Thursday, October 22, 2020

MMA GOAT’s: UFC – #1 Georges St-Pierre

In the final instalment of this series, I’m taking a look at the career of Georges St-Pierre. Looking back over how he fought his way to the top of his division, and how he managed to stay there for such a long time.

Note: This list will only include fighters that have competed under the UFC banner – so no Fedor.

Georges St-Pierre

Age: 37

Status: Retired

Weight Class: Welterweight/Middleweight

Record: 26-2

Key Stat: Most title bout wins in UFC history

Early Days

Georges St-Pierre has been very open about his childhood, growing up in Quebec, St-Pierre attended a school at which his possessions were often stolen (clothes, money, etc), and was bullied. The young GSP took up Kyokushin karate at age seven, to defend himself from a school bully, and continued this training up to age 16. After this he also took up Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu and boxing, before becoming a professional MMA fighter.

GSP would make his MMA debut in 2002, taking on Ivan Menjivar at UCC 7: Bad Boyz in Montreal. He would go on to win the fight via TKO, with just one second left on the clock in the first round. After this fight he would secure a bout with UCC Welterweight champion Justin Bruckmann, in just his second pro fight. He would again go on to win, this time via armbar in the first round.

That victory over Bruckmann crowned St-Pierre the UCC Welterweight champion just two fights into his career. He would then defend the belt against Travis Galbraith, winning via TKO due to viscous elbow strikes. This early dominance was just a sign of things to come from the humble Canadian fighter.

Introduction to the UFC

After picking up two more victories in 2003, Georges St-Pierre officially signed a contract with the UFC, and was scheduled for his first bout outside of Canada. GSP would take on highly ranked fighter Karo Parisyan in his promotional debut, at UFC 46, winning the fight via unanimous decision in a dominant fashion.

His second fight would come against Jay Hieron at UFC 48, another impressive performance, as he would take the win within two minutes of the first round via TKO. This would take his young record to 7-0, really making waves in a competitive division. Despite his lack of experience, GSP earned a shot at former champion Matt Hughes, in a highly anticipated fight. St-Pierre had managed to make quite a name for himself in just his short time with the promotion, however there was a monumental gulf in experience between the two fighters. When they faced off, Hughes held a record of 36-4… 33 more fights than his opponent.

GSP would go on to lose the fight in the first round via armbar, meaning the vacant title would once again return to Hughes. Despite this loss, St-Pierre put in an impressive performance and earned a lot of respect from fans off the back of the result. He would later admit that he was in awe of Hughes going into their fight.

Road back to the top

Bouncing back from his first career loss (an impressive quality of any top tier fighter), GSP would return to Canada to take on Dave Strasser, winning via kimura in the first round. Following this GSP would reel off four wins in quick succession, fighting at UFC 52, 54, 56 and 58. The first three wins would come against Jason Miller, Frank Trigg and Sean Sherk, taking his record to an incredibly impressive 11-1, and rocketing him back into the title picture.

His final fight of the four would be by far the toughest opponent that he had faced since Matt Hughes. GSP was scheduled to take on the returning BJ Penn, a man who was coming back after three years away from the UFC and looking to reclaim the title that he had never lost. It was a huge fight, one that generated a massive amount of attention, and many fans were expecting Penn to defeat GSP and move on to rematch Hughes.

It didn’t go according to script however, as GSP would manage to secure the victory via split decision, ensuring that he would be the man to take a rematch against Matt Hughes. However, it was not to be, as St-Pierre would be forced to pull out of the fight with a groin injury. He was replaced by the man he beat, BJ Penn, who would go on to lose.

St-Pierre would get his title shot at Hughes once he recovered from his injury, however unusually for the Canadian fighter, there was a little drama before the fight could take place. GSP was at ringside, supporting a friend, however after Hughes defeated Penn in the main event, the challenger would step into the cage to address the champion.

GSP would step into the cage to tell Hughes that he was “glad he won the fight”, then going on to say that he had not been impressed with his performance. It was something we hadn’t seen from GSP in the past, and it’s something that Hughes went as far to mention he wasn’t happy with in his auto-biography. However it was also mentioned that GSP apologised for the comments backstage, explaining that there had been a misunderstanding with something Hughes had said previously.

The rematch would take place at UFC 65, and this time the fight would be very much a different story. GSP would eventually win via TKO in the second round, however he almost won the fight at the end of the first round, knocking his opponent down with a superman punch and a left hook, with Hughes being saved by the bell.

It would mark the start of St-Pierre’s first title reign in the UFC, the victory crowning him the Welterweight champion.

Matt Serra

I’m sure many of you know the history of Matt Serra and Georges St-Pierre, it’s one of the biggest upset stories in MMA history. Serra and GSP were scheduled for a title bout at UFC 69, and the challenger would come into the fight as an 11/1 underdog, but went on to shock the MMA world with a TKO victory over the champion.

GSP would go on to give a number of reasons (excuses) for the loss after the fight, however would later admit that he should not have done so, and that Serra was simply the better fighter on the night.

The loss to Serra was just the second of his career, and once again he managed to bounce back in impressive fashion. Taking on Josh Koscheck at UFC 74, some fans felt that the former champion would struggle with Koscheck’s impressive wrestling background, however GSP was very confident in his ground game. St-Pierre would go on to dominate the fight, taking his opponent down at will and blocking all of Koscheck’s takedown attempts. He would win the fight via unanimous decision.

After the fight GSP made his intentions clear, he wanted his belt back, and would be scheduled to face the winner of the Matt Serra/Matt Hughes matchup. However Serra was forced to pull out of the fight, and St-Pierre would step in to face Hughes in a rubber match for the interim Middleweight championship. Once again GSP would prove to be the much better fighter, putting on an even more dominant display than in their second fight, securing a victory via armbar in the second round.

Title unification and dominant run

This victory would set up St-Pierre for a rematch with champion Serra at UFC 83. It was the first UFC event to be held in Canada, taking place in the Bell Centre in Montreal, Quebec. This would provide one of the greatest walkouts of all time (definitely take a moment to watch it), and create an atmosphere which would show just how much support the challenger had in his home country.

In a complete reverse to their first fight, St-Pierre would dominate every aspect of the bout, never allowing Serra to mount any significant offence, and taking victory via TKO in the second round after his opponent was visibly gassed due to a number of knees to the body.

With the Welterweight titles now united, St-Pierre would finally reach his full potential, and lock in place one of the most dominant championship reigns the UFC has ever seen.

His first title defence would come against Jon Fitch, who was riding a 16 fight winning streak. A victory over GSP would have been Fitch’s ninth win in a row in the organisation, at the time that would have been a UFC record. Not only would St-Pierre dominate his opponent, landing a number of significant blows, he would also take him down at will (Fitch was a wrestling captain at Perdue). St-Pierre would complete his first successful title defence, via unanimous decision.

This victory would then lead to one of the most anticipated rematches in the history of the UFC. BJ Penn would step into the Octagon after the fight and make his intentions to take back the Welterweight title clear. Despite a very even first round, Penn would be dominated for the following three rounds, before the fight was eventually stopped at the end of the fourth by one of Penn’s cornermen.

Penn was unable to attend the post fight press conference, as he was taken to hospital for his injuries, and Penn would later go on to reveal that he could not remember anything from the third or fourth rounds of the fight. An accusation as also made that GSP’s corner were rubbing petroleum jelly on their fighter between rounds, to make him harder to hold on to, and while a number of fans believe this was the case, there has never been any concrete evidence to prove that it did happen.

At UFC 100 GSP would take on rising contender Thiago Alves, and despite a strong stand up performance, the champion was able to dominate the fight on the ground and take the win via unanimous decision, which was made even more impressive once it was revealed that St-Pierre had pulled his groin muscle in the fourth round.

The next title defence would come against Dan Hardy, and St-Pierre would once again dominate the fight, however he was unable to finish his opponent despite numerous close calls. St-Pierre would catch Hardy in both an armbar and a kimura, both of which looked like fight ending moments, however Hardy was able to battle back both times. The champion received a fair amount of criticism after the fight for not finishing it, and even commented that he was disappointed in his own performance.

After this fight, GSP would once again take on Josh Koscheck, and would once again dominate the fight. However this time, rather than smothering Koscheck on the ground, St-Pierre would use his striking to pick apart his opponent, landing 55 jabs to the head. A ridiculous number of successful jabs for an MMA fight.

Despite not being able to finish Koscheck, winning via unanimous decision, it was clear that St-Pierre was an incredibly dominant champion. His next opponent would be Jake Shields, who was riding a 16 fight win streak coming into their fight, however once again GSP would dominate his opponent and take the win via unanimous decision.

There were rumbles of a potential fight between Anderson Silva and St-Pierre at Middleweight following the victory, though St-Pierre quickly squashed these rumours, confirming that he wasn’t interested in the fight. Dana White instead decided to make a matchup with Strikeforce Welterweight champion Nick Diaz, to unify the two belts… this is where it all gets a little complicated.

The two would be scheduled to face off at UFC 137, however after Diaz failed to attend any of the media events for the bout, he was removed from the card. Carlos Condit was removed from his scheduled bout with BJ Penn and was slated to replace Nick Diaz, however St-Pierre was forced to pull out of the fight due to a knee injury. Following this latest setback, Condit decided that rather than face a replacement fighter at UFC 137, he would sit out and wait for a shot against GSP on his return from injury. Meanwhile Nick Diaz would go on to defeat BJ Penn at UFC 137, setting up a title fight between Diaz and GSP for UFC 143.

It was later revealed that the champion had torn his ACL and would be facing at least nine months out, forcing him to pull out of the fight with Diaz, meaning that the fight at UFC 143 would be for an interim belt between Condit and Diaz… I think that’s everything.

St-Pierre would return to the UFC after a year and a half away from the Octagon, to take on interim champion Carlos Condit in a unification bout. Despite being rocked early by a head kick, it was a classic performance by St-Pierre who would take his opponent down numerous times during the fight, landing a number of strikes from Condit’s guard. He would once again win by unanimous decision. At this point GSP had ruled the Welterweight division for four years, defending the belt seven times following his victory over Condit.

After this he would finally have the elusive bout with Nick Diaz, and completely outclassed his opponent. GSP dominated the fight, however was once again unable to finish his challenger, taking another victory by unanimous decision.

His final fight as Welterweight champion came against Johny Hendricks at UFC 167. It was an incredibly even bout, one which many fans felt that Hendricks one, however the judges would award a split decision victory to the champion. Despite this being his toughest test during his time as champion, and the fact that the result is controversial, it’s something that has to be taken with a pinch of salt. Due to the difference in his performances with the introduction of USADA testing, it’s highly likely that Hendricks was on performance enhancing drugs.

Following this victory over Hendricks, St-Pierre vacated the title, announcing that he wanted to step away from the sport for a little while.

Hiatus and return

The small break, turned into a long hiatus. The Welterweight division began to slowly move on, giving a ray of light to contenders who had been dominated by GSP. The former champion would continue his MMA training throughout his time away from the sport, always staying in shape, and supported a number of different fighters in training camps. He has long been an incredible ambassador for the sport, and continued this great work during his time away from MMA.

However at the beginning of 2016, it was announced that St-Pierre was in negotiations with the UFC about a return to the Octagon, and in 2017 it was announced that he had signed a four fight deal with the organisation.

It was clear why GSP had come back from the outset, he wanted to do something that he turned down earlier in his career, to take a shot at the Middleweight championship. After a long period of negotiation, and moving between cards, a date was set for GSP to take on Middleweight champion Michael Bisping at UFC 217, four years after his last MMA fight.

In press conferences, St-Pierre insisted that he was a better fighter than he had ever been during his dominant title reign, and this proved to be true. During the fight St-Pierre showed an edge that had been lacking from his game during his time as champion, constantly looking for the finish against a wily Bisping.

St-Pierre won the fight via submission in the third round, becoming just the fourth person in UFC history to hold a title in two different divisions. The event also broke the Canadian record for Pay Per View buys, surpassing the Conor McGregor vs Floyd Mayweather boxing match.

Retirement

GSP would vacate the Middleweight title shortly after winning it, revealing that he was suffering from ulcerative colitis, and had been suffering in the build up to his fight with Michael Bisping. There were attempts to make a deal between GSP and Khabib Nurmagomedov, however the UFC was reluctant to make the fight. Following this, GSP held a press conference at the Bell Centre, during which he announced his retirement from MMA.

While there are a number of fighters who can stake a claim to be the greatest of all time, only one man really owns that title. Georges St-Pierre embodies everything that an MMA fighter should be. From his story growing up, learning karate as a self defence technique, to the way he handled himself during his time as champion. The way that he dominated his opponents, and never really looked in trouble during his prime.

Every fighter should aspire to be like Georges St-Pierre.

Honours:

  • Ultimate Fighting Championship
    • UFC Middleweight Champion
    • UFC Welterweight Champion (x2)
    • Interim UFC Welterweight Champion
    • Fight of the Night (x4)
    • Knockout of the Night (x1)
    • Submission of the Night (x1)
    • Performance of the Night (x1)
    • Most wins in UFC title fights (13)
    • Third most consecutive title defenses in the UFC history (9)
    • Fourth Multi-Divisional Champion in UFC History
    • Most wins by decision in UFC history (12)
    • Most takedowns in UFC history (90)
    • Most successful title defenses in the UFC welterweight division (9)
    • Most consecutive title defenses in the UFC welterweight division (9)
  • Black Belt Magazine
    • Fighter of the Year (2008)
  • Sherdog
    • Mixed Martial Arts Hall of Fame
    • 2017 Comeback Fighter of the Year
  • MMAjunkie.com
    • 2009 Fighter of the Year
    • 2017 Comeback Fighter of the Year
  • Fight Matrix
    • Fighter of the Year (2009)
    • Fighter of the Year (2010)
    • 2012 Comeback of the Year
    • 2006 Most Noteworthy Match of Year
    • 2007 Most Noteworthy Match of Year
    • 2009 Most Noteworthy Match of Year
  • Rogers Sportsnet
    • 2008 Rogers Sportsnet Canadian Athlete of the Year
    • 2009 Rogers Sportsnet Canadian Athlete of the Year
    • 2010 Rogers Sportsnet Canadian Athlete of the Year
  • Spike Guys’ Choice Awards
    • 2010 Most Dangerous Man of the Year
  • Sports Illustrated (SI.com)
    • 2009 Fighter of the Year
  • Wrestling Observer Newsletter awards
    • 2013 Best Box Office Draw
    • 2008 Most Outstanding Fighter
    • 2009 Most Outstanding Fighter
    • 2010 Most Outstanding Fighter
    • 2011 MMA Most Valuable Fighter
    • 2013 MMA Most Valuable Fighter
    • 2017 MMA Most Valuable Fighter
  • World MMA Awards
    • 2009 Fighter of the Year

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