Saint Johner sets his sights on the UFC octagon
RON BARRY INSIDE THE GAME
MMA fighter, Christien Savoie.
On any given day, the indomitable Georges St-Pierre – the great GSP – can be found training at Tristar Gym in Montreal.
You might find UFC light heavyweight champion Jon “Bones” Jones in the house. And maybe the world’s ninth-ranked welterweight, Rory MacDonald. Maybe. Or Francois Carmont. Or David Loiseau. Or, any of a number of mixed martial arts professionals who are part of the burgeoning Tristar conglomerate.
Saint John’s Christien Savoie spent time this winter at the facility made famous by St.-Pierre, and living in its dorms. The experience has left the 21-year-old, 3-0 as an amateur MMA fighter, craving for more – and maybe, UFC contract some day.
“It was a blessing to be there,” said Savoie. “I trained with some of the greatest mixed martial arts athletes in the world. I was in the same classes as Georges St. Pierre and Rory MacDonald. I didn’t have a chance to sit down and talk with GSP or Rory, but I did with David Loiseau a few times. It was a great experience.”
Martial arts have been a part of Savoie’s life since childhood. One of his disciplines is jiu-jitsu – he is a blue belt training at Cia Paulista Brazilian Jiu Jitsu, which has sites in Saint John and Quispamsis. He’s certain the MMA brand is his calling in life.
“When I was a kid competing in different martial arts, I always felt that there was something missing,” said Savoie. “I have found with MMA that’s it the whole package. It is absolutely the one for me. There’s no doubt – I want to be in the UFC.”
Savoie doesn’t have to look far to find inspiration – it comes in the form of Ryan Jimmo, a 32-year-old Saint John native with a professional record of 18-3, including 2-2 in the UFC.
“I have got togeher with Ryan a few times,” he said. “We’ll train together, or he’ll train me. He’s a real nice guy. Ryan has set the path for other fighters in the Maritimes and he is definitely someone I look up to, especially since he started pretty late in his career and I’m starting at a fairly young age. It gives me confidence.”
Jon Kelly, an instructor with Cia Paulista Brazilian Jiu Jitsu who helps Christien with his groundwork, offers this assessment of the aspiring fighter: “Christien has big goals – he’s motivated and has what it takes to succeed. You don’t usually see that kind of drive and determination from someone that young, but he’s doing all the right things and most importantly, he is surrounding himself with the right people. He has good cardio and is a well-rounded fighter, but what I like about Christien is his demeanor – he’s calm and confident, but not cocky. He has the perfect balance. He’s passionate and knows what he wants. The sky’s the limit.”
Savoie’s maturity in understanding what it takes to travel what will be a long and winding road to the UFC octagon, goes well beyond his years. He doesn’t talk about big knockouts or sleak jiu-jitsu moves; rather his conversations focus on the studying of the sport, and understanding its evolution – not where it is today, but what type of ultimate fighter it will develop in the years to come.
“Jiu-Jitsu is important, but wrestling may be a more valuable discipline,” he said. “The more the sport evolves, we’re going to see fewer jiu-jitsu moves. Fighters are getting so creative at defending against submissions that you’re going to see MMA become more position-based with an emphasis on ground-and-pound skills.
“The sport is evolving – on the feet we’re doing kick-boxing, boxing and muay-thai; in the clinch we’re doing wrestling and on the ground we’re doing a lot of jiu-jitsu. But I don’t think we have figured MMA out as a whole yet. One of the biggest mistakes we’re making today is we’re focusing almost too much on technique. I don’t think you can apply the proper technique without the athleticism, timing and accuracy. There’s a bigger picture out there.”
That sounds like someone who has his finger firmly planted on the pulse of his sport. And that’s Savoie, who will spend copious amounts of time breaking down fights, always looking for things that can make him a better fighter. There’s nothing glamorous about it, but the value is intrinsic to succeeding in the MMA game.
“My mindset is always to be a student,” he said. “I try to study every fight I watch and break down the moves,” he said. “I’ll spend hours in my room watching fights and learning from them. I can only speak for myself, but it helps me a lot. If I’m at a live event, I will watch a fight like any fan would. I like watching GSP – his takedowns are second to none. I like watching Anderson Silva… the guy is a god on his feet. I also like guys who stand out – I watch them… I study them to figure out what makes them different.”
Another aspect that Savoie believes is being undersold by the casual observer is the role cardio plays in the big picture.
“You can be one of the best athletes in the world in your chosen sport, but when you’re doing jui-jitsu or in the clinch, I don’t think people realize how gruelling it is,” he said. “I think my cardio is pretty good – it’s something I’m working on. I wouldn’t say I’m a cardio-based guy but I’m confident with it and I’ll keeping improving.”
If the stars align, Savoie will make his pro debut this summer or next spring. He intends to move from his current weight of 185 pounds to a more-chiseled welterweight frame of 170 pounds. While the road to the octagon is lined with long odds, it’s folly to underestimate the drive of a young man with a dream.
“I think I’m ready – I have been ready for a long time,” said Savoie. “It was always a confidence thing, but going to Tri-Star and testing my skills against some of the best guys around, knowing psychologically that I can hold my own against them, has convinced me that I can take it to the next level.”
As GSP is wont to say, “bonne chance.”