Georges St. Pierre and Manny Pacquiao: The People’s Champions

In the course of one week the welterweight kings of mixed martial arts and boxing will both be in action, with Georges St. Pierre facing Jake Shields on April 30th while Manny Pacquiao defends against Shane Mosley seven days later on May 7th.  Both are heavy favorites in the eyes of fans, commentators and the betting lines with St. Pierre at -450 and Pacquiao at -600.

And it’s not just the widespread assumption of their victory that the two have in common. Indeed in many ways they are mirror images of each other; Georges St. Pierre is the Manny Pacquiao of MMA, while the Pac-Man is the GSP of boxing.

The similarities begin with their background. Both are natural outsiders in what are essentially bi-polar sports. In the same why that the Philippines lays outside the North America-Western European axis of boxing, Georges St. Pierre was a trailblazer for Canadians in a UFC that has been traditionally dominated by Americans and Brazilians. Both were drawn away from their countries of origin by the power of the American dollar, which despite the repeated predictions of combat sports becoming a truly global game continues to dominant the business of fighting whether inside the cage or the ring. Pacquiao has not fought outside of the US since 2006 while fifteen of St. Pierre’s seventeen UFC fights have taken place on American soil.

Luckily this pair of atypical foreigners both connected with US fans better than even homegrown fighters; whereas typically non-Americans can expect to be taunted by fans with ‘USA’ chants St. Pierre and Pacquiao are firm fan favorites. This is in part due to the way they avoid the aggressive and confrontational ways of many American stars. Talking to Joe Rogan, Freddie Roach directly compared this aspect of the two fighters’ personalities. “[Georges St. Pierre is] very much like Manny Pacquiao….He’s not a trash talker, he’s a gentleman”.

Indeed despite taking on American opponent in their next fight, the vast majority of American fans will be cheering them on to victory alongside Canadians and Pilipinos. Not only that but both are crossover stars like their sport has rarely seen before with St. Pierre attracting the endorsement deals and magazine profiles previously unthinkable for a participant in a sport still banned in New York State while Manny Pacquiao has made numerous forays into the worlds of film and music.

And such is there popularity that they have been able to return home in style. Georges St. Pierre has led a revolution in Canadian combat sports, leading the UFC to a dominant position ahead of boxers such as Lucian Bute and Jean Pascal and the traditional market leader, Vince McMahon’s World Wrestling Entertainment. The past two times he has fought in Canada the UFC has broken the North American attendance record for MMA and this Saturday he will do so again in front of 55,000 fans at the Rogers Center. The fight will also break the all-time gate record of a MMA event with the final figure being in excess of $10million dollars. The issues surrounding time zones and the lack of purchasing power of his native fans may prevent Pacquiao from doing the same but he has managed to successfully make the transition into the world of politics, being elected a congressman in the Philippines last year. And who knows, maybe his political ambitions will necessitate him bringing a country-pleasing fight home at some point?

Curiously however despite their global fanbases and mainstream popularity in America neither can credibly lay claim to being the number one draw on pay per view. In each sport a controversial American who knows how to push people’s buttons is better at getting people to part with their hard earned cash to purchase the latest pay per view. However with Brock Lesnar’s championship credentials in doubt after coming off a one-sided loss to Cain Velasquez and Floyd Mayweather seemingly being forced into a second premature retirement by multiple lawsuits, both St. Pierre and Pacquiao may be on the brink of becoming their sport’s top draw.

But away from the box office and the cheering fans, it’s perhaps the similarities between the two men as people that are most striking. Both are driven professionals who have not been spared the jarring experience of tasting defeat. And yet both came back the stronger after their losses, making the changes necessary for them to establish their current dominance. Unsurprisingly each has made use of the services of legendary boxing trainer Freddie Roach. While Roach has been Pacquiao’s head trainer for years, it was only recently that St. Pierre has started to work with the owner of the wild card gym.

As Roach has attested to in many interviews, Georges St. Pierre is like Manny Pacquiao a perfectionist, with both champions determined to push themselves further by expanding their knowledge of their sport and learning new techniques.

However for all the things they have common there are differences between the two, differences from which they can learn from each other. Whereas Manny Pacquiao is facing in Shane Mosley yet another faded aging superstar with a dubious recent record, Georges St. Pierre is taking on an unheralded but highly credentialed fighter in former EliteXC and Strikeforce Champion Jake Shields. Not only that but Shields is currently on a fifteen fight winning streak. St. Pierre vs. Shields is exactly the sort of ‘trade fight’ that Arum is diverting Pacquiao away from in favor of name opponents in his Top Rank stable. Pacquiao would do well to follow the example of St. Pierre and give the likes of Timothy Bradley their chance to prove themselves in the big leagues.

Georges St. Pierre on the other hand is facing growing calls from fight fans the world over for him to move up in weight and face the UFC Middleweight Champion. It had looked like the fight was as good as made back in February, with the one final obstacle being St. Pierre managing to overcome Shields. But since then Yushin Okami has been given a middleweight title shot in Brazil this August, while St. Pierre and Dana White are now downplaying the possibility of the Welterweight Champion moving up in weight. Indeed several reports have surfaced of St. Pierre having been convinced that he’s too small to make the jump up.

But before he dismisses the idea of testing himself at middleweight, St. Pierre should look to Pacquiao for inspiration. On the same night that St. Pierre first won the UFC Welterweight Title, Manny Pacquiao was defending his WBC Super-Featherweight Belt. Almost five years and twenty pounds later, Many Pacquiao has earned the admiration of people worldwide by repeatedly moving up in weight and beating men that were bigger and stronger than him. Only by winning world championships at multiple weights and proving himself capable of beating larger men can St. Pierre emulate Pacquiao’s in-ring accomplishments.

And he can do more than that. By moving up to 185Ibs he would be challenging his only rival as the Pound for Pound King in MMA, Middleweight Champion Anderson Silva. Just as boxing fans have been salivating at the thought of Manny Pacquiao vs. Floyd Mayweather, MMA fans have been loudly demanding that St. Pierre and Silva square off inside the ring. Defeating Silva would prove beyond all doubt that St. Pierre was the greatest UFC fighter of his era.

Georges St. Pierre has called Manny Pacquiao his ‘idol’. Only if he has the nerve and the ambition to challenge Anderson Silva for the Middleweight Title can he not just emulate Pacquiao’s moves through the weight classes but go one better by being one half of MMA’s version of the superfight boxing just cannot make.

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , ,