Is St. Pierre bigger than Gretzky?

Speaking to The Canadian Press in advance of Saturday's UFC 124 event, Dana White claimed that welterweight champion Georges St. Pierre was a bigger star worldwide than hockey great Wayne Gretzky.

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"This dude [St. Pierre] is a billion times more famous than any other athlete that's ever come out of Canada, including Wayne Gretzky," White said. "I like Wayne Gretzky. I was just with him, his wife and his kids a month ago over at one of the casinos here in Las Vegas. Super nice guy. Got nothing against him. [But] fly him over to England, fly him over to Asia, fly him to anywhere in Europe, [while] St. Pierre gets mobbed, nobody knows who the hell Wayne Gretzky is."

Flammable comments like this one make good copy, which is devoured by beat writers. Controversy is sports currency, and White is Warren Buffett in that regard. But it's not a debatable issue -- not because GSP is or isn't a bigger star, but because their situations have very little in common.

Gretzky is 11 years removed from a competitive career; St. Pierre is operating in the prime of his. Gretzky's popularity was fed by cable television; St. Pierre's career has been chronicled and distributed online. Gretzky was arguably the best in a major-franchise sport with an immense following in Canada; St. Pierre might be the best in a sport new to its mainstream acceptance. Their cases don't seem worth comparing.

So what about their respective eras? Beginning in the 1980s and through today, "Gretzky" is a popular catch-all reference for hockey skills, ironically or not -- much in the same way the idiot who can't find his car keys is a "Sherlock." He had his own cartoon show. Even my word processor's spell-check knew his name. Countries that do not host hockey still have a notion of his celebrity.

St. Pierre gets mobbed in Europe, but that might be some selective sampling: If he's traveling, it's probably to make a personal appearance, where the entire goal of his presence is to attract UFC fans. Does that necessarily mean his name means more to Europeans than Gretzky's?