“Especially where I come from, hockey is the number one sport, but I knew it was a question of time before fighting was going to be big here,” he said. “Montreal has always been a fight town. People love boxing and wrestling here and I think they’re going to like the UFC even more.”
But when you’re in an ‘outlaw’ sport, you’re perceived to be an outlaw yourself. That’s good when you’re looking to supplement your income with jobs as a bouncer at local clubs, but not when trying to convince people that you’re not only a serious athlete, but one who competes in a real sport, not a bloody spectacle.
“Back in the day, people thought I was crazy,” said St-Pierre. “Now, people know that it’s a real sport and that I’m training just as much as somebody who’s training for the Olympic Games or any other professional sport. I always knew that it was only a matter of time. And I don’t blame those people because I understand it. I can put myself in their position and try to see my sport from the outside. I know it’s violent, but when you don’t understand it, it makes it look even worse.”
Eventually though, mixed martial arts, and the UFC in particular, broke out – not only in the States, but in Canada, where the posterboy for the movement was St-Pierre: gifted, good-looking, and a gentleman. Not that he would take credit for that.
“I’m not going to say that I’m THE guy in Canada,” he says almost sheepishly. “There are a lot of very good fighters here in Canada, and one of the reasons why I think I’m so successful is because I have great training partners. Of course, a lot of them are from the United States, but a lot of them are from Montreal and other parts of Canada. I feel that I’m lucky that I grew up in a fight town where boxing is very popular, and we have a lot of great boxers, great wrestlers, and great martial artists, and when you mix everything together, you have a good mixed martial arts fighter.”
‘Good’ wouldn’t be the adjective most would use for St-Pierre as he put together a 7-1 record in his first eight UFC fights. Included on his ledger were victories over BJ Penn, Karo Parisyan, Sean Sherk, Frank Trigg, and Jason ‘Mayhem’ Miller. The only loss – in 2004 to Matt Hughes – was avenged in emphatic fashion at UFC 65 in November of 2006. Georges St-Pierre – ‘The Natural’ – was a world champion and everything was going according to the Hollywood script. Questions of his longevity as champion weren’t addressed in terms of title defenses, but in years. You don’t knock a future Hall of Famer like Hughes out if you’re average; you don’t survive a five minute onslaught from Penn and come back to win the next two rounds and the fight; and you don’t walk through guys like Sherk and Trigg if you’re just another fighter.
But the fall, like all great falls in hindsight, seemed to be inevitable. Matt Serra, a veteran fighter whose shining attribute may be his tenacity, never got the press St-Pierre got, never got the pats on the back, and never got the marketing push. He’s a New Yawker through and through whose infectious personality endears him to everyone, even his opponents. But when the bell rings, it’s all business for the 30-something Serra, a true believer in the adage that old age (well, relatively) and treachery will overcome youth and skill. Translated to MMA terms, Serra’s experience and gameplan on April 7, 2007 took apart a St-Pierre who found out in Texas, of all places, that he was human just like everyone else. Maybe he was even more human than most of us, as a maelstrom of personal issues leading up to the fight took his focus off what most believed to be a routine first title defense.