It’s been said with no small dose of historical certainty that champions in fighting and star players in other sports have the ability to slow things down. Geelong, Australia native George Sotiropoulos has proven this ability in the Octagon. He’s not the champion of the lightweight division (yet), but there’s something in his focus that gives him the ability to treat pockets of regular time timelessly, similar to a man who’s been choked unconscious having whole dreams in the three seconds he’s out.
Think it’s bullocks?
You remember when Sots ate Kurt Pellegrino’s knee late in his bout at UFC 116, and for a split second it looked like the tables were turning? Sotiropoulos describes that split second like an entire event took place, like a football coach who sees everything at once upon the snap of the ball.
“The knee stunned me, and it just sent me off balance,” he says. “And then Pellegrino threw an overhand right, and it didn’t connect fully, but it connected with my body or the top of my head. But as I descended to the mat, I was really recovering position because I knew the next position I was at would be side control, as he was in position to take that.With the angle, I couldn’t put him in guard because of the way I was falling. I knew I could basically start escaping, and I initiated my escape as I hit the mat. That’s because I was really within my senses and I was able to recover position and get back to my feet, and that pretty much summed it up.”
Presence of mind can be preached, but not taught. Sotiropoulos has it, and it’s one of the reasons he’s 13-2 as a professional fighter and, remarkably, 6-0in the UFC, with wins over Pellegrino, Joe Stevenson, and Jason Dent. One of his official losses was a disqualification (groin shot) against Shinya Aokiin a Shooto event nearly four years ago. The other defeat was a razor thin decision against Kyle Noke early in his career. Sots is a picture of immense, humorless focus. As one of his jiu-jitsu trainer’s, Eddie Bravo has said, “I have never seen a guy as focused as George—he is absolutely no nonsense when he comes to 10th Planet.”
That’s true, and another thing—there’s nothing superfluous about Sots either. His “natural drive” for mixed martial arts verges on obsession. Him fighting and beating Stevenson in his homeland at UFC 110 in Sydney was only important because he beat Joe Daddy. He won. Take that away and it would all mean nothing. Being in Australia in front of family and friends was nice, but besides the point.
“I’m doing my thing and am really focused on what I’m doing, and everything else is pretty much irrelevant,” the 33-year-old says. “The names or the event or the place or the crowd or the advantages or disadvantages—all those things don’t really matter. The thing that matters is the fight, when you get in that cage and the door closes and you hear that clink of the steel…that’s it. Nobody is fighting alongside you—you’re in there by yourself.”
As Sots prepares for his next bout against Joe Lauzon on November 20 in Auburn Hills, Michigan, it starts to look like a silent, calculated warpath he’s blazing. Another strong showing and it might be inevitable that he gets his chance at the lightweights trap. Sots is ready right now. He’s about as wellrounded as they come. Asked if he would fight for the title today if he was given the chance, he doesn’t hesitate. And then again, he wouldn’t hesitate if you paired him against a guy on the cusp of being cut from the promotion.
“Yeah, I would fight for the belt right now,” he says. “And I accept the challenge, because, look, you can’t pick who you’re going to fight. You should fight anybody, that’s the bottom line. There are people who have the luxury of picking their fights or their managers pick fights, and it shouldn’t be that way. Fighting is about fighting, not choosing a fight. And that’s my philosophy on fighting—I’ll fight anyone, no matter who they are.”
Spoken like a man who knows his bearings well.