Five Big Fights in Georges St. Pierre’s Career
In the days leading up to the long-awaited showdown between Canada’s Son, Georges St. Pierre and the Stockton Bad Boy, Nick Diaz, Inside Fights will be looking at various topics relevant to the players in UFC 158.
Today’s piece: The Five Biggest Fights in GSP’s Career (in chronological order)
1. Hughes vs. GSP II (Welterweight Title fight at UFC 65, 11/18/2006)
In their first meeting, GSP admitted he was in awe of fighting his idol and couldn’t even meet his eyes during the in-cage pre-fight staredown. The fight was competitive, but Hughes made quick work of St. Pierre and caught him with an armbar just before the end of the first round. That loss lit a fire under GSP, who then went on a tear to win five straight against a who’s who of welterweight guys that included Jason Miller, Frank Trigg, Sean Sherk and BJ Penn.
St. Pierre was a completely different fighter in their title fight rematch, “unimpressed” if you will, and blitzed Hughes with a variety of strikes in the first round, nearly finishing the fight. Hughes was literally saved by the bell, but GSP went right back to work in Round 2 and put Hughes down with a headkick to win the Welterweight championship. It was a special moment not only for Georges St. Pierre, but also for the UFC and fans of MMA. We saw a changing of the guard that night, when the belt went from one dominant, future hall of fame welterweight champion to someone destined to become the greatest welterweight mixed martial artist of all time. No one was sure just how great GSP could be the night he won the title, but it gave us a brief flash of what was to come.
2. Serra vs. GSP I (Welterweight Title fight at UFC 69, 4/7/2007)
How quickly fortunes can turn. GSP learned that lesson the hard way in his first title defense against heavy, heavy underdog Matt Serra. Serra was an 11-1 underdog for that fight and most people (probably including GSP as well) wrote him off as a loss before the fight even began. That turned out to be St. Pierre’s undoing, as Serra surprised everyone and caught him with a punch that GSP just couldn’t recover from. Serra eventually forced him to tap to strikes and that was the end of his brief title reign…for a time. Serra walked out of the Octagon with the strap, while St. Pierre was left to pick up the pieces.
How someone deals with adversity tells you a lot about that person’s character. Losing the title in your first defense to a guy no one thought had a chance in hell of winning certainly counts as adversity. As silly as it sounds, this upset needed to happen. If not Serra at UFC 69, you can bet it would have been someone else down the road, sooner rather than later. GSP constantly refers to this loss as a turning point for him. As he is so fond of saying, it’s hard to become a champion, but it’s even harder to stay champion. We learned from his loss to Hughes that Georges St. Pierre isn’t one to sit and mope. As a result of losing the title to Serra, a humbled St. Pierre changed his entire game plan and to the surprise of no one re-emerged stronger than ever.
Some say this loss has had a negative effect on GSP in the long run, making him so afraid to lose again that he won’t take risks to finish fights anymore. However much truth there is in that, it doesn’t change the fact that since losing in one of the biggest upsets in MMA history, GSP has gone on to dominate the Welterweight division as no one has before.
3. Serra vs. GSP II (Welterweight Title fight at UFC 83, 4/19/2008)
Before being able to rematch Serra, GSP had to fight Matt Hughes once again in their rubber match to determine the Interim Champion as Serra was on the mend from a back injury. GSP went on to catch Hughes in an armbar (ironically) and earned a shot at the champion Serra when he returned.
In the rematch with Serra, GSP had a chance at redemption: avenge his previous defeat against the man who took the title from him and reclaim the championship that was so briefly his. GSP had a chance to face down his demons and he delivered in a big way. Serra/GSP II was what everyone expected to happen in their first fight. St. Pierre was aggressive from the opening bell, taking Serra down at will and literally grinding him down with elbows and punches. The second round was more of the same and eventually Serra went into turtle-mode, forcing Yves Lavigne to stop the fight when St. Pierre continuously threw unanswered knees into the balled up Serra.
Serra vs. GSP II was an ultimate redemption moment for St. Pierre. He regained the title that he held for so short a time by soundly thumping the last man to beat him, proving the first fight was a fluke. This was the beginning of the GSP era; the win marked the start of his reign as the dominant champion we’ve come to know today.
4. Penn vs. GSP II (Welterweight Title fight at UFC 94, 1/31/09)
The first encounter between future Hall of Famers BJ Penn and Georges St. Pierre happened on the way to GSP’s first title shot. It was a controversial split decision in which Penn busted up GSP’s face until “Rush” flipped the switch and took over with his trademark wrestling and ground and pound. When was the last time you saw GSP on one knee when the decision was being announced, hoping against all hope that the third judge scored the fight for him? St. Pierre went on to win the fight, then he won, lost and won again the welterweight championship before an inevitable rematch with Penn, who was on a dominant streak himself as the Lightweight champion.
The status of each fighter at that time made Penn vs. GSP II a superfight, one of the few we’ve seen actually come to fruition. They were considered two of the best fighters on the planet, champion against champion. The smack talking prior to the fight was at a very personal level, with insults flying between the two and Penn famously stating he would fight “to the death”. The fight didn’t make it to the fifth round as Penn’s corner threw in the towel after the fourth. GSP put to rest all of the question marks from his first fight with The Prodigy. St. Pierre became a much more evolved fighter after regaining his belt, and Penn was dominated after the first round, both in the stand-up and on the ground. While the infamous greasegate controversy following the fight somewhat marred the victory, the end result as determined by the NSAC was that GSP did nothing against the rules. It was a fight that needed to happen at the time and as a result, GSP further solidified his pound-for-pound great status and was able to close the book on that chapter of his career.
5. The Return – GSP vs. Carlos Condit (Welterweight Title unification fight at UFC 154, 11/17/12)
How big was this fight for Georges St. Pierre’s legacy? GSP was set to fight the next guy in line (Nick Diaz before Condit ended up getting the shot) until he tore the ACL in his right knee. Up until that point he had been defeating all challengers handily, plus or minus a few rounds against a very game (and eye-poking) Jake Shields. His knee injury and recovery ended up putting him on the shelf for a total of 19 months. After a year and a half away from the cage, GSP returned to a different landscape where Carlos Condit was the Interim Welterweight champion looking to unify the belts. It was his first fight back from a potentially career ending injury and he was facing the most dangerous fighter he had ever faced. There were huge question marks about whether GSP could perform at the same level he was at before he got injured. He answered all of them.
People were on the edge of their seats when Yves Lavigne gave the green light for Round 1, but it didn’t take long to see the simple truth: GSP looked as good as ever. He displayed the signature explosive strength of GSP and repeatedly took down Condit almost at will, setting the tone for how the fight was going to play out. The message was clear. GSP was back. Then there was the big scare in Round 3 when Condit connected with the right side of GSP’s head. Time froze in Canada and it wouldn’t be an exaggeration to say the country held it’s breath. But the champion was able to recover and went on to smother Condit with his patented take-downs and ground and pound.
People were clamoring for an Anderson Silva superfight for some time now, but that wouldn’t even be on the horizon if GSP couldn’t return to the same form that made him one of the pound-for-pound best fighters of all time. In his performance against Condit, he answered all questions about his recovery and abilities post-surgery, as well as his heart and chin. All of that has led to this moment and GSP will still have the welterweight division in the palm of his hand when he meets heated rival Nick Diaz in Canada next week.