UFC welterweight champion Georges St-Pierre admits dealing with the media is the worst part of his job but with a blockbuster bout on the horizon and a network deal set to give mixed martial arts unprecedented exposure, the Canadian may learn to love the limelight.
The Quebec native has dominated his division since taking the title for a second time in 2008, laying waste to a string of challengers with his brutal brand of French-Canadian blunt force trauma.
While St-Pierre is commonly ranked second in the world’s ’best pound-for-pounder’ debate behind Brazilian Anderson Silva, his next fight, a hugely hyped grudge match with American brawler Nick Diaz, could define his career in the Ultimate Fighting Championship.
The 30-year-old told Reuters in a recent interview in Las Vegas he wanted to be known as the best. Not just the best right now, but the best of all time.
“I want to retire being the best pound-for-pound fighter that ever lived,” said St-Pierre, who has defended his title six consecutive times and has a record of 22-2.
“It’s very hard to say how to judge it, but when I think myself that I’m the best it will be the time to do something else in my life.”
Despite a network deal with Fox that will net the UFC hundreds of millions of dollars over the next seven years, MMA is a sport in its infancy and there are no shortage of critics determined to kill off cage fighting’s uber-violence.
The early years of the sport, when groin strikes, headbutts and a raft of other eye-watering attacks were legal, have scarred MMA and the UFC deeply despite a radical rules overhaul and concerted campaigns to highlight the changes.
Courting sponsors and feeding the media’s growing appetite for MMA is not what St-Pierre had in mind when he settled upon life as a fighter but he accepts the growth of the sport could largely depend on how the UFC operates outside the octagon.
“I’m not going to lie, it’s probably the part of my job I dislike the most,” he said, scratching his scarred, shaven scalp. “But I know it’s important.
“Hopefully the (Fox) deal will take the sport to a new level, it will also bring a bigger range of audience, more sponsors, more visibility, more money -- increase the calibre of the sport.”
St-Pierre and the UFC have been good for each other.
The organisation has given him a global platform to showcase his brutal skills and earn the kind of money most fighters can only dream of, while St-Pierre spearheads the UFC’s media offensive as it breaks from its unpalatable past.
But while the paleontology-, philosophy-loving St-Pierre does indeed have a deeply thoughtful side, it is one that must co-exist with the darker element to his character. The willingness to inflict harm on another to make a living.
“Everyone has a violent side,” St-Pierre said. “My job is to win, and in order to win most of the time I need to injure my opponent. It’s a violent sport but in real life I’m not a violent guy.
“I’m an athlete in a full contact sport so it requires violence to win.”
St-Pierre, who was forced to pull out of the UFC’s Las Vegas card last week due to knee and hamstring problems, has not always sated the bloodlust of the sport’s hardcore element, with his last four fights going to judges decision.
But there is no doubting his desire to knockout or tap-out Diaz, whom St-Pierre has described as “the most disrespectful human being I’ve ever met”.
“I’ve had a lot of criticism about not finishing fights, but if there’s anyone who wants to finish fights it’s me,” he said.
“It’s hard to stay champion and in the welterweight division today’s number one can so easily become tomorrow’s number two.
“I just want to fight again as soon as possible.”