TORONTO - Growing up in a small Quebec town, Georges St-Pierre had few friends and was tormented so badly by bullies that he began to hate going to school.
Then he discovered karate, learned how to defend himself and his confidence soared.
Today, after a lot of hard work and dedication, the 30-year-old mixed martial artist known as GSP is arguably the most famous athlete on the planet.
His is a common story among UFC fighters, several of whom will share their tale with nearly 1,000 at-risk youth from Toronto-area schools at an anti-bullying event at the Rogers Centre Tuesday.
“Many of our athletes are university educated, some are fathers and they have important stories to tell,” Tom Wright, the UFC’s Canadian director of operations, said Monday.
He said bullying is an all too common problem and the fighters will reach out to both victims and bullies as they talk about how martial arts training has made them successful in the UFC and in life.
“Beyond the physical fitness aspect, sports teach you about leadership, discipline, teamwork, respect and all sorts of characteristics that are important in life,” Wright said, explaining it’s the same whether you’re involved in martial arts, hockey, football or anything else.
“These are important characteristics to develop in order to become a good citizen,” he added.
Mark Hominick, Matt Mitrione, Sean Pierson and Sam Stout will be guest speakers at the event — part of the Community Works program the UFC initiated during its first visit to Toronto in April.
The MMA company pledged then to spend $129,000 to help at-risk youth in communities across Canada.
Toronto’s Cabbagetown Youth Centre was the first to benefit from the initiative, receiving a grant to buy much-needed new sports equipment.
“It’s our way of giving back to the communities who support us,” Wright said.
The anti-bullying event, which is in partnership with GTA school boards and Toronto Police, is just the next of many things the UFC hopes to do, he said.
And contrary to a recent media report, the Community Works program does not involve visiting schools and teaching kids to fight.
“I don’t, nor would I ever, condone UFC fighters going into our schools and teaching kids how to fight,” said City Councillor Doug Ford, who was accused of endorsing such a notion in a recent media report.
He does, however, fully support the Rogers Centre event.
He said kids “look up to” rock stars and professional athletes, so there’s nothing wrong with fighters from the hugely popular UFC talking to them about bullying.