In this edition of Pundit Arena’s Fighter of the Week, we take a closer look at the man who many consider to be among the greatest to ever compete in mixed martial arts, the Canadian superstar, Georges St-Pierre.
What exactly is it that makes the former UFC welterweight champion Georges St-Pierre as remarkably good as he is? For years, we watched in awe as the young Canadian improved before our very eyes, catching up with and eventually surpassing some of the greatest wrestlers, most electric strikers and astute minds that the game had to offer during his rise.
With him now set to take on the UFC’s middleweight champion Michael Bisping at a yet-to-be-confirmed date later this year, the time seems perfect to marvel at the continuous growth of GSP over the course of his fine career and wonder at where exactly he now stands within the rapidly evolving spectrum of mixed martial arts.
Georges St-Pierre was the full package.
When he first debuted at UFC 46 in 2004, he did so with the weight of fame already resting upon his shoulders. In his home-country of Canada, GSP was already a recognisable and highly attractive name within the sporting world but despite the supposed pressures that his type of success would indicate, his motivation and desire to learn remained untouched.
Georges continued to display steady improvement as he bested the formidable Karo Parisyan and knocked out Jay Hieron to earn his first shot at a UFC title against Matt Hughes at UFC 50. Hughes, at the time, stood as the greatest welterweight fighter of them all, a powerful submission wrestler who already held highly impressive victories over the likes of Frank Trigg, Sean Sherk and Carlos Newton.
St-Pierre stepped up in what was only his third fight in the UFC and fought Hughes for the title, losing by first round submission and finding himself with his first ever loss as a professional on perhaps the biggest stage possible.
I feel like there’s a lot more to be learnt about Georges St-Pierre as a human being in the fights that made up the first half of his UFC career than from the ones that ended it. His loss to Matt Hughes, though devastating, saw him prove his mental toughness and dedication to his winner’s mentality. Georges himself admitted that he held Hughes up too highly and as a result, did not fully believe he had a chance of winning.
Of course, St-Pierre bounced back from the loss with a five-fight win-streak before overcoming his idolisation of Hughes by TKO’ing him in their rematch. GSP returned with a bulletproof sense of self-belief, something that culminated in perhaps one of the two most significant moments in his early career. And though it was to be St-Pierre’s first taste of UFC gold, it was not a title reign that was destined to last long, or at least not the first time around.
The Ultimate Fighter Season 4 victor Matt Serra was granted an immediate title-shot as his prize for winning the show and as a result, was the one who faced Georges St-Pierre in his first title-defence. Given his 9-4 pro-record and significant size and speed disadvantage, many had pointed to Serra’s title challenge as one that was simply a consequence of a gimmick but shockingly, when he faced off against GSP at UFC 69, he left with a first-round KO victory.
St-Pierre had lost again, but this time, it was to a fighter who was given virtually no chance in the run-up to their bout. Of course, these things happen in MMA and in truth, St-Pierre was caught by a hard punch in the way that hundreds or even thousands of fighters have been caught over the years but what makes his own reaction so interesting, is that he used that defeat and the humiliation that came with it to ensure that he never once lost again.
St-Pierre, of course, had unquestionable athleticism and a world-class core skillset but after the Serra loss, he engrained in himself a new understanding of what mixed martial arts is at its most basic level, a sport.
After tasting defeat to both Matt Hughes and Matt Serra, St-Pierre redefined himself as a fighter, striving now to dominate and win his fights by playing the game, utilizing every weapon in his arsenal to ensure that he was the one with his hand raised and more importantly, never in the position he found himself in against both Hughes and Serra again.
Some call the manner in which GSP won some of his next nine title-defences boring or tedious but if you look at the results, you’ll see that his style was unquestionably effective.
Georges St-Pierre left the world of MMA with successful title-defences against the likes of Carlos Condit, Nick Diaz, Johny Hendricks, BJ Penn and Jake Shields under his belt, and now, after over three years on the sidelines, will return and fight Michael Bisping for the middleweight title at some point this year.
We know Georges has a near-unhealthy obsession with physical and mental improvement, but we are also aware of his concerns about the long-term effects that could come as a result of the damage that has been inflicted on his body over the course of his career.
So why does St-Pierre return now? And why does he move up in weight to face Michael Bisping? One would assume that jumping up fifteen pounds is an odd move by someone who had previously voiced concerns about his health. You could argue that money and a potential super-fight with Conor McGregor down the line could stand as a major factor in his decision but I believe something entirely different.
I do not think that St-Pierre would even consider a return if he did not believe himself to be better than his best. His ‘win’ over Johny Hendricks in his last fight may have served as a wake-up call for the man they call ‘Rush’ and though he has been absent for some time, he is the epitome of the student of the game.
I would bet that he and his coach Firas Zahabi have been biding their time, absorbing information, constantly improving and observing the changes in the world of martial arts. I would argue that GSP would never come back if his body was slowing down or if he found himself a step behind.
No. I think that Georges St-Pierre is setting himself up to blow minds with this one and rather than take on the champion in his old home at 170lb, I think we may well see GSP’s competitive side in full view once more as he takes on the much larger and more difficult to control, Michael Bisping.
Only time will tell, but remember, this is GSP we’re talking about!
Cillian Cunningham, Pundit Arena