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UFC welterweight challenger Josh Koscheck flexes during the weigh-in in Montreal Friday, December 10, 2010 ahead of his fight against UFC champion Georges St-Pierre. The fight takes place in Montreal on Saturday, December 11.THE CANADIAN PRESS/Graham Hughes

Graham Hughes

Josh Koscheck can take satisfaction that he was the last man to win a round off Georges St-Pierre.

Since comfortably beating Koscheck by unanimous decision (30-27, 29-28, 29-28) at UFC 74 in August 2007, St-Pierre has won six straight and regained his welterweight title.

Koscheck has gone 6-2 since. The question is, has he caught up with GSP?

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The bookies say no, making the 29-year-old from Montreal a 5-1 favourite to retain his 170-pound title at UFC 124 on Saturday before what is expected to be a record North American MMA crowd of 23,000-plus at the Bell Centre (available on pay-per-view or at select Cineplex theatres).

St-Pierre (20-2) has fashioned himself into one of the most complete fighters in mixed martial arts. And while he says he will need to be careful against Koscheck, he exudes confidence.

"I have a lot of tools in my bag," the champion said matter-of-factly this week. "If you stop one takedown or two, I don't mind. I can knock him out standing up, I can beat him on the floor. I can do whatever I want."

St-Pierre has said he wants to finish Koscheck, in part to shut up critics who note three of four of his title defences have gone the distance. And also because he had had to put up with Koscheck's niggling antics for months thanks to their roles as rival coaches on The Ultimate Fighter reality TV show.

UFC president Dana White says don't count out Kos.

"I think people aren't giving Josh Koscheck enough credit for this fight. I think this is going to be a war on Saturday night."

And Koscheck (17-4) dismisses their first meeting, saying it's ancient history.

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"I'm a completely different fighter than three years ago," said the 33-year-old from Fresno, Calif.

That first fight turned out to be a statement night for St-Pierre. Coming off losing his 170-pound title to Matt Serra, St-Pierre beat Koscheck at his own game by outwrestling the former NCAA champion wrestler.

In each of the first two rounds, he took Koscheck down in the first 30 seconds and kept him on his back for much of the fight - working on a kimura submission in the second. Koscheck got a takedown of his own late in the first round, giving the public a rare glimpse of GSP on his back.

In the third, GSP stuffed a Koscheck takedown with two minutes left and ended in top position, controlling the wrestler once again.

"My plan was to put him out of his comfort zone," St-Pierre explained after.

That has been GSP's modus operandi ever since and he has the tools to do it, often using the takedown.

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He took Dan (The Outlaw) Hardy, a dangerous striker, down to the ground 11 times. He put B.J. Penn on his back four times, then passed the jiu-jitsu ace's guard and beat him up. He blunted Thiago Alves's Muay Thai power with 10 takedowns. And he outwrestled Jon Fitch, outscoring him five takedowns to none, while, while using superior standup skills to carve up his face.

In his four title defences, St-Pierre has been successful on 30 of 37 takedown attempts while stuffing all six of his opponents' attempts.

And when St-Pierre puts an opponent on his back, he can use his technique and power to pass guard and start doing damage.

And St-Pierre has improved each time out.

In the first Koscheck fight, St-Pierre outstruck his opponent 118-14, according to Fightmetric, which tracks MMA bouts. But the edge was only 18-4 in more important high-percentage strikes.

Last time out against Hardy, at UFC 11 in March, St-Pierre outstruck Hardy 174-42 and 40-4 in high-percentage blows.

On his feet, he can work the jab and has been effective using kicks to disrupt opponents and set up other offensive tools.

And this week, he has seemed at ease in the spotlight. Reporters saw a relaxed, confident St-Pierre, who rarely resorted to fighting clichés that were all too common in the past.

It was Koscheck who looked ill at ease under the lights. Famous for his trash-talking, he was noticeably short on good material this week.

Still, in the cage, he knows what he's doing and has shown a more complete game in recent outings.

For a while, Koscheck seemed to have fallen in love with his new-found striking skills and neglected his wrestling. That cost him against St-Pierre.

"I think I have more tools, better striker, better grappler with submissions, and I think I'm a better wrestler as well," St-Pierre said before the first fight.

"He'll outwrestle me?" said an incredulous Koscheck. "Georges St-Pierre will outwrestle me? I've been wrestling since I've been five years old. That's my world. He's not going to beat me on the ground."

GSP did just that.

Hardy, like the GSP camp, believes Koscheck won't make the same mistake twice.

"As much as I hate to say it, I certainly think Koscheck's going to have a shot," said Hardy, who is no fan of the brash American. "He is a talented fighter and I do think he's got the wrestling.

"I think in the last fight he didn't respect GSP's wrestling enough to really dedicate any time to his own. And I think now he realizes that could be the key in the fight. I think he's going to be working it hard, I think he's going to be able to force GSP to stand and trade and then, for me, it's anybody's fight."

Koscheck has been doing his homework, studying film for the first time in his career in a bid to pick up GSP tendencies and tells.

On his feet, Koscheck has knockout power.

"He's gained a lot of confidence in his striking ability now," coach Bob Cook notes. "He knows if he lands a good shot, guys fall down."

"Kos is a little more explosive, a little more dangerous. GSP's striking, I think, is a little flashier. I think Kos is a little more dangerous with his. If he lands a big shot, it can be curtains."

Phil Nurse, GSP's striking coach, acknowledges and respects that power.

"It's improved, I don't think it's enough to contend with Georges right now but it definitely has improved. He's come a long way from the reality show (Season 1 of The Ultimate Fighter in 2005), a very, very long way."

Still Nurse says St-Pierre is a better technical striker than Koscheck - and says there aren't many fighters who can stand with GSP if he chooses to fight that way.

St-Pierre says standing and trading blows is a mug's game. He looks to take the fight to a place where he has the edge.

Cook says Saturday night will test both men on a variety of fronts.

"This is going to be a different fight and being over 25 minutes like this, we're going to see both guys on their backs, we're going to see a bit of everything," he said.

"It's not just going to be 'oh one guy's getting the takedowns.' No, this is going to be a scrap, they're both going to end up in bad positions and they're both going to have to suck it up and get back to work."

The Canadian Press

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