On Saturday, March 16th, Georges St-Pierre, the UFC’s welterweight champion, will fight Nick Diaz at the Bell Centre in Montreal as the main event of UFC 158. It will be the 26th professional fight of his career, and his eighth straight title defense. In a sport where even the best are only ever a punch away from being knocked out, St-Pierre has emerged as dominant of a force as can be imagined. Comparisons to the great Anderson Silva are not uncommon, and while the UFC’s current middleweight champion boasts an undefeated record – sixteen straight wins – with the promotion, his weight class doesn’t have the same class of depth as St-Pierre’s.
Watching St-Pierre fight is something special. Despite his tactician-first, entertainer-second approach in The Octagon, his status among fans is reminiscent of the godded up pugilists from the past that inspire even the most cynical of grandpas to talk glowingly. He possesses just enough vulnerability to make his dominance endearing, and perhaps above all else, he wins. He almost always wins.
St-Pierre’s appeal goes beyond his dominant victories. He’s a unique athlete, a unique person, whose humility in both victory and defeat has represented his violent sport well and led to his promotion finding an enormous market for their product in Canada. He isn’t easily encompassed or grasped by a quick biography or a feature interview, and so it’s my pleasure to present the A-Zs of GSP.
A Is For Athlete
At the heart of the UFC is something of a contradiction. It has effectively marketed itself as a source of violent confrontation between two trained individuals. However, for all of the highlight reel knockouts set to death metal, the competitors remain among the greatest athletes in the world, not only in terms of physical strength and endurance, but also mental conditioning. That’s not an exaggeration.
The following is a video of St-Pierre’s training regime ahead of his fight with Jake Shields in 2011, which included gymnastics, weight-lifting, wrestling, boxing and kick-boxing. Ahead of his last fight against Carlos Condit, St-Pierre prepared in a similar fashion, but also spent time with the Canadian track team.
If we think of athletes as a total package – in terms of an ability to perform at high level within multiple disciplines – it would be difficult not to consider St-Pierre to be close to the ideal.
B Is For Bouncer
While still in school, St-Pierre made ends meet by working as a bouncer at a Montreal night club. His blue collar background is further enhanced by the time he spent as a garbage man prior to making mixed martial arts his full-time occupation. His transition from refuse collector to fighter was quite possibly the greatest career decision in the history of the modern world.
C Is For Canadian
I hinted at this in the introduction, but St-Pierre’s nation of origin has been a major benefit to the UFC. Without him in their stable of fighters, it’s difficult to believe that the promotion’s brand would be as popular as it is in the Canadian market. This year, the UFC announced that it will hold four events in Canada, the most in any nation outside of the United States. The success found in marketing St-Pierre to a separate region has acted as a template for other fighters in other areas of the world, helping to promote the UFC as a global sporting powerhouse.
D Is For Decision
No fighter in the UFC has won more decisions than St-Pierre. He’s gone the distance in his fights a total of ten times, winning all of them, including his last five. While this has led to some criticism of the welterweight champion for lacking a killer instinct and conducting boring fights, his undefeated record in decisions is a credit to his endurance, and lends credibility to what has already been expressed about his athleticism.
E Is For Emotion
Throughout the lead up to Saturday night’s main event, St-Pierre’s opponent, Nick Diaz, has attempted to get under the welterweight champion’s skin and push him toward fighting on emotion, rather than sticking to the strategy to which he would normally abide. While trash-talking is almost always a part of the fight game – rivalry sells tickets and pay-per-views – Diaz’s comments during the media conference seemed a little more baiting than usual.
In addition to suggesting that St-Pierre was afraid of him and full of excrement for suggesting he was not, Diaz rambled through a strange monologue comparing their backgrounds.
How many times have you had a gun to your head, Georges? How many times has someone put a gun to your head? How many of your best friends been shot through the chest with a .45? Or how many of your best friends (have) been stomped or put to sleep into a coma? We all had to deal with these things in life.
There’s evidence to suggest Diaz’s strategy to push St-Pierre enough that he leans on emotion and fights the brawl that the challnger would prefer has been effective. According to UFC President Dana White, St-Pierre isn’t acting like himself.
He’s in a different place than he’s ever been because he’s really mad. He told me a few days ago “I want to make sure when this is over he (Diaz) retires.” I’ve never seen Georges like this before a figh. He’s really nasty and short with everybody. I got here earlier, they (the fighters) are all in the rooms, I went and said hi to everybody and Georges was weird. Georges just isn’t Georges right now. Not even close to being Georges.
Take White’s comments with a grain of salt, though. There is no greater promoter of the sport than the president himself.
F Is For Fighter Of The Year
In 2009, Sports Illustrated named St-Pierre their Fighter Of The Year. He fought twice that year, completely dominating B.J. Penn in the first and only UFC Champion vs. UFC Champion match at UFC 94, and then destroying number one contender Thiago Alves at UFC 100 to make a mockery of his weight class.
G Is For Gaidojutsu
In 1992, Greg Jackson, a trainer in New Mexico, created his own martial art, and called it Gaidojutsu. Originally a combination of wrestling techniques, kickboxing strikes and basic judo locks, Jackson developed his form of fighting to included more advanced elements of grappling and Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu. By 2000, Jackson’s Submission Fighting school was an exclusive training ground for mixed martial arts.
Following his last defeat (to Matt Serra on April 7, 2007), St-Pierre began training under Jackson’s tutelage, and the results speak for themselves in the form of an undefeated record. In addition to improving his physical preparation which has led to the fighter’s incomparable cardiovascular capabilities, St-Pierre’s time with Jackson has also led to a renewed mental fortitude for the athlete who had previously blamed a lack of focus for his only two losses.
H Is For Half-Guard
Half guard is a ground grappling position in which one fighter lays on top of the other, with the bottom fighter entangling one of his opponent’s legs.
With Diaz being so gifted in jiu-jitsu, especially in terms of creativity, St-Pierre will have to add an element of patience to the follow through of his regular wrestling-first mentality. He won’t want to end up in Diaz’s guard, but in order to produce damage from his successful take down attempts, he’ll try to keep his grounded opponent limited to only having control of a single leg. From there, he can lean on Diaz and deliver punishment with his fists while mitigating the risk of a submission attempt.
As an added bonus, if St-Pierre does indeed employ this position, be prepared for Joe Rogan to cite Randy Couture’s preference for this position when implementing a ground and pound strategy.
I Is For Injury
Saturday’s fight will only be St-Pierre’s second in almost two years. This is due to an ACL injury that the fighter sustained to his right knee while training for a title defense against Carlos Condit back in 2011. After dismantling Condit in November, St-Pierre remarked that he now knew what it meant to have ring rust.
By the very nature of what a fighter does, their bones and sinews are not meant to last into eternity. The knee injury is the first serious one of St-Pierre’s career, and as his body ages, we can expect to see more of this. How long he can stave off the inevitable is unknown, but given his work ethic in training, we can safely assume that a sedentary lifestyle won’t increase the rapidity of an inevitable break down.
J Is For Jiu-Jitsu
Back in 2005, St-Pierre stepped up his Jiu-Jitsu training with the Renzo Gracie Jiu-Jitsu Academy in Manhattan, later earning his brown belt in the discipline from the cousin of UFC legend Royce Gracie. In 2008, St-Pierre received his black belt from Bruno Fernandes, the head instructor at Gracie Barra Montreal. Through it all, he has continued to be trained by John Danaher.
While you’re unlikely to see a lot of submission attempts from St-Pierre, that doesn’t mean he doesn’t use Jiu-Jitsu. In fact, his proficiency with the fundamentals of the martial art is a major factor in his dominance with take downs and ability to control opponents after they’ve been grounded.
K Is For Kyokushin
At the age of seven, St-Pierre began learning Kyokushin, a full contact version of karate, as means of defending himself against older kids at school who would pick on him. Here he is at a past UFC Fan Expo demonstrating a Kyokushin kata.
He studied the martial art rooted in a philosophy of self-improvement, discipline and hard training, until the death of the Kyokushin Karate Master that he studied under. After his teacher’s passing, St-Pierre became interested in boxing, wrestling and Jiu-Jitsu. However, Kyokushin has acted as the base for all of his martial arts studies in the years that followed.
L Is For Lucian Bute
Lucian Bute is a professional boxer, who like St-Pierre, fights out of Montreal. The mixed martial artist has taken advantage of the proximity of the current NABF light heavyweight champion and former IBF super middleweight champion to his training center, by working with him in the lead up to the match against Diaz.
A lot of times, ahead of a main event, fighters will invite experts from different disciplines into their camp. For the most part, these are little more than photo opportunities. Not so with the Bute and St. Pierre exchange. The fighters have been training with each other for weeks.
According to St-Pierre:
Coming here is hard for the ego. I feel inferior to Lucian, he doesn’t even break a sweat. For me it is an honor to work with him.
Nonetheless, Bute has been impressed with St-Pierre’s ability, and told him so.
A lot of boxers I spar with have inferior boxing than you. And I’m not saying this to flatter you. Georges’s greatest strength is his jab. It’s a beautiful jab, better than many boxers.
M Is For Metrics
No fighter in UFC history has landed more strikes or more significant strikes than St-Pierre. This, among a whole list of other facts, is what we learn from FightMetric.com.
As dominating as his performance in The Octagon appears to us as spectators, the numbers back up what we see. In addition to confirming his ability to throw a non-stop barrage of strikes, St. Pierre is also the best that the UFC has ever seen when it comes to take downs. Not only has he taken down more opponents than anyone else in the organization’s history, he’s done so with the highest percentage of accuracy as well.
More than 78% of his take down attempts end with his opposition on their back.
Other statistics of interest for St-Pierre:
- 3.7 significant strikes landed per minute;
- 54% accuracy with significant strike attempts;
- 1.2 significant strikes absorbed per minute;
- 75% of an opponents significant strikes that are missed;
- 4.3 take downs per minute;
- 86% of an opponent’s take down attempts are stuffed; and
- 1.2 submissions attempted per 15 minutes.
N Is For Nickname
St-Pierre’s nickname is Rush. He was nicknamed “Rush” due to his tendency to rush into fights and start with a flurry of activity.
This is by far the lamest aspect of his persona. But nicknames are typically the lamest part of anyone’s persona. At least anyone with a nickname. I mean, like seriously, a nickname? How old are you?
O Is For Opponents
At the end of almost all of his fights, St-Pierre claims that his opponent was the toughest he’s ever faced. It’s meant as a sign of respect, and while it’s nice of the welterweight champion to maintain his gentlemanly status in this manner, it’s starting to come across as a little less than meaningful.
P Is For Pounds
St-Pierre fights at a weight of 170 pounds. He’s dominated the welterweight division for the last six years. Anderson Silva fights at a weight of 185 pounds. He’s dominated the middleweight division for the last six years.
Fans of combat sports have been waiting for the dominant members of these respective weight classes to one day fight each other, and while no plans are on the horizon to make this dream a reality, the prospect of a match up continues to entice.
The main obstacle to such an event occurring is that Silva is much larger than St-Pierre. The welterweight would likely have to add a significant amount of muscle to compete with the middleweight – who has fought here and there as a light heavyweight – in terms of strength. Since so many of St-Pierre’s fight tactics are rooted in his overall strength, he’d be giving up a major advantage in a fight with the significantly larger Silva.
Q Is For Quebec
Saturday’s fight will be St-Pierre’s tenth in Quebec. He is currently 9-0 over his career when fighting in La Belle Province. As much as all of Canada wants to claim him, he belongs to his home province. St-Pierre speaks with an unmistakably French-Canadian accent, sports a fleur-de-lis tattoo, enters The Octagon carrying a Quebec flag, and fights with a French-flag themed mouth guard.
R Is For Records
These are some of St-Pierre’s achievements in the UFC:
- Most wins by decision in history (10);
- Most consecutive title defenses in the welterweight division (7);
- Tied with Matt Hughes for most successful title defenses in the welterweight division (7);
- Second most consecutive title defenses in history (7); and
- Second most wins in history (17).
S Is For Strategy
While St-Pierre has a reputation for providing less-than-thrilling fights to spectators, his strategy isn’t as one dimensional as many have claimed. This was perhaps best seen during his rematch with Matt Serra in 2008, when an energized St-Pierre consistently mixed his attack between stand-up and take downs. During his 2010 title defense against Dan Hardy, St-Pierre operated almost exclusively on the ground and even attempted multiple submissions. St-Pierre is so gifted in so many different disciplines that he’s able to spot a weakness in his opponent’s game and exploit it.
Diaz, his opponent on Saturday night, is often able to force opponents to fight according to what best suits him – an all out brawl. The calculation of St-Pierre is almost at the opposite end of the strategy spectrum, but both combatants depend on inflicting their will on their opponent.
T Is For TriStar
While St-Pierre is associated with Greg Jackson in New Mexico, Renzo Gracie in New York and at the Grudge Training Center in Colorado, he calls Montreal, Quebec home, and in his hometown he trains out of the TriStar Gym. Tristar was founded twenty-five years ago by kickboxing champion Conrad Pla. Since then, ownership has changed hands on several occasions, but since 2007 it has been owned and operated by Firas Zahabi, who fortunately for the purposes of this guide, has a name that starts with a “Z.”
U Is For Under Armour
A large part of St-Pierre’s appeal is his status as an every man. This has led to many endorsement deals, even with underwear companies, because look, he’s just like every other dude:
V Is For Vaseline
After decimating B.J. Penn at UFC94 in 2009, the defeated Hawaiian claimed wrongdoing on the part of St-Pierre. It seems that one of the welterweight champion’s cornermen, Phil Nurse, was putting Vaseline on his fighter’s eyebrows. He then proceeded to massage St-Pierre’s back and tap his chest with fingers that still had remnants of the lubricant on it.
A big to-do was made by Penn’s camp, but it was largely dismissed by those in the know.
W Is For Wrestling
In 2007, St-Pierre was preparing for the Canadian Olympic wrestling team trials when he received a call from the UFC asking him to fill in for the injured Matt Serra in a fight with Matt Hughes. He took the opportunity, and won the interim welterweight championship, submitting Hughes with an arm bar.
Two years later, St-Pierre again expressed an interest in trying out for the Olympic team, but the realization of how much time he would have to commit to the endeavor plus the money that he’d be leaving on the table to pursue such a dream put the idea to bed fairly quickly.
However, the fact that this would even be a possibility once again confirms St-Pierre’s amazing athleticism.
X Is For Xanthochroic
Xanthochroic is a term used to describe people with yellow skin. St-Pierre is not xanthochroic.
Y Is For Years
St-Pierre has been a professional mixed martial artist for eleven years, since first appearing at UCC 7, and dismantling Ivan Menjivar at the end of the very first round. He’s faced 20 different opponents over 25 fights, and has emerged with a 23-2 record, winning ten times via decision, nine times by TKO and four times by submission.
Z Is For Zahabi MMA
Firas Zahabi is St-Pierre’s head trainer and constant corner man. A former Canadian Muay Thai champion and winner of multiple Jui Jitsu tournaments, Zahabi fell into his role as an MMA coach when the trainer at the gym he worked out at didn’t have time to deal with the rising popularity of the sport. He eventually bought TriStar and developed MMA-specific training for his clients.
After losing the welterweight title to Matt Serra in 2007, St-Pierre attached himself to Zahabi MMA and hasn’t looked back.