Learn to love St-Pierre, takedowns and all

Georges St-Pierre beat Nick Diaz just about every way the rules of mixed martial arts would allow at UFC 158.

En route to arguably the most complete performance of his career, St-Pierre stalled Diaz’s vaunted boxing with sharp counters and slick movement, tortured him with relentless takedowns and rendered his black belt-level Brazilian jiu-jitsu all but nonexistent. It was yet another in a long line of blowouts from the 31-year-old welterweight champion, and it was so lopsided that it plummeted members of the Diaz camp into fits of paranoia, claiming there had to be spies in their midst.

Because, yeah, that was the problem.

The victory pushed St-Pierre to 24-2 overall, marked his 20th appearance inside the Octagon and extended his five-and-a-half-year win streak to 11 fights. It also further underscored the notion that he’s solved the grueling, complex riddle that is MMA competition as well as anyone in the sport’s short history.

The overwhelming response from the masses? At best, an indifferent shrug. At worst, well, let’s just say St-Pierre’s sixth consecutive unanimous decision win -- a stretch during which he's lost just three of 30 rounds on the official scorecards -- only provided more ammunition for critics who say he’s grown overly conservative. Tedious, even.

“GSP couldn’t submit a girl,” one reader on ESPN.com commented roughly 24 hours after UFC 158 wrapped.

“Wrestlers are ruining the marketability of this sport,” lamented another later in the week.

And another: “The Ultimate FIGHTING Championship should change its name to The Ultimate WRESTLING Championship if it is going to continue to show this garbage.”

Sound familiar? Responses like this are certainly not a new phenomenon. Seemingly every time St-Pierre makes another of the best 170-pound fighters in the world look downright helpless for 25 straight minutes and then walks out with a new notch on his championship belt, we hear the same refrain.

Bo-ring! Bo-ring!

It’s difficult to think of another figure in any sport who has been as dominant for as long as St-Pierre and still so often has his tactics lambasted in the court of public opinion. It’d be a little like basketball fans of the 1950 and '60s constantly ragging on Wilt Chamberlain for shooting so many layups. Or college football fans threatening to give up on the sport if Bear Bryant didn’t stop winning national championships running the option.

Of course, we’re all entitled to our opinions, and people who shell out $50-plus for UFC pay-per-view events ought to have their voices heard. Still, too often the bellyaching distracts us from the larger truth: We may never again see a fighter dominate the landscape of the welterweight division with the same ease, poise or grace.

Now that he’s pushing into his 30s, on the heels of major knee surgery and with a brand new crop of contenders breathing down his neck, perhaps it’s time we started showing GSP a little love. You know, lest one day we wake up and realize we didn’t know what we had until he was gone.

If you come to MMA looking for blood and guts, St-Pierre’s style may leave you unmoved, but you have no choice but to recognize its effectiveness. On the other hand, if you like skill, determination and strategy, you can’t help but feel a little awed. Contrary to what his detractors might say, it’s a style that embodies the very qualities that make this sport great: The diverse, nuanced action, the need for constant evolution and the idea that mental acuity is as important as physical force (also, that having both doesn’t hurt).

Later this year, when he defends his title for the ninth time against the dangerous Johny Hendricks, the American will likely be the fashionable pick to bring St-Pierre’s historic run to a screeching halt. Some people will no doubt cheer that, if it comes to pass. Please excuse the rest of us if we pull on our “Karate Kid” headbands and perform a few silent crane kicks to mourn the end of an era.

Until then, my advice to the haters? Get on the bandwagon. Drink the Kool-Aid. Learn to like St-Pierre while we still have him. Who knows, someday you might just miss him.