As the judges rendered their decision, the more than 17,000 in attendance at UFC 110 in Sydney, Australia were abuzz. They were hopeful, confident even, that they had witnessed the triumphant return of their native son. As the scores were read and the winner was announced, the crowd erupted in elated screams and boisterous cheers. Australia’s own, George Sotiropoulos, had not only won, but had staked his claim as a contender in the meat grinder that is the UFC's lightweight division.
At least, that was the prevailing assumption. In fact, while Sotiropoulos is happy to fight the best of the best, he feels that his work toward becoming a contender is incomplete.
“I think I need to fight a few more guys to have a true comparison to other [top] guys in the division,” Sotiropoulos said. “I think there are guys out there who have had more fights with bigger named opponents than what I’ve had, but I think I stack up against anyone in the division. I think I stack up against all the top guys in the division. I have legit skills, I have a legit record, I’ve put my time in. I just need to prove on the UFC scorecard that I can do it.”
The victory over Joe Stevenson certainly put big points on Sotiropoulos’ UFC scorecard, which is officially unblemished in five fights. For an encore, he’ll face Kurt Pellegrino at UFC 116, against whom Sotiropoulos will have the opportunity to defeat one of the fighters with more fights against bigger named opponents and a healthy four fight win streak of his own.
“I would have to say he’s of equal caliber to Stevenson,” Sotiropoulos said. “They’re almost identical fighters with some minor differences; the differences being that Pellegrino is probably the faster and more agile fighter of the two, whereas Stevenson is probably more powerful and I think Stevenson’s boxing is more aggressive than Pellegrino’s. Both come from the wrestling mold, they both rely on wrestling and that’s what they resort to in times of need.”
The key difference is that Pellegrino lost to Stevenson when they fought in 2008. On paper, that would give Sotiropoulos an advantage. But fights are fought on paper, they’re fought in cages, and when it comes to the cage, Sotiropoulos believe he has to tools to be victorious, but explains that tools aren’t the be all and end all in a fight.
“I just think I have more tools on the ground,” Sotiropoulos said. “And that doesn’t necessarily make it better, because it’s the fighter who can impose his game. Sometimes it doesn’t matter who has more tools. But I think I ply my game quite effectively against anybody because I’ve already shown that I can. It’s going to be a challenge for both of us on July 3rd.”
A win should put Sotiropoulos on the brink of a title shot, but if it doesn’t come to pass, it’s not the end of his world.
“I’m in no rush to get anywhere. I plan on in the UFC for as long as I physically can. I’m very patient and I’m not rushed. I’m very content with fighting the people I’m fighting, but I also welcome the opportunity to fight the best fighters. Basically I’ll fight anyone at anytime and if it’s for the belt, great, but if not, I’m prepared to wait.”
“I’ll fight anyone,” is a line that has become a cliché among fighters. In Sotiropoulos’ case, perhaps it carries a bit more sincerity than if it were to come from other fighters.
“It really is the truth,” explained Sotiropoulos, “because I love training and I love fighting more so than anything else, really. The satisfaction of what I’m doing keeps me happy.”