A thrilla in Manila for GSP

JOSE RODRIGUEZ, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 7:00 PM ET

If this column were to appear in the business section, there would be plenty of talk about the future economy and emerging markets.

How Asia will rule the world’s wallet based on its population alone.

There would be pie charts and numbers laying it all out and a pointy-headed expert explaining the minutiae of consumerism in cumbersome detail.

The UFC is as much a business as a sport and the promise of even bigger profits isn’t lost upon the company’s top brass.

So last week, they sent welterweight champ Georges St. Pierre on a publicity tour of the Philippines.

What the Montrealer saw blew him away.

Constantly flanked by bodyguards, St. Pierre said he couldn’t walk down the street without being recognized.

“I felt like the president of the United States,” says St. Pierre (20-2), who at 29 has been one of the most recognizable UFC fighters for the past half-decade.

“If people think I’m popular in (North America), they should have seen how it is over there. It was insane. I needed to have three bodyguards everywhere I went and people were stopping their cars and buses in the street to come see me. I couldn’t believe my eyes. It’s hard to believe that the sport is even more popular than even in America.”

St. Pierre touched down in Manila before 5 a.m., yet there was a crowd of fans and news crews awaiting his arrival.

Almost 35 years to the day after Muhammad Ali and Joe Frazier squared off in the legendary Thrilla in Manila (Oct. 1, 1975), the Philippines remains ravenous in its love of combat sports.

St. Pierre got to do a little idol worship of his own.

He met Manny Pacquiao — considered by many the world’s top pound-for-pound boxer — who was training for his bout with Antonio Margarito on Nov. 13.

St. Pierre, currently coaching Season 12 of The Ultimate Fighter, said he also found time to continue preparing for his December title fight against Josh Koscheck.

“I had a very busy schedule, but I always found time to train at least twice a day, so it was perfect,” said St Pierre.

It was after a training session that the enormity of how big the UFC has become in the Philippines set in.

“I was leaving the gym,” remembers St. Pierre.

“I was on the balcony and the traffic on the street was stopping. People were pointing at me like, ‘hey, this is Georges St. Pierre of the UFC,’ and the traffic stopped. It was like the city was shut down and I had never seen something like this before.”

The UFC has made no secret about expanding into Asia. It has hired people in China to pave the way for an event there and has always eyed a return to Japan.

jose.rodriguez@sunmedia.ca


Videos

Photos