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Loyalty Tests

(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, 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.)

  • Rodriguez

    Brilliant. This is what Luke Thomas talks about all the time, being responsible with the stuff you put out on a blog – guys need to be accountable for things they say. Polly regulating like a G!

  • subo

    That was a horrifically bad piece, but I just tend to let them blend together unless they’re particularly galling to me.  Maybe this is part of the meathead backlash that happens when you get into a sport because of tough dumb fuckers brawling, only to realize that a soft spoken Quebecoi makes them all look silly.  THAT’S why GSP never finishes – he’s listening to this artsy-fartsy fag!  Svengali!  Rasputin!  Cheney!


    Polly, you’re a credit to the site.  Let me know if I’m ever this stupid, ok?

  • scissors61

    I’ve only ever heard very, very good things from the admittedly few people I know in the grappling world about John Danaher. As you said, this seems to be more a case of sour grapes than anything else, and is some fairly shoddy journalism on Cagepotato’s part. I like their site, but this kind of stuff is probably best left on the cutting room floor. 


  • Predator8u

    You could sense that all this season, on TUF that the funny looking/balding dude(John Danaher) was in GSP’s head along with certain other fighters on that season. If he’s into philosophy then he’s got some GOD complex(like me!) which he’s sharing with Georges.

    But maybe it will all work out for the better, we’ll never know. 

  • Jim

    Oh Snap!

    Oh snap!

  • mamoru

    Wow. I just read the piece on the witchdoctor Polly linked.
    I knew there were some dumb motherfuckers in the sport, but that takes the cake.
    Resetting the autonomous nervous system by pressing a finger into your neck at the base of the skull. Sounds plausible. Does he also serve up potions made from the limbs of albinos?

    Anyways, nice piece.

  • ghostboner

    Must obey combover…..MUST obey combover… Must obey combover…Must obey combover… must obey combover…. Must not finish fights…. Must obey combover….

  • dulljake

    My only complaint about John is that he needs to abandon his belief that his hair follicles are anything but dead. It’s time to embrace the bald, Johnny-boy!

  • GoldenArms

    fuck these pop up ads you got at this place now. im leaving and not coming back for two months. fix that shit. see ya in april

  • iamphoenix

    admit it, you don’t know how to download. you probably don’t even know what a firefox is you bitch.

  • subo

    April is three months away.

  • shillyer

    people hear “philosophy” and think “the secret” or some shit like that. Anglophone philosophy is a highly technical field especially when it comes to the philosophy of science. That shit is no joke.   

  • shillyer

    people hear “philosophy” and think “the secret” or some shit like that. Anglophone philosophy is a highly technical field especially when it comes to the philosophy of science. That shit is no joke.   

  • matthewpolly

    thank you shillyer. That was exactly the point I was trying to say only you did it much more elegantly than I did. Anglophone philosophy at major universities has absolutely nothing to do with New Agey popular “philosophy.” The writer used “philosophy major” as a smear.

  • DJ ThunderElbows

    I thought that was the ‘ignorant of martial arts’ aspect of the article. Wouldn’t you want things you learn in martial arts to influence your normal life?

  • frickshun

    Polly is using a lotta big words that me don’t know….

  • glassjawsh

    fucking russell, guy’s an ass clown

  • matthewpolly

    I’ve been trying to remember any time that Danaher tried to give me a life lesson. And the only one I can come up with is this: I’d just gotten back from a week in Brazil training jiu-jitsu and John asked me if I’d gone to any of the special clubs where the semi-professional women hang out (you buy them drinks, meals, presents and they give you the girlfriend experience). I told him that some of the guys did but I had a moral problem with it and never went. He shook his head sadly at me and said, “A man should never pass up an opportunity to get laid.”

  • DJ ThunderElbows

    The chi flows through him like syphilis.

  • glassjawsh

    so baldy likes the prostitutes, eh?