GSP camp offers response to allegations of cheating from B.J. Penn
Neil Davidson, The Canadian Press
Published Thursday, February 26, 2009 12:42PM EST
Georges St. Pierre's camp has filed its response to accusations of cheating at UFC 94, arguing that B.J. Penn's complaints are "nothing more than Mr. Penn's desperate attempt to protect his reputation and commercial value after being totally dominated by a superior athlete."
St. Pierre, the UFC welterweight champion, beat lightweight title-holder Penn on Jan. 31 in Las Vegas when the mixed martial arts fight was stopped after the fourth round on the advice of the ring doctor. But the Canadian's one-sided win has since been overshadowed by allegations of shady behaviour in the cage by St. Pierre's handlers.
After the bout, Penn's camp argued that the Montreal fighter had been illegally greased between rounds by cornerman Phil Nurse. In a letter to the Nevada State Athletic Commission, Penn's lawyer contended that the illegal application of Vaseline "made it impossible for Mr. Penn to defend himself."
"More importantly, by neutralizing Mr. Penn's Brazilian jiu-jitsu abilities through the use of illegal and improper means, Mr. Penn was subjected to a life-threatening and career-ending environment: an environment that the commission was formed to protect against," said Penn's lawyer.
Penn's camp did not make a formal complaint but asked the Nevada commission for a "comprehensive investigation and review of the activities involving and relating to Georges St. Pierre prior to and during the bout."
On Thursday, the St. Pierre camp released its response to the commission, with letters from Nurse, fellow coaches Greg Jackson and John Danaher, and holistic therapist Steven Friend.
The detailed package covers 17 pages and includes a short video. But the message is short and simple.
"Mr. Penn's frustration in executing his game plan was merely the result of superior training, technique and execution, and not any illegal or unfair tactics on behalf of Georges or his camp," Jackson and Nurse say in a joint summary to the commission.
The commission will review the bout and the submissions from both sides at a March 17 meeting. The outcome of the fight is not considered in jeopardy but the commission could sanction the cornermen. St. Pierre would be expected to avoid any such blowback.
It is more likely that the fight will results in rule revisions regarding who can apply Vaseline. Some informal changes have already been initiated by cutmen.
At issue are Nurse's actions between rounds. The Penn camp contend GSP's Muay Thai coach rubbed Vaseline on St. Pierre's face -- which is allowed -- and then used the same greasy hand to rub his back, which is not.
The St. Pierre camp argue that Nurse was executing a breathing/energy exercise designed by Friend, who is known as the "Witch Doctor" in MMA circles, and that if there was any Vaseline transfer, it was accidental and so small as to not make a difference in the fight.
The video shows Nurse executing the same rub on St. Pierre against Matt Serra at UFC 83 and Jon Fitch at UFC 87. It also shows a cornerman performing the rub on St. Pierre, who is wearing a T-shirt, in his dressing room as he waited for the main event at UFC 94 to begin.
And it shows a clip from UFC 84 with a cornerman doing the same thing to Sean Sherk in between rounds against B.J. Penn.
In his letter, Friend describes the rubbing technique -- "placing the left hand on the front of the chest while the right hand moves in a circular motion on the back at the same time" -- saying the exercise is "100 per cent intended to help Georges take full, deep breaths and nothing else."
Danaher, St. Pierre's New York-based grappling coach, notes the centrepiece of the Canadian's game plan was "the notion of control" in the clinch, takedown and ground phases of the fight. "Applying body lubricant would have been directly against his own interests as control is made more difficult by the presence of oil or Vaseline," he wrote.
"Lubricant does not discriminate," he added. "If lubricant made Mr. Penn's grappling ineffective, it should also have made St. Pierre's grappling technique ineffective."
Vaseline is not allowed in dressing rooms and fighters are checked by an official before they get in the cage. A cutman also smears a small amount of Vaseline on the face to help prevent cuts.
Commission officials now even ask fighters to cornermen to say their farewells to fighters before he is checked outside the ring, so Vaseline can't be transferred during a hug or embrace.
If a fighter is cut, the cutman enters the cage between rounds to work on it. If there is no cut, he stays outside and a cornermen reapplies Vaseline to the face, since it rubs off during the exchange of blows. Applying it anywhere else is illegal.
Nurse denies any wrongdoing, saying he only applied as much Vaseline to the back of his hand as was needed "to legally lubricate Georges' face."
Still, concerned about the possible transfer of Vaseline via Nurse's rub, the commission ordered St. Pierre be towelled off after the second and third rounds.
"It wasn't like it was an excessive amount of Vaseline but it did appear that there was still some Vaseline on him," said executive director Keith Kizer.
UFC president Dana White has offered his thoughts on the controversy, saying he believes while St. Pierre is innocent, Nurse cheated by deliberately applying the Vaseline to his back.
While the rules remain the same, practice has already started changing in the wake of the fight. According to veteran cutman Jacob (Stitch) Duran, only cutmen will apply Vaseline in the cage from now on.
The St. Pierre camp submission includes several recommendations to the commission, including that fighters be rubbed down between rounds to eliminate any future appearance of impropriety or misinterpretation or a cornerman's actions.
Danaher concludes with the GSP camp thesis "that this small incident, elevated unfairly into a scandal, was merely an unfortunate misinterpretation of a cornerman's actions that played no role in the outcome of the fight."
The St. Pierre submissions offer an interesting look at the actions of a corner of an elite fighter during an MMA fight. Nurse describes how he was assigned "Vaseline responsibilities" and how St. Pierre's different handlers communicated during the fight from their different vantage points.
"As we noticed things, Greg shouted to Firaz (Zahabi) and me, Firaz would shout in French and I would shout in English to Georges," Nurse explained.
St. Pierre's coaches also speak glowingly about the fighter's honesty and sportsmanship.
"Mr. St. Pierre trains very, very hard," said Danaher. "The simplest explanation for the success of Mr. St. Pierre is his work ethic. As a full-time coach who works with many elite athletes, I have never seen anyone work as consistently, intelligently and as long as this athlete.
"At times he was so tired from brutal grappling sessions that he could not even raise his arms at the end of training," Danaher added. "Then, two hours later he would be in another gym sparring world-class boxers. Then, that night, sparring with world-class wrestlers."