Georges St-Pierre was one of the most dominant fighters, and biggest stars, of what we consider to be UFC 2.0 — after the days of freakshow spectacles and one-night tournaments and into the Zuffa-owned era of regulation and growth. Along with the likes of Anderson Silva and Chuck Liddell, GSP helped turn the UFC from an underground attraction into a billion dollar legit enterprise.
Then in 2013, he abruptly walked away from the sport, while still the welterweight champion. He claimed he was burnt out from the grind, and worried about the lack of strict drug testing in the sport. He never claimed it was a “retirement” though, always leaving the door open for a return. In early 2017, GSP made headlines by announcing he was indeed going to finally return to the UFC. To celebrate his impending return, we took a look at some of his most famous and memorable moments.
It all had to start somewhere. After going 5-0 in local Quebec-based MMA promotions, GSP made the jump to the UFC in 2004 when he was just 23-years-old. Fighting under the bright lights of the Mandalay Bay Events Center in Las Vegas at UFC 46 was profoundly different than fighting in front of a couple hundred people at Montreal’s Verdun Auditorium.
The young Canadian made the most of his debut, though, winning an unanimous decision over Karo Parisyan. Ironically enough, the man who would turn into one of the biggest PPV draws in MMA history was buried on the preliminary UFC 46 undercard for his debut, so hardly anyone actually saw it. Two of GSP’s future welterweight foes, B.J. Penn and Matt Hughes, fought for the title in the co-main event on the same night.
Things were going smooth for GSP after his UFC debut. He followed up his victory over Parisyan with a TKO win over Jay Hieron at UFC 48. However, the UFC suddenly had a problem. B.J. Penn was the welterweight champ, but had just bolted from the company to sign a lucrative deal with K-1 in Japan. Without any better options, the company brought together former champ Matt Hughes and the up-and-coming St-Pierre to fight for the vacant title.
St-Pierre would later admit he wasn’t ready to fight Hughes, whom he considered one of his idols. If you look back at the footage, GSP was so intimidated that he couldn’t even look Hughes in the eye at the pre-fight faceoff. In a fight between two of the best wrestlers in UFC history, GSP made a stupid mistake in the dying seconds of round one and get caught in a vicious armbar. He tapped out with one second left on the clock, suffering the first major setback of his career.
First Title Win
St-Pierre would rebound from his first loss in fine fashion, rattling off another five wins in a row (including one in Montreal-based TKO Fighting). His fifth win was a controversial split decision victory over B.J. Penn (now back from K-1) to determine who would be next in line for a title shot against Matt Hughes.
At UFC 65, GSP got his second crack at the welterweight championship. This time, he made it count. Early in the second round, St-Pierre rocked Hughes with a head kick before finishing him off with a flurry of ground and pound. It was a real passing of the torch moment, as it signaled the end of Hughes’ dominance in the division and the beginning of the GSP era. Well, not quite.
Losing to Matt Serra
The GSP era was almost over just as quickly as it started. In GSP’s very first title defense, the Canadian was shocked by Matt Serra, a UFC journeyman who was just 9-4 at the time and a huge underdog with the Vegas sports books. Just a couple minutes into the fight, Serra connected with a pair of overhand rights that rocked the champ, followed by a vicious right-left combo that sent GSP to the floor. A bit of ground and pound later, and Serra had pulled off the miracle.
The loss would serve as an important reminder to GSP that no fighter is invincible, prompting him to train harder and be better prepared in the future. A rematch was only a matter of time.
Second Title Win
After losing the title, GSP beat Josh Koscheck at UFC 74 and then Matt Hughes in their trilogy bout, which was also for the interim welterweight belt (Serra was out with a back injury he suffered in training). When Serra was healthy again, a welterweight unification fight was set in GSP’s hometown of Montreal.
In front of a fired up Canadian crowd, GSP dominated the entire fight, scoring multiple takedowns and landing numerous strikes. After a series of brutal knees to Serra’s ribs, the ref stopped the fight in the second round and St-Pierre was again the champion. It was a title he would never officially lose.
Stopping B.J. Penn
St-Pierre was well on his way to becoming a legend at this point. There was, however, a small bit of unfinished business from the past to take care of. B.J. Penn wanted a chance to avenge a narrow split decision loss that GSP handed him at UFC 58. It’s not that Penn has never been stopped before, since Matt Hughes had beaten him via TKO. Rather, it was that many people felt like GSP wouldn’t be considered the true welterweight king until he had a decisive victory over Penn.
At UFC 94, in what was the UFC’s very first champion vs. champion fight, St-Pierre defended his title against Penn (who was the UFC lightweight champion at the time), and this time the judges would not be needed. The Canadian dished out a thorough beating, causing Penn’s corner to call off the fight after the fourth round, sending Penn back to 155-pounds for a while.
Cover Athlete for UFC Undisputed
In the middle of GSP’s impressive title reign, the UFC began to attract a lot more attention from the mainstream media. The sport slowly transformed its outdated reputation from being barbaric bare-knuckle bar fights to becoming recognized as a legitimate athletic competition. Part of that growth was a big budget video game made by THQ, who were perhaps most well-known at the time for their excellent pro wrestling games.
Forrest Griffin, the original Ultimate Fighter finalist, was on the regular cover. But the UFC decided that St-Pierre had so many fans in Canada that the THQ released a special Canadian version of the cover featuring GSP. The game was praised by critics and fans alike, kicking off a series of UFC sequel games.
Captain America Role
How do you follow up being on the cover of a successful video game? Land a role in the biggest action movie of the summer! Before Ronda Rousey was staring in the Fast and the Furious series, St-Pierre was cast in Captain America: The Winter Soldier, which is part of the mutli-billion dollar box office success that is the Marvel Cinematic Universe.
GSP wasn’t the star of the movie by any means, but his role as villain Georges Batroc aka The Leaper meant that he at least got to go toe-to-toe with Captain America himself (actor Chris Evans). Another notable moment for one of MMA’s first mainstream stars.
Three-Time Sportsnet Canadian Athlete of the Year
If you only know one thing about Canada, it’s probably that they love their hockey. So consider how amazing it is that Georges St-Pierre beat out hockey greats like Sidney Crosby (plus other elite Canadian athletes in other sports) to take home the Rogers Sportsnet Canadian Athlete of the Year for three straight years, spanning 2008-2010 (for anyone unaware, Rogers is the largest telecommunications company in Canada and owns Sportsnet, the largest networks of sports television and radio stations).
Incredibly, the pretentious old fogies who vote on the more prestigious Lou Marsh Award, given annually to Canada’s top athlete, didn’t give St-Pierre a single thought in those same years, instead awarding it Paralympic athlete Chantal Petitclerc in 2008, Crosby in 2009, and baseball player Joey Votto in 2010. Even as GSP’s championship reign continued into 2011, 2012, and 2013, St-Pierre has still never won the Lou Marsh award.
Nine Straight Title Defenses
We’ve mentioned it in passing already, but St-Pierre streak of successful title defenses will go down in history as one of the greatest UFC achievements ever. After April 8, 2008, when he unified the interim and undisputed welterweight titles with a win over Matt Serra, GSP wouldn’t lose again. Like, ever. He defended that belt nine more times, beating the likes of Jon Fitch, B.J. Penn, Thiago Alves, Dan Hardy, Josh Koscheck, Jake Shields, Carlos Condit, Nick Diaz, and Johny Hendricks along the day. Only MMA legend Anderson Silva has a longer streak of title defenses, with 10. If St-Pierre hadn’t walked away from the sport (and the championship) in 2013, you have to wonder how long the streak could have lasted.
His Eventual Return
After much back-and-forth over the terms of his contract and the status of his previous sponsorships existing in a world of official Reebok uniforms, Georges St-Pierre will officially return to the UFC sometime this summer. GSP and the UFC weighed a number of different options for his return fight, including an immediate shot at current welterweight champ Tyron Woodley. Instead, GSP will fight at middleweight for the first time in career, taking on trash-talking Brit (and surprise champ) Michael Bisping. Although not official, the fight is rumored to be scheduled for July 8. Can St-Pierre reclaim his former dominance? Or will this be another case of a once-feared fighter who should have stayed retired instead of embarrassing himself with an ill-advised comeback? We don’t know, but we can’t wait to find out.