January 3, 2011
GSP to headline UFC's Toronto debut
By STEVE BUFFERY, QMI Agency
TORONTO - Dana White must live right.
The UFC president rarely sleeps, swears like a sailor and isnít afraid to ruffle feathers. But it seems everything he touches turns to gold ó as is the case with UFC 129, the first professional mixed martial arts show ever to be held in Ontario.
The April 30 event at the Rogers Centre was already a guaranteed sellout. But with the news that Canadian mixed martial arts icon Georges St. Pierre will be headlining the show now means the event will reach sporting heights not seen in these parts since the Leafsí run to the Campbell Conference Finals in 1993 or the Blue Jaysí World Series wins in 1992 and 1993.
That isnít exaggeration. St.-Pierre, the UFC welterweight champion, is a sporting icon in Canada, arguably the most popular athlete in the country today, right up there with Sidney Crosby. And the UFC brand of mixed martial arts is exceedingly popular in Ontario despite the fact that the sport was banned in the province until late in 2010.
Heavyweight champion Cain Velasquez was originally supposed to headline the inaugural Toronto card against Junior Dos Santos of Brazil but Velasquez has been sidelined by a torn rotator cuff.
But instead of putting at damper on the show, thatís opened the door for St.-Pierre.
White would have liked to have announced St.-Pierre for the Toronto show weeks ago, but there was a little matter of St. Pierre facing American Josh Koscheck on Dec. 11 at the Bell Centre in Montreal.
St.-Pierre was favoured to beat Koscheck in UFC 124, but anything can happen in the fight game and a loss or an injury on Dec. 11 would have put any immediate bout in jeopardy.
But St. Pierre delighted his fans by putting on a near flawless performance against the brash, in-your-face Koscheck, earning a unanimous decision and further establishing himself as the best pound-for-pound MMA fighter in the business.
That also freed him up for the Toronto show, a dream come true for the sports fans in Ontario and the UFC.
St. Pierre, 29, is slated to fight American Jake Shields on April 30, a former Strikeforce fighter who made his UFC debut against world-ranked Martin Kampmann on Oct. 23 at UFC 121, earning a controversial split decision. Shields is no pushover though, having posted wins over such standouts as former EliteXC middleweight champ Robbie Lawler, one time World Extreme Cagefighting welterweight king Carlos Condit and two-time Olympic wrestler Dan Henderson.
Heís also a colourful character whoís appeared on a number of TV shows, including Bully Beatdown on MTV and Wild Recon and Venom in Vegas on Animal Planet ó natural shows for Shields who was raised high in the Sierra Nevada Mountains in California and grew up partaking in mountain biking, wild caving, mountain climbing and wrestling. He was a top-ranked college wrestler before turning to mixed martial arts.
As for St.-Pierre, there were rumours that he was going to put his UFC career on hold and try out for the Canadian wrestling team for the 2012 London Olympics after his fight with Koscheck. But clearly heís not leaving the UFC anytime soon.
The St. Isidore, Que., native has lost twice in 21 pro bouts but has won his last eight fights against the top fighters in the division, including B.J. Penn, Matt Serra and Matt Hughes. His two losses were against Serra and Hughes and he came back with a roar to avenge both. More than half of his wins have come via a knockout or submission and he has not lost a round in over three years, securing his reputation has one of UFCís top fighters and biggest draws.