(Our favorite dip-chewin’, book writin’ sumbitch Matthew Polly is back, this time sharing some insider perspective on the recent drama in GeorgesLand)
The question of fealty between fighter and coach seems to be the topic du jour this week. Several A-listers have tossed over their old entourage. Vitor Belfort left Shawn Tompkins, causing the former Xtreme Couture head coach to lash out, like Ryan Reynolds against Scarlett Johansson. Perennial nice guy, Georges St. Pierre managed his breakups with his manager (Shari Spencer) and trainer (Jon Chaimber) so deftly that both went on the record to say it was amicable, like Bruce Willis and Demi Moore.
Of course, amicable is crap. When one of the top two best P4P fighters in the world and a major source of revenue and status fires you there is usually a little “rancor” and the spirit of “friendly goodwill” does not rule. Amicable is the shit you say publicly, while off-the-record or through surrogates or sympathizers (“pals” in the jargon of US Weekly) you leak damning stories to the press.
One of those cropped up in a recent post by Cagepotato.com, complete with “sources telling Cagepotato” and “the reports we are hearing.” That is to say, a remarkable amount of reporting for a humor/commentary website. (At this rate, all of its bloggers may one day earn a byline.) The devil in these accumulated leaks and of the post’s conclusion turned out to be John Danaher, the no-gi instructor at Renzo Gracie’s Academy in Manhattan.
And that’s the reason I’m posting. Full disclosure, I was a student of John’s for a year and I am very loyal. So while I’m a big fan of Cagepotato (the writers are remarkably smart, funny, and prolific), I feel the obligation to once more take a thwack and hope they forget by the time (2020?) my book finally comes out.
To deconstruct: The “set-up” of the piece’s demonology is that GSP has made this “odd” decision to break-up his winning team, because he has come under “the influence” of John Danaher, who is, by their accounts, a Rasputin-like character whispering sweet nothings to GSP not only on training and tactics…
But also on his life in general. The highly-regarded Renzo Gracie black belt instructor is a philosophy major who fancies himself somewhat of a pseudo life coach to the athletes he trains. It’s said that St-Pierre has accepted him as a guru and that the New Zealander has his ear…
Where to start with this laughable paragraph?
First, it is a cute bit of “objectivity” to stick in the phrase “highly-regarded,” without unpacking why he is highly regarded. (The answer: he is a very good coach.)
Second, “fancies”? What are you, some Oxbridge poofter? And “pseudo life coach”? [Ed. note: “faux” is always better when you are being pretentious.] Where did you get that? I spent several days a year with John and knew most of his students and while he’s a brilliant mind and a brilliant jiu-jitsu coach, he had no interest in life lessons, and I was reporting on him. And even if he did, “life” was not his area of expertise. To be honest, when he was in one of his dark moods, he could be a frightening prick.
Third, fallen under “the influence” of this “guru”? GSP came to Renzo’s after his last-second of round one, tap-out to Matt Hughes’s arm bar (UFC 50). GSP felt, rightly, he needed better jiu-jitsu instruction. That was in 2004. That’s six-plus years ago: a long time for a guru to work his magic. The post makes it seem like GSP suddenly drank the Kool Aid at Jonestown. And it should be noted that GSP connected with his first manager, Shari Spenser, was because she was the girlfriend of “The Witchdoctor.” I’ve never met her, but I did get a nice back-massage from him and a glimpse into his worldview, which is a great deal more New Age than Danaher’s—pure Western science.
Third, “philosophy major”? Danaher was a PhD student at Columbia University. Before he fell for BJJ, his thesis was on the philosophical underpinnings of scientific paradigms. Calling him a “philosophy major” and a “guru” is like saying the professor of string theory at Harvard is a cult leader.
And finally, the last paragraph of the piece suggests that GSP is relying too heavily on Danaher’s…
“typically jiu-jitsu-heavy game plans” and it may turn out that “if results we have been hearing are true, his relationships might lead him to the slippery slope that ended with him on his back and unconscious on April 7, 2007.”
What the post is referring to is GSP’s loss to Matt Serra. If you rewatch the turning moment, GSP moved his head forward to miss Serra’s right hook, which wrapped around his skull. It was Serra’s bicep that slapped against GSP’s ear, popped the drum, and threw his balance strange. Not a moment of that had anything to do with BJJ-strategy. Even if Danaher was BJJ-heavy in his instruction, which I never experienced, it would have nothing to do with GSP’s first fight with Serra.
Whenever a major-name athlete changes his team, there will be disgruntled former members of the entourage. The losers will blame the winners in the “influence” game. And they will, with anonymity, leak damaging stories. Bloggers have a lower standard when reporting “hatchet” stories. It is part of their charm and part of their disgrace. But if they want to be journalists, they should, at the very least, contact and report the responses of the accused in question before running the story.
(Matthew Polly often travels around the world writing interesting articles for Slate, which makes us wonder what the hell he’s doing writing here. Think of him like Elizabeth Gilbert if instead of Eat, Pray, Love, she Drank, Fought, and Had a Penis. His last book was about training with the Shaolin Monks back when that was a really big deal. His next is about his adventures in MMA, which as you can tell from the above article involved developing Stockholm Syndrome while training with John Danaher.)