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Firas Zahabi: Georges St-Pierre has ‘plenty of fighting left’

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Esther Lin, Sportsfile

With Georges St-Pierre hinting at a return to fighting, people are beginning to take him pretty seriously. One of those who believe that the longtime UFC welterweight champion is imminent for a return is his longtime Tristar coach, Firas Zahabi.

Out of everybody who’s been around St-Pierre, Zahabi speaks to him the least about a timetable for a comeback. But what he does see is the fire in St-Pierre’s eyes whenever he trains in Montreal.

He said that St-Pierre has been keeping himself in top condition, and that his weight is still close to where it was when he walked away from the game after defending his belt for the ninth time against Johny Hendricks at UFC 167. Mainly, though, he just thinks the competitor in St-Pierre won’t allow him to go so gentle into that good night.

"I know Georges so well, I know him better than himself," Zahabi told Ariel Helwani on Monday’s The MMA Hour. "I know Georges. I don’t know if he can walk away. I don’t think he can. I never talk to him about this stuff, because when I see him — everybody’s been asking him every single day everywhere he goes. I know that because everybody’s asking me every single day who he’s fighting.

"I just personally think he cannot sit on the sidelines for too long. That’s just the type of guy Georges is. He’s just that type of personality. He has to compete. And when he’s really done with fighting one day, he’s going to compete in something else. He’s just a competitor. I don’t know if he’s going to take up golf or something, but he’s going to compete the rest of his days. And I think that itch hasn’t gone."

Zahabi, who has been coy on the matter of St-Pierre’s return for the last year-and-a-half, says he misses seeing GSP in the Octagon.

"I really hope he does come back because I’m such a fan of his fighting," he said. "That’s the truth. He doesn’t need to come back, I don’t need him to come back, I think he’s amazing…I just want him to come back because I’m a fan. And if he wants to come back or not I’ll support him. I don’t think he owes anybody anything, so I’m behind Georges 100 percent. But I think he’s a hardcore competitor. His psyche is built to compete, and he’s going to do it eventually one way or another, whether it’s in MMA or something else."

St-Pierre ceded his belt and put himself on hiatus in Nov. 2013. At the time he cited his own obssessive nature over competing — and the mounting tensions and anxieties that come with it — as his reasons. He also bemoaned the UFC’s drug testing policies at the time, alluding to a rampant problem with PEDs in the promotion.

Since then the UFC has addressed the issue by commissioning a dedicated third-party agency — the United States Anti-Doping Agency (USADA) — to randomly test its athletes out of competition. And as far as the landscape goes, it’s now Robbie Lawler at the top of the heap. 

With his other Tristar pupil Rory MacDonald having fought Lawler twice, Zahabi is pretty acquainted with the "Ruthless" one. Asked if he thought that Georges St-Pierre could defeat Lawler, Zahabi said he was confident in that match-up.

"If Georges preps with a training camp, he’ll beat anybody," he said. "I really feel he’s the best of the best. I think he does his training camp, he prepares, and it’s not calling out Robbie or anybody else, I think he’s the best. Him and Rory, I believe in my guys. If they get prepped, they will win."

Though he was a dominant champion who had won a dozen straight fights in the UFC before voluntarily taking a break, many people have expressed concern about St-Pierre coming back. Particularly after he took some lumps at UFC 167 against Hendricks.

Zahabi said he has heard those concerns, but that GSP is in good shape both physically and mentally.

"All his injuries were cosmetic," he said. "He’s been checked, the guy’s fully functional. I’m sure you’ve heard his interviews, he’s 100 percent coherent. Georges is far from having any brain trauma."

Though St-Pierre has been doing PR and many other pursuits in his time away, he continues to train — whether in Montreal or on the road. Zahabi said it’s in St-Pierre’s nature to do that — "he’s a robot, he has to train" — but that one concern of his wasn’t that St-Pierre would hurt his legacy if he came back.

"You know what, you’ve got to do what’s fun for you," he said. "Are you not going to do something you love because you want people to think you’re perfect…because you want to leave a perfect legacy? Are you going to live your life for what other people think of you, or are you going to enjoy yourself and do what’s fun for you?

"I think Georges loves the competition, he loves the adventure. He’d be doing it because he loves to do it. Who cares if people don’t think you’re perfect. What if something bad happens? So what. You’re still Georges St-Pierre, it doesn’t change anything. And I don’t think anything bad will happen, but at worst, I think he could live with it. It’s not the end of the world. He’s going to do what he loves to do, what feels good."

Asked if it was his gut feeling that St-Pierre would return, Zahabi said he really believed the pride of Canada was coming back.

"I think so," he said. "I think he’s got plenty of fighting left. He’s a beast, man. You see him in the practice room, he’s a beast. I don’t think he’s slowing down a bit."