In April of 2007, a tough Long Island underdog named Matt Serra stunned St-Pierre—and most MMA fans—with a barrage of unanswered strikes that forced the referee to stop the match 3:25 into the first round. Initially, GSP claimed that personal issues affected his focus going into the fight, but after the post-fight adrenaline had worn off he admitted that Serra was simply the better man that night. From then on, the Quebec native stopped making excuses and began making improvements.
“Georges obviously never wanted to lose again…So we both really focused on finding ways to win, and we started breaking down and analyzing fights,” says Firas Zahabi, a longtime friend and training partner who became GSP’s head coach after his loss to Matt Serra. “We started taking the preparation more seriously. We became much more calculated.”
It’s that devout preparedness that has earned St-Pierre a spot— maybe even the top spot—among the best fighters in the history of mixed martial arts.
At 32, GSP already has more than a decade’s worth of experience in MMA. Besides his trademark shaved head, the 5'10", 170 pound St-Pierre is identifable by his lean frame, circus-acrobat agility, and impressive strength. Heavy doses of gymnastics and Olympic weightlifting have kept him in a physical condition that would shame athletes in more traditional sports.
In Canada, GSP’s stardom has made MMA one of the country’s most watched sports, and, by extension, he’s indirectly increased national interest in other combat sports, like boxing and Muay Thai. His victories have also earned him the spoils of a champion. He has his own fitness app, and he’s appearing in Captain America: The Winter Soldier, due out in the spring of 2014.
Still, even after six years and nearly a dozen wins, what motivates George St-Pierre most is avoiding the bitter taste of defeat.
“You don’t want to lose,” says St-Pierre, who’s looking for his 12th straight victory since losing to Serra when he fights Johny Hendricks at UFC 167 in Las Vegas this month. “You don’t want to be humiliated. You fight to win, and at all costs.”
From the go, GSP has had the kind of fight presence and charisma that’s made him one of MMA’s marquee stars. Between his pro debut, in January of 2002, and his first loss to Matt Hughes, in October 2004, GSP had won six of his frst seven fights via TKO or submission.
“Some guys just have that thing...that ‘it’ factor...that thing you can’t put your fnger on. But they have that thing. That’s GSP,” says UFC President Dana White. “He has ‘it.’ He’s a huge pay-per-view star for us. The biggest pay-per-view star in the UFC right now.”