7th Oct 2012 11:18pm | By Jahn Vannisselroy
George Sotiropoulos is breathing heavy at his Washington home. It’s 9am and he’s been training since 5am, mostly running.
When he’s finished talking to TNT, he’ll enjoy (or endure) an afternoon in the gym, before allowing himself a rest ahead of another session in the evening.
Such is life when your profession is beating other men into submission.
Sotiropoulos is Australia’s premier mixed martial arts exponent, a Brazilian and 10th Planet jiu-jitsu black belt with a 14-4 professional record.
He’s also the current Australian team coach on The Ultimate Fighter: The Smashes, a reality TV show where the best combatants from Down Under line up to destroy their British counterparts – The X Factor for hardmen, if you will.
Coaching was a different challenge for Greek-descent Sotiropoulos, but it’s one he relished.
After more than two decades of being in the ring, putting his immense boxing, kickboxing and MMA skills to the ultimate test, passing on his knowledge was a strange but welcome experience.
“I really enjoyed teaching, because in the past I’ve been so focused on fighting that I haven’t really done those sorts of things,” he says.
“It was a good opportunity for me to get out there and train with some good people. It was a great experience for me and I got a lot of good feedback, a lot of positive energy from it.”
The US-based Victorian says he was proud of the way his eight Aussies, including big wave surfer Richie Vaculik, conducted themselves on the show.
And he reckons the day that both nations are consistently challenging the American and Brazilian fighters, who’ve dominated the MMA rankings since 1993, isn’t far away.
“Australia and the UK are very similar in many ways, not just sport,” Sotiropoulos says. “But in terms of MMA, they like their striking. Both countries enjoy boxing and kickboxing and that’s what they’re best at.
"In the US, they’re better at wrestling. Everyone’s getting better at the ground stuff, with the growth of jiu-jitsu across the world, but in the US wrestling is the big differentiator.”
He’s loath to single out any one of the Australian fighters for mention, but he says all eight of the competitors under his instruction are “really talented fighters”.
“What tends to happen on this show is that some guys really stand out, grab people’s attention,” he says. “They go off and improve and start getting winning streaks and make a name for themselves.”
Sotiropoulos should know, his big break came after making the semi-finals of the show’s 2007 series.
Using the skills and exposure gained from competing in the pressure-cooker TV environment, he launched a winning streak of seven professional fights and secured a coveted Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) contract.
It was a remarkable achievement, but one Sotiropoulos never doubted would happen. The self-confessed martial arts fanatic began watching fight movies, such as those from Bruce Lee, as a young boy.
When he came across MMA – and it’s pinnacle, the UFC – in his teens, he knew it was for him.
“I was determined to do it,” he says. “Fighting was in my DNA. I’ve always loved fighting, but when I came across UFC, I basically decided that’s what I wanted to do. I started training: jiu-jitsu, boxing, wrestling, I saw what I had to acquire to get into it and just trained myself.”
But make no mistake, we’re not talking to some street thug with a lust for violence. Despite having his eyes on the prize from an early age, Sotiropoulos realised that he may need a plan B, so he studied banking, finance and international trade.
However, while he enjoyed crunching numbers, the allure of crunching flesh and bones in the Octagon was too strong. His heart belonged to fighting.
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