Roach's boxing cathedral is cramped quarters on a Monday should sit well with him. Yet the 51-year-old coach appears anxious, and quietly suggests it would be better if this sweatbox situated above a laundromat wasn't as busy as it is.

Roach wants to work distraction-free with UFC welterweight champion Georges St. Pierre, who is in town for the ESPYs ceremony and will spend three days working with the Hall of Fame trainer. The gym's populace, a gender-neutral potpourri, recognized the mixed martial artist's arrival, though that did little to distract from the syncopated percussion of the place. The ring, ring, ring of round timers stop for no one, and almost immediately upon greeting St. Pierre, Roach twines the 30-year-old Canadian's weapons of choice with tape and gauze.

Outside of the man who trains Manny Pacquiao, St. Pierre was the biggest star in the room, and over the next hour patrons took their turn sizing up the UFC champion's skills and presence. Wild Card is not a joint to feel star struck in, even if that means ignoring St. Pierre sweating it up near a large black-and-white portrait of himself hung alongside images of Roach and his prized Filipino pupil. Still, there were several moments during the hour when people gathered and watched. Some are even reprimanded for taking photos and shooting video inside the gym -- a big-time no-no.

[+] EnlargeGeorges St. Pierre and Freddie Roach
Eric Williams/Getty ImagesIt took a little time but, under Freddie Roach's astute eye, Georges St. Pierre found his flow.

The UFC champ looked muscular and confirmed to Roach that he's currently walking around at 190 pounds. It took a couple of turns on the pads before St. Pierre (22-2) pumped out his jab the way he wanted. Soon enough, though, Roach had him unloading combinations and thinking about what it would take to evade Nick Diaz's straight-ahead style.

"He has success with that if you let him," Roach said of Diaz, who is regarded among MMA's best boxers. "But there's definitely ways to take that away from him."

"He's very good at teaching people to hit and not getting hit," St. Pierre said of Roach. "You can fight with less damage and create damage on your opponent.

"When I come to learn some stuff I have an empty cup. I don't come here try to prove to people that I know stuff. I come here and I'm ready to learn. In an environment with Freddie Roach, the best coach with the best boxers, I'm a very humble guy when I'm here.

When I come to learn some stuff I have an empty cup. I don't come here try to prove to people that I know stuff. I come here and I'm ready to learn. In an environment with Freddie Roach, the best coach with the best boxers, I'm a very humble guy when I'm here.

--Georges St. Pierre, on absorbing everything he learns while at Wild Card Gym

Time spent in Southern California is time well spent for GSP, who picks things up there that he feels aren't taught anywhere else.

"He's [Roach] a very clever guy. He has a system that he bases his techniques on. He has a protocol that he follows. It's very interesting. I never learned boxing like this."

Because of Diaz's frame and style -- he's a long, southpaw, volume puncher -- Roach expects an expanded role as St. Pierre prepares for the Oct. 29 fight. Ideally Roach said he wants to spend 10 straight days "working on technique and making sure everything is exact." Since he started working with mixed martial artists a few years ago, Roach claims to have refined the way he teaches boxing to account for differences between the two sports.

The key, he surmised, is distance.

"Georges is learning distance right now," Roach said. "He's got much more power in his shots because he's looser. Georges was very tight when he came to me because he's very strong and was a little bit on the slow side, I would say. But now his speed is picking up quite a bit because he's a lot looser and fluid with punches. He's more natural. That's coming. It's not perfected yet, but it's getting better all the time.

[+] EnlargeManny 'Pac-Man' Pacquiao
GabrielL Bouys/AFP/Getty ImagesFreddie Roach's charges typically have a knack for combining talent with discipline.

"Whatever I can do to help Georges I will because I like guys who want more knowledge. That's what he does. He absorbs it and it works."

The way in which St. Pierre learns, Roach said, reminds him of Pacquiao.

"They're the type of guys if you show 'em a move once, tomorrow they'll have that perfected because they go home and practice that in the mirror," the trainer said. "I laugh sometimes because I know I might show it one time, I'll leave it alone one time, then bring it back after a while just to see if it's remembered.

"It's the discipline a world champion has to have. That's the difference between good fighters and great fighters."

Josh Gross covers MMA for ESPN.com. Follow him on Twitter at JoshGrossESPN.