Travelling down the rather modest Rue Ferrier in Montreal, it would be easy to miss Tri-Star gym. The gym is unrecognizable, save for the signature red stars on the third floor windows, and could easily be mistaken for an office or apartment buildings. It’s on this quiet street on Montreal’s West side where Firas Zahabi applies his trade, training some of the world’s most talented and popular mixed martial artists.
It is a busy time of year for Tri-Star gym, and not because of the impending Christmas season. Zahabi’s star pupil – UFC Welterweight Champion Georges St. Pierre – is preparing to return from a devastating ACL tear, an injury that nearly ended his career.
“I put a lot of man hours and a lot of years into Georges. I want to see him do well. Everything comes to an end in sooner or later, but you always like it to be later.”
After an extended absence to rehabilitate his ACL, St. Pierre returned to training. Only this time, he was not the same. Things were not smooth sailing for the long-time champion. He was getting beaten up by fighters far less experienced and was having a difficult time finding his groove.
“It’s quite common when you haven’t done something for so long, you lose the instinct or the beat. Sure enough, when he came to practice he was missing a lot of positions. He was getting swept and getting mounted, it wasn’t going well. For me it was to be expected, but for him it was a hard pill to swallow. I think when you’re used to being the top guy at the gym for so long, it’s tough.”
“When we take him to the boxing club, he’d get his ass kicked here or there, or when he is against the top jiu-jitsu guys he’d get his ass kicked, but when you go to MMA practice, that’s his time to shine, his day of the week, and when he’s not getting that day of the week, the other guy is reversing him, sweeping him, you’re going to have some doubt, it’s normal.”
St. Pierre needed to be re-built from the ground up, beginning with his training regime. For years Zahabi had insisted St. Pierre take it easy on the weights, advice the champion ignored and ultimately, Zahabi believe, had a detrimental impact on St. Pierre.
“If you lift weights, you should always be between 70 and 80% of the amount you can lift. When you’re lifting heavy, you should never go past 80% of what you can lift. And as an MMA fighter, you should never really go past 70 or 75%. If you’re not in the sport of weightlifting, there’s no point in going above 90%. When you lift heavy weights past 80% of your maximum, you can injure yourself. I really think it had something to do with why Georges got hurt.”
The return to training has seen St. Pierre lift considerably less weight, and instead put in more reps.
“He lifts far more moderately. The thing is when you’re lifting a lighter weight; you just have to move the bar faster. If you move the bar faster, you get the same amount of tension you would if you had 100% of weight on the bar. That’s something that Georges has now come to realize.”
Of course, if any athlete could return from such conditions, it’s St. Pierre. His abilities as a physical specimen have been well documented throughout his career and his training regime has been one of spectacle. Fighters and fans alike have long been in awe of the Canadian hero. Through the diligence and dedication of St. Pierre and trainer Zahabi, the champion returned to form.
“When he was coming to practice, I was starting him with beginners. I was starting him with guys who had been training just for a couple years. Every week we saw improvement, but it wasn’t until we hit a certain time period where he was able to go.”
“I remember the breakthrough was when I put him with another UFC welterweight and he started really dominating like his old self. That was about a month ago. I think he really started feeling normal again. He started connecting with his old instincts.”
At UFC 154 in Montreal, St. Pierre will face one of the most dangerous opponents of his career in Greg Jackson product, Carlos Condit. The “Natural Born Killer” as Condit has been dubbed, presents challenges both on the feet and ground that St. Pierre has not seen for some time.
Saturday night may mark the return of St. Pierre, but it’s the prospect of what lies ahead which has fans salivating. With a win at UFC 154, it’s been made all but certain that St. Pierre will face long-time UFC Middleweight Champion, and the man many consider to be the greatest mixed martial artist of all time, Anderson Silva.
Silva will be in Montreal for UFC 154, and with a St. Pierre win, is expected to enter the cage and challenge the Canadian to a long overdue super fight.
But first things first, St. Pierre needs to defeat Condit. Zahabi and his team are not focused on Silva and are well aware of the tall task ahead of them at UFC 154.
“Honestly, we haven’t spoken about that in a long time. Right now it’s all about Condit and that’s the way it should be.”
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