April 28, 2011
GSP: Canada's king of the Octagon
By STEVE SIMMONS, QMI Agency
It is two days before the largest fight of Georges St-Pierre’s life and it seems strange to hear him talk, frankly and honestly, about being consumed by fear.
Maybe that’s what makes St-Pierre so popular, so much the legend that he is. He is brutally forthright, cerebral, an open book of tightly constructed emotions, and not afraid to talk about what he’s thinking, what’s he’s feeling, not all trumped up with verbiage and false bravado.
“I’m very nervous, very scared,” said St-Pierre in a lengthy interview. Mike Tyson would never sound this way before a fight. Neither would Muhammad Ali or George Foreman or any famous fighter of real repute.
But St-Pierre speaks from the heart and the head, not from anything construed for promotional purposes. He speaks from his Quebec upbringing as an awkward teenager, a kid who wasn’t in any way considered cool. Who knows where those cool kids are now as he’s about to earn $2 million or so for his foray into the octagon on Saturday night at the Rogers Centre for the over-hyped UFC 129.
“I’m always nervous,” said St-Pierre. “A lot of fighters say ‘I’m not nervous.’ It’s a lie. If you’re not nervous, it’s because you don’t care about something.”
St-Pierre fully understands the place he has found in the UFC and more than that the place he found for a rabid Canadian audience. He seems beloved, even by people who have never seen him fight. He is now from Cheers in this country: Everybody knows his name. The card that sold 55,000 seats in a rapid fire response to UFC 129 was partly because it was the UFC and maybe moreso because it was St-Pierre headlining.
He has become that big, the athlete Dana White calls the best known around the world in Canadian history. A guy named Ben Johnson or maybe a basketball player named Steve Nash can argue that notion but White has a point of sorts. St-Pierre, like Johnson once did, like Nash still manages at his advanced age, transcends his sport outside this country and outside North America. This kind of celebrity puts pressure on St-Pierre but no more than he puts on himself. He is that focussed, that everyday consumed. He leaves little for chance, except the nerves that he wants to feel before fight night,.
“I don’t want to be good,” said St-Pierre. “I want to be great. I want to be the greatest (of all-time) and I need to win this fight. Fighting Jake Shields is going to make me show the best of Georges St-Pierre. The best of what I’ve got — grabbing, striking, take-down, everything.
“Good is not enough for me. I want to be the best.”
It is something he has thought about most of his life. There was nothing called MMA when he was a kid, when he began working out. But in the back of his mind there was this obsession — be the best. “I wanted to be that guy,” he said.
“People are going to flip if I say this, but yes, I’ve always imagined myself being a champion. I always had this dream in my head, always had faith in myself. If you want to be a doctor, an engineer, a professional athlete, it doesn’t matter, if you get the work done, you can do it. Always when I was a kid growing up, I had faith in myself. The MMA did not exist. I wanted to be a karate champion or something.
“I always thought (for some reason) I would become big. I didn’t know how long it would take. I had faith in myself.”
He had faith through early years when little seemed to go his way.
“I had a rough childhood, big problems,” he told Dan Wetzel of Yahoo! Sports “I didn’t have many friends growing up. I’m from a small town. I was an intellectual person. People who were friends with me were intellectuals, they were not popular either. They weren’t the hockey players that everyone wanted to be like.
And he added: “I had an acne problem. I was just not dressing very well. I was not very popular with girls.”
That was then: Now comes Saturday night, where he is the man. What distinguishes the UFC from traditional boxing cards is that not everything is about the main event. It isn’t one fight matters and nothing else does. Promoter Dana White tends his pack his cards full of fights worth watching. But what he may not understand is, for this Canadian audience, for the Rogers Centre crowd, almost everything will be measured on some kind of St-Pierre scale.
Unlike the oddsmakers, St-Pierre is worried about fighting Jake Shields. He has thought about it for some time. It is what makes the UFC fighters so different: The best seemingly want to fight the best. It isn’t about finding tomato cans and picking your spots.
“For a long time I’ve wanted to fight him,” said St-Pierre. It goes back to one night when St-Pierre said that Shields beat “three guys in the same night on one show. People have no idea how dangerous this guy is.” The record does show that Shields beat two fighters on the same night in 2006. It doesn’t show him beating three. That little chunk of hyperbole aside, it’s part of the serious nature of St-Pierre. Even if the bookies think he’s a shoo-in Saturday night, he won’t allow himself to think that way.
“He’s a great fighter,” said the underdog Shields. “I have no doubt about that. There’s not a lot of vulnerability with the guy. He’s great, I have to be great ... This fight with Georges, it’s always been on my mind. I’ve been looking at this for years. I’ve been eating, sleeping, breathing GSP. I’m ready to get this over. I’m sick of him.”
The truth is, aside from the fight Saturday night, St-Pierre is rather tired of being consumed. This has been a long period without a break, a year of fighting pressures, media over-indulgence, a year to cash in financially but get almost no time to unwind. St-Pierre won’t allow himself to get ahead of himself but he does see a finish line of sorts coming. There is the fight Saturday night, then some well-deserved time away. But first, the fight.
“I know I’m bringing the best of GSP,” he said. “The best I’ve got. It’s going to be one of the best fights of the year. You’ve got to be ready for that. He’s a thinking guy, a thinking fighter ... He doesn’t stay in his comfort zone. He’s a very smart guy. That’s why he’s so dangerous.
“There’s not going to be any booing on Saturday night, believe me. There’s going to be a ton of action. The real fan will appreciate it. The guy who comes to see a brawl or a boxing match, they can go see, what do you call it ‘So You Want To Fight?’ It’s made for that kind of client. MMA is a science. There’s a science to it. I’m not champion because I hit the hardest or am the best brawler. I’m champion because I have the best strategy.”
And after the fight?
“I’m leaving,” he said, not saying where he’s disappearing to. “I need a break mentally. I haven’t had a break for a long, long time.”