Finding MMA’s GOAT: Georges St-Pierre
What exactly is your criteria for an all-time great?
I don’t think there’s an answer out there that gets unanimous approval, but with this series, I want to help in outlining the argument for seven different fighters as the G.O.A.T.
Anderson Silva, Khabib Nurmagomedov, Amanda Nunes, Georges St-Pierre, Fedor Emelianenko, Demetrious Johnson, and Jon Jones.
I won’t deny it, the seven fighters named are not all on the same level, but each has certainly something that has established them as a cut above all others within their respective eras and divisions.
Everything else is a matter of preference.
Week by week I’ll take one and break down their claim to the throne, drop some insight on where that claim might be hindered, and leave the actual decision making up to you guys.
I think it’ll be an interesting and enjoyable dip into one of the sport’s most ever-present topics - and between myself and you guys, our loyal viewers, we’re going to come as close as possible to Finding The G.O.A.T.
If I’ve noticed a pattern with this series so far - as I begin to express my thoughts - it’s that I always find myself beginning my arguments with a quick look at what I’m learning about the overall question as a whole, musing over what the hell it is that I’m trying to establish here.
As I said before, I’ll rank my picks once the series is through - but if I’ve learned anything after four episodes, it’s that these fighters are all special in their own regard, each bringing a unique and interesting argument to the table that supports their inclusion.
Anderson achieved, sustained and was always capable of producing the type of magic that makes fans of neophytes, reminding us frequently of why we love the sport. Khabib reached levels of dominance that were unheard of, unmatched - utilising a fighting style that was entirely his own - designed specifically to sap will, to break spirit. And Amanda took her competition, beating them all at their own games with a level of flair that placed so much distance between her and her rivals that there is literally no conversation to be had as to who the women’s G.O.A.T is.
So as we look at the subject of this fourth entry to the series, Georges St-Pierre - the main question that I have is, what’s Georges’ angle?
I think out of all of the fighters who make up this series - St-Pierre’s claim at being the single greatest fighter in the history of mixed martial arts comes with the fewest asterisks - with the least cons to his argument.
Debuting in the UFC in 2004 and competing for the next nine years on a regular basis - if you wanted to put out a manual on how to do this whole thing right - on how to really etch out a watertight G.O.A.T argument, you’d do it somewhat similarly to GSP - obviously with a few exceptions.
He ruled that welterweight division with an air of superiority that is rare, even among dominant fighters.
Indeed, his heavy wrestling and top-game approach is an effective means of managing risk and ensuring that you can stack the odds in your favour - something that almost makes the long run of victories turned in by Anderson Silva that bit more impressive.
But GSP’s major’s strengths come from how he adapted his game over the years - how he learned from his shortcomings - and eventually devised a skillset that would ensure that he would get his hand raised with as little resistance as possible.
Like Khabib, his takedown threat was more of an inevitability than anything else.
And as I watched through St-Pierre’s career in chronological order - seeing the improvements he made fight by fight, as the challenges before him became increasingly difficult - how his athleticism and incredible work ethic allowed him to go from being soundly beaten by Matt Hughes in his first shot at UFC gold to outwrestling guys like Hughes, like Josh Koscheck, like Jon Fitch.
The fact that he did this all without a conventional background in wrestling - picking things up as he went along rather than coming from a NCAA Div 1 programme.
Yea, the main takeaway I had from revisiting Georges St-Pierre’s career as a whole is what a natural this guy was, what a born winner he would prove himself to be.
Because as Matt Hughes swiftly transitioned over to that armbar to finish his first meeting with St-Pierre in the opening round - as Matt Serra swarmed on the Canadian to record one of the biggest upsets in the history of the sport.
These were the moments that proved to be a making of the man.
And over the course of his 28 fight career - the two losses that Georges sustained, he would go to avenge in truly dominant fashion - a fashion so dominant that you’d wonder how he lost in the first place.
He fought the best of the best in what was a stacked welterweight division - defeating the remainder of the era that preceded him, before then doing the same with his contemporaries and some of the rising talents that would follow.
He had that unbeatable air to the same extent as the likes of Jon Jones, of a prime José Aldo, of the best years of Anderson Silva - like this was a champion, and anything other than a dominant win against the next contender would be a shock.
His fight IQ was legendary, his striking - extremely strong in its function. Look, he wasn’t a knockout artist, but his jab was a weapon that was as effective as any singular strike of his era.
His cardio was also incredible - a testament to the type of athlete and worker that he was.
And though he wasn’t a massive finisher during his time at 170lbs, if your criteria for G.O.A.T status involves technical excellence, dominance over a long, drawn-out period of time against a conveyor belt of high level contenders - while minimising your opponent’s chance of winning.
Georges St-Pierre is likely going to be your pick.
He never popped for P.E.D’s also - which I know is a big one for a lot of you - and during the six or seven years he spent as the top dog within the welterweight division, he adapted his game, improving on himself so he could contend with the guys who came up through the sport with the singular purpose of dethroning GSP.
And that’s the hard thing about being a long-time champ, about sustaining a run of excellence while the target is on your back, while your drawing power as a superstar - and the burden of everything that life carries with it grows heavier and heavier.
In terms of cons, people say he’s a boring fighter - or at the very least, took the route of dominance, or the path of least resistance too often to be MMA’s defining hero.
But Georges St-Pierre is no Anderson Silva - and he had opted to go down a route that was more geared towards thrilling the crowd, towards filling out his highlight reel - we likely wouldn’t be discussing him in this context.
GSP did exactly what he had to do to ensure that he won, and that he won consistently.
And though his razor thin and somewhat controversial final matchup against the once-great Johny Hendricks was a bit of a sour note to end on, his return three and a half years later in Madison Square Garden only served to further prove his greatness.
As his grappling coach John Danaher pointed out, if there were three criticisms levelled towards Georges during his best years - they were that he didn’t finish fights, he never moved up in weight, and that he was so fixated on control that his approach could have been seen as boring.
Ahead of UFC 217 Georges had, by all accounts gone through a horrible training camp - filled with illnesses that would later derail any subsequent return.
But this newly-bulked up figure decided to address these criticisms head on - shaking off three and a half years’ of ring rust to take on Michael Bisping for the middleweight title.
And on that night, he came in there looking to put on a show - not simply resorting to the takedown that had brought him so much success all those years ago.
He fired off spinning attacks, he threw big shots, and put it on The Count in a way that showed him looking to truly make a statement.
And though fatigue set in, as his body suffered through this added masse and Bisping’s own excellent durability - Georges was forced to dig deep to eventually take back the momentum.
And when the finish came, it came after a brutal barrage - a sequence far removed from the more cautious fighter of old.
In one fight, GSP had managed to beat an opponent - although certainly not the world’s greatest middleweight - but a very credible one nonetheless, doing so up in weight at 185lbs, with a finish to boot - earning himself a spot among the sport’s two weight world champions in the process.
Huge wins over Bisping, over Matt Hughes, over Josh Koscheck, Carlos Condit, Nick Diaz, BJ Penn, Matt Serra, Dan Hardy, Sean Sherk, Karo Parisyan, Jon Fitch, Jake Shields, Johny Hendricks, Thiago Alves.
Avenged both his career losses in stunning fashion. Three time UFC champion across two different weight divisions.
And he did this all over the course of nine years at welterweight before one follow-up matchup to mark thirteen years since his debut.
That’s a resumé that might only be equaled by one or, at the most, two fighters within our series.
So again, this depends on what exactly you’re looking for from your G.O.A.T candidate - do things like consistency, level of opposition, and making a priority of establishing a gargantuan technical gulf outweigh an ability to finish fights, a desire to take risks and through that, put on exciting matchups, and perhaps a comfort within one’s natural division.
Because GSP’s resumé, his overall legacy, is so watertight that the only criticisms you can really level at him come down to your own enjoyment of his fights as an entertainment.
Sure, he might have been beaten by Hendricks, he got kicked in the head by Carlos Condit, and mopped up by Matt Serra of all people, but when it comes to Georges St-Pierre, it’s only the most minor of moments that can be really pointed to as weaknesses to his G.O.A.T claim.
Where that leaves him is up to you I suppose!