18 November 2012. UFC 154 in Montreal. Reigning and defending UFC Welterweight Champion George “Rush” St-Pierre (nicknamed GSP) was coming out of a year-long layoff to face former and interim Welterweight Champion, Carlos Condit. TheNatural Born Killer had a 28-5-0 record and had not been submitted since 2006. He was going into the fight ranked second in the world. GSP, meanwhile, was unranked and had not fought since April 30 of the previous year due to a knee injury.
GSP’s return was eagerly awaited by fight fans everywhere. Condit was at the top of his game but somehow, Rush was still the heavy odds favorite. The fight was on to unify the UFC Welterweight Championship and finally lay to rest who the world’s best 170-pound fighter is.
The question on everyone’s mind: “Is GSP still the same fighter he was before the dreaded torn ACL?”
The first round saw GSP pushing early. An elbow to Condit’s forehead had the American bloody at the end of the round. Everyone was at the edge of their seats when a third-round head kick caught and floored St-Pierre. But the Quebecois persevered, delivering strike after strike and defending multiple submission attempts.
After five hard-fought rounds, St-Pierre snatched the victory via unanimous decision (49-46, 50-45, 50-45). The match was given Fight of the Night honors and went down as one of the greatest fights in UFC history.
“The truth is that I didn’t start as a winner. When I was a kid, I was just another reject. I started at the bottom. I think all winners do.”
Georges St-Pierre is quite possibly the best welterweight fighter the world has seen. He helped put both UFC and MMA on the map. But he wasn’t always at the top of the world.
As a child, St-Pierre was bullied relentlessly. He would get his clothes and money stolen in school. At one point, he had his head slammed against a table for refusing to give up his $5. Learning martial arts, more than anything else, was a way to defend himself against his bully. He started by studying Kyokushin Karate at 7 years old. By the time he was 12, he was already a 2nd dan black belt. He would eventually go on to learn wrestling, Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, Muay Thai and boxing.
As an adult, St-Pierre worked in Montreal nightclubs as a bouncer. It was a way to make ends meet. It was only after finding success as a professional fighter that he chose to leave the job behind. Testament to his good guy persona, St-Pierre gave two weeks’ notice like any regular joe. “I told my boss I cannot continue that job because now I do seminars and I have enough money to live.”
“My strategy is simple. I fight at what I’m good at.”
St-Pierre’s first professional fight was at the age of 20 via UCC 7. The event, dubbed “Bad Boyz”, was his welterweight debut and pitted him against Ivan Menjivar. GSP won by TKO. He would go on to win his next 6 fights.
It wasn’t until 2 years later that he was handed his first professional loss at the hands of future UFC Hall of Famer Matt Hughes. But it was not enough to stop him. Proof of his meticulous nature, St-Pierre trained harder and avenged the loss, twice. The first of those wins handed him the UFC Welterweight Championship belt and Knockout of the Night.
After the loss to Hughes, St-Pierre will go on another 6-win streak before losing both the fight and the belt, ironically, to another Matt. Matt Serra handed GSP the second and last loss of his professional career. One year later, he took the title back.
In all regards, GSP was unstoppable. Until he wasn’t.
“Fall down 7 times, stand up 8″
St-Pierre sustained a lot of injuries in the Octagon. Amazingly though, his first hiatus from the sport did not come from an in-fight injury, but a freak incident while training.
The torn anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) was the result of a wrestling takedown. Coupled with a small tear to his internal meniscus, it effectively sidelined him for 10 months and forced him to pass on the initial scheduled fight with Condit.
This was just one of many other injuries GSP will endure in more than a decade of fighting. But the champ believed that it was just the most severe of “a string of minor setbacks”.
“I’m going to be back — stronger than ever,” St-Pierre promised.
“Training to become (a) champion is the toughest thing. The fight itself is just a test.”
St-Pierre is known for being meticulous and training hard. He made a point to find better athletes than him to work with. “When you train with people who are better than you, it keeps challenging you. By challenging me it makes me better.”
GSP’s training regimen was grueling. Even when he didn’t have a fight, he would train six days per week. He’d have two training sessions per day. When he had a fight coming up, he’d train even more. He’d mix MMA with sprints and strength conditioning.
The four workout tips he was always keen on imparting were:
1) Do a heavy standing push press.
St-Pierre noted that doing relatively heavy standing push presses means you reach failure between 5-8 reps. Why is this important?
Progressive overload forces the body to adapt to tension beyond what it was used to. For the body to improve, one must go for the optimal exercise selection, intensity and volume. A standing push press overloads the body much faster in training and is quite helpful for more efficient movement, especially during competition.
2) Use a weighted vest.
St-Pierre is a big advocate for using weighted vests or dumbbells to increase resistance. Whether one is doing bodyweight squats, lunges or jump squats, he recommends having a vest on and taking it off before doing another set.
3) Practice and repeat.
Even post-UFC career, he keeps reiterating the importance of practice and repetition.
4) Rest and recover.
Full recovery and lots of sleep is another big part of the GSP mantra. Here, Rush is not wrong.
The human body needs a break as even the most seasoned of athletes cannot go on six straight heavy training days without tiring. Some of the best ways to recover fully from intense training sessions include:
GSP considers it “critical” to his fight prep. It’s also important in improving recovery abilities. He made adjustments to his diet to gain lean muscle tissue and credited his nutrition team for the upgraded speed and power his bulked up 195-pound body gave him.
· Get a massage.
Massage is enjoyed by many athletes, not just MMA fighters. A quick quarter-hour session benefits the body in many ways. And if you don’t have the time to go out for a spa session, then do a GSP and invest in a massage gun.
Massage guns are sports recovery devices that utilize percussive therapy to help get rid of sore muscles. HYDRAGUN, for one, can help you recover faster from the comfort of your own home.
“I’m afraid to fail, I’m afraid to be humiliated in front of everybody; but what happens, I act like it’s impossible for me to fail and that my victory is a certainty.”
St-Pierre vowed to come back stronger than ever, and he certainly did so with much aplomb.
GSP won many accolades in the course of a 12-year professional fighting career, including:
· Most Title Defenses (UFC Welterweight Division) – 9
· Fourth fighter in UFC history to win multiple division titles
· Rogers Sportsnet Canadian Athlete of the Year (2008-2010)
· Black Belt Magazine MMA Fighter of the Year (2008)
· Sports Illustrated Fighter of the Year (2009)
· World MMA Awards Fighter of the Year (2009)
On 22 February 2019, St-Pierre announced his retirement from MMA. While he acknowledged that he felt like he was in the best shape of his life mentally and physically, he noted that he had always planned to retire once he was at the top and still in good health.
Is GSP the most dominant welterweight fighter in history? He very well could be. And in 2020, he was honored with an induction to the UFC Hall of Fame.
St-Pierre was once quoted to say “… the goal is to avoid mediocrity by being prepared to try something and either failing miserably or triumphing grandly.” Triumphed grandly he did. Georges St-Pierre will forever hold a place in the esteemed halls of professional fighting. And rightly so.