He is, in the eyes of many, the greatest mixed martial artist of all time. He is also, unquestionably, one of the most accomplished, celebrated and recognizable athletes in Canadian sports history.
You may know him as Rush, as GSP, or the GOAT, but on September 8th, 2019, Georges St-Pierre was a man of the people, one of humility and personality, shaking hands and posing for pictures, giving back to the sport, and audience, that made him a global superstar.
St-Pierre’s road to the Rock for the No Bull! Tour – one where the two-division champion in the Ultimate Fighting Championship touched on his unparalleled success in the world famous octagon, and his path from a bullied, meek child to ripped and impossibly in-shape freak athlete – comes eight months after the 38-year-old Quebec native announced his retirement from the sport of mixed martial arts. His name, however, has not drifted into memory for fans or current fighters.
On September 7th, undefeated Russian juggernaut Khabib Nurmagomedov bludgeoned a very game yet outmatched Dustin Poirier half a world away in Abu Dhabi. Post-fight, the lightweight champion, with a sparkling and terrifying 28-0 record, called out the Canadian legend.
It’s a by-product of success, of being a name bigger than sport. GSP is a brand, a global entity, one that has seen him as the poster-child for endorsements and acting gigs (St-Pierre famously joined the MCU for a tussle with Chris Evans in Captain America: Winter Solider).
Though retirement, as brief as it is, has been kind to the longtime welterweight kingpin, St-Pierre admits that the prospect of a bout with the yet to be (truly) tested Russian is alluring, though other, larger factors present roadblocks.
“It’s humbling but it’s not that easy to organize that fight,” St-Pierre shared of the recent call-out in the media lounge of the Delta Hotel in St. John’s.
“The UFC doesn’t want … they have other guys in line before me. Conor McGregor, Tony Ferguson. The whole structure of UFC has changed since I left. So it’s very complicated. We tried to make that Khabib fight but it didn’t work. So I don’t see the reason why it would be different right now.”
Debuting professionally over 20 years ago and possessing an at the time unmatched rounded game that combined the very best of the core disciplines of mixed martial arts, GSP arguably represented the birth of the new wave of complete fighter that we the fans reap the rewards of today in 2019.
“In the history of warfare whether it’s fighting one-on-one or nation against nation, knowledge is the most important part,” St-Pierre shared, poetically.
“Proof of that is many. Genghis Khan assimilated the world with the bow and arrow on the horseback technique. The Americans beat the Japanese in World War II with the atomic bomb. Royce Gracie won an entire tournament in an open weight class division because he had a weapon that nobody had. So when we say knowledge in warfare sometimes it has to do with a technology weapon, but in hand to hand combat it has to do with knowledge and technique. It’s very important to be well-rounded because if you lack in a certain part of the game you will be exposed.”
Exiting the sport with a pristine 26-2 record (with both losses avenged in style) after felling Brit Michael Bisping for the UFC Middleweight Championship in the fall on 2017, St-Pierre walked away from the game doing something few if any marquee names have done. He retired on top, dignity and health in hand, having bested the very cream of the crop the game has to offer.
His list of victims is cinematic: BJ Penn (twice), Matt Hughes (twice), Nick Diaz, Carlos Condit, Jake Shields, and Thiago Alves are among the names to fall to the insurmountable pressure the versatile Canuck could wield. He famously avenged his second ever defeat to rival Matt Serra in-front of a rabid home arena in Montreal in 2008, arguably the night the catapulted ‘Rush’ to a rarefied air in the sport.
Yet, through the many successes that could very easily bloat ego, St-Pierre stayed true to his core principles and beliefs. Classy in and out of the cage, GSP was a ready-made ambassador for the sport and a prime role-model for a younger generation of athletes in waiting.
And while many of the movers and shakers of modern MMA – MAGA wearing interim welterweight champ Colby Covington, pot smoking middle finger waving Stocktonite brothers Nate and Nick Diaz and the ever controversial Irish mega-star Conor McGregor – opted to ‘sell’ their bouts with pro-wrestling style trash talk and TMZ ready antics, St-Pierre took the high road.
‘Rush’ played his game in the octagon. ‘I’m not impressed by your performance,’ (famously delivered in polite-diss fashion to fellow great Matt Hughes) was the extent of the Canadiens trash talk.
“I think the fan base will get behind you if they feel they can identify themselves to you,” St-Pierre said. “And in order to identify themselves to you you need to be authentic. I’m not a trash talker. English is not my first language. I’m authentic. I don’t try to create a persona. I think that’s why I was good to sell a fight in my time because I think people could identify themselves in me. Conor is a different character. Some people can identify themselves and they like Conor. Whether you want him to win or to lose you’re going to tune in. So now we’re in an era that seems that every fighter wants to be like Conor, but if you try to be like Conor and you’re not authentic it shows. That’s why they don’t have as much success as Conor. You have to be authentic. That’s what I believe. If you fake it and it’s too apparent you will look like a fool. It doesn’t look good.”
And while marquee mega-fights against the likes of Nurmagomedov and the polarizing McGregor may forever leave ‘what ifs’ in the minds of sports fans, walking away on-top, with reputation and legacy intact, may be the Cinderella ending a humble hero of the sport deserves.
“I didn’t want the sport to retire me, I wanted to retire from the sport,” the first ballot Hall of Famer shares. “I was very lucky to be born with a good talent. I was hard and good enough to exploit it. And I also had good luck. I was at the right time at the right moment, and the right opportunity come at the right time and timing in this game is everything. So I think it’s a mix of everything and to retire on top, it takes a lot of discipline because it is very hard. And I’m not going to lie, seeing Khabib fight, I can’t lie and tell you that it did not excite me. But you need discipline. When you make a decision like this it takes a lot of discipline and only a few handful of guys have made it because there is something that you can never beat. No matter how good you are, it’s time. Nobody beats that. When it’s past your time normally the fighter is the last person to know. You always think you can come back and come back and come back, but then you have a surprise and you fall. Nobody is invincible.”
If St-Pierre’s final bow does indeed end up being permanent, fans will be able to look back on the career of one of the faces of MMAs Mount Rushmore, remembering where they were for his tussles with Hughes, Penn and Serra. Many have come, many have gone, but few if any have done it quite like Georges St-Pierre.
*Photo credits Paddy Wadden and Robert Shawn Andrews. Stay tuned to 448 Entertainment for more great events!