Canadian Georges St-Pierre, who ruled the UFC welterweight division before putting a bow on a glittering career by winning the middleweight title in his final outing, is headed to the UFC Hall of Fame.
The announcement was made Saturday night during UFC 249 in Jacksonville, Fla., the UFC’s first live show in two months due to the global pandemic.
The mixed martial arts fighter known as GSP was a pay-per-view gold mine for the UFC. And in honouring the 38-year-old from St-Isidore, Que., UFC president Dana White revived the debate of St-Pierre’s place in the Canadian sports pantheon.
“Georges St-Pierre is a pioneer of Canadian MMA who helped build the sport globally,” White said in a statement. “He is the most famous athlete to ever come out of Canada and one of the greatest martial artists of all-time. We’re proud to induct him into the UFC Hall of Fame Class of 2020.”
In 2010, White sparked a debate when he said St-Pierre was “a billion times more famous than any other athlete that’s ever come out of Canada. Including Wayne Gretzky.”
A Canadian Press-Harris Decima survey grading Canadian celebrities in January 2011 disagreed, calling Gretzky No. 1 and GSP seventh. Still the MMA fighter finished ahead of then Prime Minister Stephen Harper.
St-Pierre’s success inside the cage, fuelled by hours of meticulous preparation, put MMA on the map in Canada and helped fuel the UFC’s worldwide expansion.
St. Pierre (26-2-0) will be officially inducted into the Hall of Fame later this year.
He will enter the Hall’s “Modern Wing,” which honours fighters who made their debut in the era of unified rules, which came into effect at UFC 28 in November 2000, and who are at least 35 or have been retired for one year or more.
He joins Forrest Griffin (2013), B.J. (The Prodigy) Penn (2015), Urijah (The California Kid) Faber (2017), (Rowdy) Ronda Rousey (2018), Michael (The Count) Bisping (2019) and Rashad (Suga) Evans (2019).
St-Pierre beat two of those Hall of Famers (Bisping and Penn).
There are also 15 fighters in the Pioneer Wing, including the likes of Randy (The Natural) Couture, Royce Gracie, Matt Hughes and Chuck (The Iceman) Liddell.
St.-Pierre stepped away from MMA after narrowly defeating Johny (Bigg Rigg) Hendricks at UFC 167 in November 2013. While the win marked his ninth straight title defence, St-Pierre said he needed a break from the stress of the sport.
He went on to fight just once more, winning the middleweight title off Bisping at UFC 217 in November 2017. St-Pierre gave up the 185-pound crown a month later, citing health issues (ulcerative colitis).
He officially retired Feb. 21, 2019.
“There’s no tears. I’m very happy to do it,” he said of hanging up the gloves. “It takes a lot of discipline though to retire on top. It was a long process in my mind but it’s time to do it. Only a few people have done it. And I always said that I want to retire on my own and not be told to retire.”
St-Pierre was a class act inside and outside the cage
His preparation for fights was legendary, incorporating everything from gymnastics to power-lifting. Pull-ups with a 75-pound weight chained to his waist were routine.
While other fighters wore sweats and sponsors’ T-shirts, St-Pierre — taking a page from some champion boxers — always wore a suit for his post-fight news conferences.
St-Pierre is one of only seven fighters in UFC history to win titles in two weight classes. His 13 consecutive victories and 13 title fight wins are tied for second most in UFC history.
His 20 wins are tied for third most in the UFC and he leads all UFC fighters in most strikes landed (2,591), most significant ground strikes (461) and most takedowns (90).
He avenged his only two losses, beating Hughes twice and Matt Serra once.
St-Pierre helped make MMA history in Canada, attracting a then-MMA world record crowd of 55,724 to Rogers Centre for UFC 129 in April 2011 when he beat Jake Shields.
The championship belt St-Pierre defended against Penn at UFC 94 remains on display in the Canadian Museum of History.
During his career, St-Pierre survived knee surgeries and other injuries as well as unproven accusations of cheating (steroids, according to Nick Diaz, and greasing up with Vaseline according to Penn). White questioned his mental strength after he lost his first title defence to Serra.
Through it all, St-Pierre kept retooling and winning.
St-Pierre made a career out of taking away his opponent’s advantages. It made for methodical, if not always pretty wins. Of his nine welterweight title defences, eight were by decision.
At UFC 87 in August 2008, St-Pierre was successful on seven of nine takedown attempts against Jon Fitch, an accomplished former Purdue wrestler. Afterwards, Fitch looked like he had been in a car crash, blood trickling down his face like tears.
St-Pierre dominated Penn, then the lightweight title-holder, in a champion-versus-champion showdown at UFC 94 in January 2009.
St-Pierre won the 170-pound title at UFC 65 in Sacramento in November 2006, stopping Hughes in the second round. Two years earlier at UFC 50, the Canadian had been submitted by Hughes with one second remaining in the first round.
St-Pierre, who admitted later he was in awe fighting his idol the first time they met, joined Carlos Newton as the only Canadian to ever hold a UFC title.
There were bumps along the way. St-Pierre’s first reign as champion lasted less than five months as he lost his first title defence, staggered by a Serra blow to the head in a shock upset at UFC 69 in April 2007.
St-Pierre’s training for the fight had been disastrous. His father was seriously ill and a cousin was in a coma after a car accident. There were other family issues. Injuries cut into his preparation.
St-Pierre changed managers, training and put his career back on track.
On the advice of sports psychologist Brian Cain, he looked to rid himself of the mental albatross of his title defeat by scrawling Serra’s name onto a brick and hurling it into the icy waters off Montreal’s South Shore.
He dominated Serra in winning back his title at UFC 83 in Montreal in April 2008. He never lost again.
St-Pierre comes from humble beginnings on the South Shore. His father spent more than 60 hours a week on a floor-recovering business, installing carpet and ceramics. His mother nursed the elderly.
He took up karate as a kid but chose mixed martial arts over hockey — because his family couldn’t afford both — after watching Gracie in the early days of the UFC.
While going to school and training in MMA, he held down three jobs — as a bouncer at the Fuzzy Brossard nightclub, working at a floor recovery store and working for the government teaching activities to delinquent kids. To this day, he remains proud that he earned his floor-recovering certificate.
St-Pierre won his first fight as a pro in January 2002, defeating Ivan Menjivar. Four more wins and he was in the UFC.