Going from 1 to 100

JOSE RODRIGUEZ, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 9:19 AM ET

Georges St. Pierre was 12 years old and could barely speak a word of English when the UFC hosted its first event.

Billed as the ultimate showdown of disciplines, UFC 1 in 1993 pitted wrestlers against kickboxers and street brawlers against karate experts.

It drew more critics than fans, with U.S. politicians calling the event a barbaric display of human cockfighting.

But the undersized Brazilian who would win the $50,000 top prize made an indelible impression on the young St. Pierre.

"I remember the first time I saw Royce Gracie in the first tournament," says the Montreal brawler, who will make his third welterweight title defence on July 11 at UFC 100 in Las Vegas.

"That's the first moment I became inspired to do what I do now for a living.

"(Gracie) was using a weapon, a martial art, that no one knew at the time -- Brazilian jiu-jitsu. He was smaller than all the guys and he was able to win. That's what really inspired me."

St. Pierre, now 28 and also a black belt in Brazilian jiu-jitsu, says following in the footsteps of his idol and being part of the historic UFC 100 is an honour.

And the man he's facing, the heavy-hitting, chiselled Thiago Alves, is a more-than-worthy adversary.

"I truly believe he's the biggest challenge that I've faced so far," says St. Pierre, who has an 18-2 record.

The 25-year-old Alves (16-3) has impressive victories over Karo Parisyan, Josh Koscheck and former champ Matt Hughes.

Alves has shown his strong leg kicks are an effective tool to neutralize wrestlers such as Koscheck and Hughes, but St. Pierre says there's more to this Brazilian than heavy legs.

KICKS AND KNEES

"Skill-wise, he's bringing a lot more problems to the table than everybody that I've fought so far," says St. Pierre.

"Thiago has got devastating leg kicks. But that's not the only good thing he's got. He's got great knees, a great left hook and he's got very good heavy hands, too."

St. Pierre says that despite seeing less hype for this fight than his last title defence against B.J. Penn at UFC 94 in January, Alves is twice the fighter.

"I truly believe that if you put Thiago Alves and B.J. Penn in a fight, I would bet all my money on Thiago Alves, no doubt about it," he says.

St. Pierre's fight will be one of two title bouts at UFC 100; the other has Brock Lesnar taking on Frank Mir for the heavyweight belt.

The stacked card also features a match between The Ultimate Fighter coaches Dan Henderson and Michael Bisping.

Plus, UFC will host its first Fan Expo with such superstars as Randy "The Natural" Couture, Lyoto Machida, Chuck Liddell and Gracie mixing with fans.

JOSE.RODRIGUEZ@SUNMEDIA.CA


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