Calm, gentle, soft-spoken and intense — my first impressions of Firas Zahabi, Georges St-Pierre’s head trainer.
The man behind one of Mixed Martial Arts’ greatest champions was in Toronto Tuesday at a Gatorade-sponsored event to gasp, workout the media! I wasn’t going to pass on the opportunity.
He took journalists, one by one, to the mat at the Toronto Kickboxing and Muay Thai Academy saying he would show us a move he’s worked on with GSP. He was careful not to reveal if it’s part of the plan for this Saturday’s fight against Jake Shields.
The technique turned out to be a double-leg sweep from the bottom, followed by a quick return to standing position.
“Jake Shields has a very strong guillotine choke … and a devastating top game,” Zahabi said. “We won’t allow him to get too far.”
He was gentle with the media folks, taking turns applying the technique and having journalists try it on him. Some were clearly never going to get it, but he corrected them anyway.
As a weekend warrior who has taken karate and Brazilian jiu-jitsu classes since childhood, there are few people I’d rather have put me in an armbar. And Firas did it so smoothly and gently that I thought I could pull my arm out. I tried and failed – he had it locked, alright.
The coach was coy about GSP’s attacking strategy for UFC 129, but said a game plan is in place to attack while standing up and on the ground.
He then had journalists step onto the ring and throw double jabs. I wondered if GSP is building on the single jabs that worked so well in his last fight, but Zahabi wouldn’t say it. He just went on correcting the journalists’ punches. Promotional appearance or not, he took it seriously.
When asked about the 55,000 people who are expected at the Rogers Centre, Zahabi said it’s long overdue.
“It’s a dream come true to be in Toronto,” Zahabi said. “It’s a great city with great support for MMA.”
He added that he credits the UFC with influencing the Ontario government to legalize the sport.