Georges St-Pierre has been the UFC Welterweight champion since April 2008 and has defended the belt seven times. He’s been the consensus #1 welterweight in the world since 2006 and has been a fixture in the top three of most pound for pound rankings ever since.
Aside from that, he’s probably the biggest drawing MMA superstar in terms of both live attendance and pay per view buys in history, he’s one of the most sponsor friendly martial artists in the world and is generally considered one of the most technical, considered and for want of a better word, flawless competitors in modern MMA.
However, to a vocal section of the MMA diaspora he is increasingly seen as a dull, almost automaton like figure, unfeeling, unentertaining and altogether too corporate and packaged.
In many ways, this stems from the very factors that have made him so successful in competition and attractive to sponsors. He’s soft spoken, he wins reliably but not in such a way that elicits the queasiness of the MMA-phobic media. He’s clean cut… and for a lot of fight fans, that is a turn off.
Of course, the fact that seven of his ten victorious matches since his shock KO loss to Matt Serra in 2007 have gone to a decision, earned by either taking down and smothering a dangerous striker or using his reach and technical boxing to jab a talented grappler into submission is the main ammunition for this case.
This is because the feeling of many is that if GSP is so great, he should be knocking fools out left and right, rather than playing safe and grinding his way to a victory by playing the percentages.
Or course, you have to respect GSP’s skills, the fact that he always seems to find SOMETHING he’s better at than his opponent and a way to keep the fight in that environment, maximising his chance of victory while minimising the likelihood of him receiving another galling loss.
Can you blame him, the once exciting fighter who won eleven of his first fourteen fights (before the Serra loss) via stoppage, for changing things up so such a loss didn’t happen again?
Isn’t martial arts more about the contest of skill versus skill, often decided by the merest margins at the highest level rather than a vainglorious search for highlight reel knockouts?
Does a true martial artist not pick his battleground and fight where the enemy is weakest, as instructed by Sun Tzu? Not for the zen student of Kyokushin Karate the heedless assault or the ‘take a punch to give a punch’ approach.
Of course, fight fans are not always the same folks who meditate next to bonsai trees and ruminate over the sound of one hand clapping. Some just like a scrap, want to see faces bloodied and arms twisted.
To such fans, GSP’s methodical approach is an anathema, an anachronism that gets in the way of ‘real fights.’ This feeling isn’t helped by the fact that GSP speaks well, softly and with a French accent – which as every red blooded man in the West knows is a sure sign of effeminacy – and the closest we’ve ever seen or heard him coming to losing his cool was him calling Nick Diaz an ‘uneducated fool’ which is pretty tame in terms of trash talk, but could be further construed to be an indication of an arrogance in the champion.
Similar traits were shared by another Canadian grappler, albeit in the cartoon, alternate universe of pro wrestling – Bret ‘the Hitman’ Hart was long a fan favourite but ended up as a heel in the USA, regarded as a whiner, less likeable than the rough & ready Steve Austin and the degenerate Shawn Michaels.
Was that fair? No.
Is it fair to criticise GSP for not being rude, for winning without concussing people, for accepting sponsorships, for doing his promotional work in good grace?
I don’t think so, but many will disagree. In my eyes, GSP is a true martial artist, ‘the excellence of execution’ in many ways and a great ambassador for MMA and an example to anyone who slips on the 6oz gloves or a Gi.
As for entertainment value, it’s incumbent of his opponents to drag him into deep water, to take him out of his game plan and make perfection messy. The guy who holds the castle is under no obligation to surrender the high ground.
Only if and when that happens, will we truly see if GSP can really prove whether he is ‘the best there was, the best there is and the best there ever will be…’