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Fighter George Sotiropoulos leaves Las Vegas, finds home in Washington

Fighting in his home country, Sotiropoulos is set to compete on first main card in UFC career

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Courtesy of UFC

George Sotiropoulos looks to finish Jason Dent during their lightweight bout at UFC 106 at Mandalay Bay Events Center on Nov. 21, 2009. Sotiropoulos won by submission in the second round.

It's hard to remember whether it was during the four-hour drive to Los Angeles to train with his jiu-jitsu coach or the 2.5-hour flight to see his boxing coach in Washington — but at some point in 2009, George Sotiropoulos realized he couldn't keep training the way he had been.

The UFC lightweight spent most of 2009 as a Las Vegas resident, taking advantage of the large stable of sparring partners who train together at Xtreme Couture.

The only problem with Las Vegas, however, was that Sotiropoulos wouldn't cut ties with Washington-based boxing coach, Leonard Gabriel, or Los Angeles-based jiu-jitsu coach, Eddie Bravo, forcing him to rotate between the three locations.

After getting married and going on his honeymoon in August, Sotiropoulos decided he'd had enough of the travel. The Australian fighter, who will take on top lightweight Joe Stevenson on the main card Saturday at UFC 110 in Sydney, Australia, packed his belongings and moved permanently to Vancouver, Wash.

"I was mainly just getting my sparring at Couture's place," Sotiropoulos said. "I would fly out to see Leonard, fly back to Vegas, drive to LA, drive back to Vegas then fly back to Vancouver. Eventually I just said, 'This is burning me out. It's just never-ending.'

"Leonard was such an important part of my training, I decided I might as well move up here."

In some ways, the triangle of training locations was reminiscent of a smaller, but similarly tiring, one Sotiropoulos used to make on a daily basis when he briefly lived in New York in 2002.

Living with a relative in Queens, a typical day for Sotiropoulos would include taking the train to New Jersey, then to Manhattan, then back to Queens.

"When I first came out in 2002 I was staying with relatives and working a basic laboring job in New Jersey," Sotiropoulos said. "I had to get up at six in the morning to take the bus to the city, then the train to Hoboken. I'd finish work at two or three and then go back to the city to wrestle at Columbia. Then I'd finally take the train back to Queens."

Sotiropoulos has replaced the sparring partners he was working with in Las Vegas with fighters from Team Quest as well as fellow UFC fighters Rick Story and Mike Pierce.

After such a long history of training around strenuous schedules, Sotiropoulos says the move to Vancouver has had an immediate impact on his fight preparations.

Both he and Stevenson are looking to make a move towards title contention. Sotiropolous (11-2) is unbeaten since joining the UFC in 2007 and has finished all four opponents he's faced. Stevenson (36-10) is coming off back-to-back wins over Nate Diaz and Spencer Fisher.

Not only will UFC 110 mark a big step up in opponent for Sotiropoulos, but fighting on the main card will give him a chance to leave an impression on UFC fans who rarely have seen him fight when he's been on the undercards.

"I see this as a step up and I do see the difference between fighting on the undercard and the main card," Sotiropoulos said. "I'm getting more exposure, and I can see that makes a huge difference.

"I haven't been fighting on main cards and obviously people are going to see you less. But I feel like I'm a complete fighter and I'm gaining momentum in the public's eye."

While Sotiropoulos admits he realizes the value of building his name, he says he's much more concerned with adding wins to his record and that a name can't help you once you're locked in the octagon.

"It's just a brand. A fighter's name and his fighting quality are two separate things," Sotoripoulos said. "Just because people don't know my name doesn't mean I'm not a serious threat.

"If (Stevenson) doesn't realize that, he's going to have a problem on his hands. He already has a problem on his hands."

In recent interviews, Stevenson has pointed out Sotiropoulos was still a relative unknown in the UFC.

But when asked how the Australian stacked up against other fighters he's faced including Diego Sanchez, Kenny Florian and B.J. Penn, Stevenson said he was near the top.

"I would put him on the upper tier," Stevenson said. "He's very good. He's finished all his guys in the UFC and he has a great record. Most of his wins were at a higher weight than 155.

"I don't think it has anything to do with him why he's not getting attention. It's just there are so many other people out there that have the attention on them right now."

That could change very suddenly if Sotiropoulos is able to continue his streak and put Stevenson away. And considering the success Sotiropoulos has had when he was still traveling all over the Western U.S. to train, there's no telling what his limits are now that he's found a permanent home.

Brett Okamoto can be reached at 948-7817 or [email protected]. Also follow him on twitter: LVSunFighting.

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