UFC welterweight champion Georges St-Pierre (“GSP” as most MMA fans know him) hasn’t fought inside the Octagon since April 30, 2011, when he successfully defended his belt against Jake Shields at UFC 129. That’s a long time for the UFC to be without one of its biggest, and most likable, stars as he recovered from a knee injury that required surgery.
All that will change, however, when GSP steps into the Octagon on Nov. 17 against interim welterweight champion Carlos Condit at UFC 154 in Montreal. Fighting in his own backyard might just be the best test for the returning champ, who’s not only considered one of the best pound-for-pound fighters in the world, but is also a three-time ESPY Award nominee and Canadian Athlete of the Year.
GSP (22-2) recently spoke with Playbook about some of his favorite fighters, watching the Edmonton Oilers win the Stanley Cup, and the importance of fighting for himself.
Playbook: What’s the craziest thing one of your fans has ever done?
Wow. A lot of it is not rated “G” because it’s pretty crazy, but one I can say is when one fan said to me that he wanted me to hit him -- punch him -- and he was very dead serious about it. He kept bugging me that he wanted me to punch him because he wanted to know what it feels like. I didn’t do it because I didn’t want to get sued.
Did he say where he wanted you to punch him?
Yeah, right in the face.
What’s the craziest thing you’ve ever done to get close to someone that you were a fan of?
No, I never did that. (Laughs) I never did anything like this. I'm from the countryside, you know, and I never got to see any of my heroes unfortunately. I’m from a little town.
The first time I ever saw one of my heroes was the first time I fought in the UFC. In my locker room, I saw Mark Coleman. Mark Coleman and Kevin Randleman. For me, it was a big thing. But it was very intimidating because I couldn’t speak English at the time. I was fighting Karo Parisyan and, when they came in the locker room, they saw me and I was very intimidated. I went to shake their hands and say, “Hi, I’m Georges and I’m fighting.” They were very nice to me.
Did you feel a bit star-struck by them?
Yeah, of course. Mark Coleman won the Pride Grand Prix at the time and he was the man.
Now, you’re one of the best pound-for-pound fighters in the world. Are there any fighters who are fighting currently that you’re a fan of and that you just love to watch?
Oh yeah. Anderson Silva. Jose Aldo. Frankie Edgar. Jon Jones. All those guys; I really like them. I like [Rousimar] Palhares. He has a very aggressive submission style. Nick Diaz. Carlos Condit. I like him a lot too. Yeah, there are a lot of guys that I like.
You, David Loiseau and Patrick Cote kind of paved the way for Canadian MMA. What was it like kind of carrying an entire country on your back when you guys started?
I actually don’t feel like that. I do it for myself, you know? I don’t do it for my country. I do it for myself. Of course, I have fans coming from all over the place -- Canada, Japan, U.S. -- but I don’t do it for anyone else but myself and my fans. That’s how I see it.
One of the reasons why I never get intimidated, coming from a small town and fighting big guys from bigger places, is because I believe that if you want it you can do it, no matter where you’re from. We’re all human beings. We eat, sleep, and go to the bathroom. We all have the same needs. We’re all human and we all start with the same potential.
You mention that you grew up in a very small town in the country. Obviously hockey is huge in Canada, but were there any other sports that were big as well?
Hockey is No. 1 by far. In the USA, they have American football, baseball, basketball and hockey too. But in Canada, it’s all about hockey.
You weren’t a huge fan of hockey growing up, right?
I’m not a huge fan of hockey because I don’t watch it anymore, but when I was a kid I liked the Edmonton Oilers. When they won the Stanley Cup, I remember my father waking me up at night to watch the celebration and the last minute of the game. Back when Wayne Gretzky, Mark Messier and all those guys were playing together.
That must be a great memory.
Yeah, for me, Wayne Gretzky has always been a source of motivation. I idolized him and I always wanted to be like him.
In your past few fights, which have all gone to decision, there are some fans out there that have been more critical of you. They’ve said you don’t try to finish fights. How do you deal with those types of negative responses?
You know, the thing is, I’m a very proud person. And I do look at the critics. I look at the good comments and I look at the critics as well because it helps me to become a better martial artist. I see the critics, and I know what people think. I want to be more opportunistic and I’ve been working a lot on that. Hopefully it will help me for my next fight. I want to become more opportunistic and finish more fights.
It doesn’t mean that I want to fight “dumber,” or fight with less defense or more open. It means that I want to take advantage of more opportunities in the fight. That’s what I want to be.
In that same vein, I don’t think anyone’s ever seen you as emotionally invested in a fight as you were when you thought you were going to fight Nick Diaz. You mentioned before that you’re a huge fan of him as well. In a way, do you feel like that emotional response endeared you to a new set of fans? Do you think it gave them a new way to connect with you?
Well, I want to fight the best and right now the best is Carlos Condit. He beat Nick Diaz, and we’ll see what’s going to happen after. Right now, Carlos Condit is No. 1.
When you’re fighting in Canada, especially in front of your hometown fans, can you physically feel the support of the fans in the audience? A lot of fighters say they can’t hear the crowd when they’re in the zone, but can you feel it?
It feels good to fight at home, but it’s the same Octagon no matter where I fight. Whether it’s in Australia or Japan or the U.S., it’s the same Octagon, the same rules, the same everything. The only difference is the environment around it and I will hopefully hear the crowd on my side.
Other than in Canada, do you have a favorite place to fight?
I like to fight everywhere, but Las Vegas is very good too. It’s the center. People from everywhere go to Las Vegas. You have people from everywhere in Las Vegas. That’s why it’s so cool.
Do you prefer to meet the crazed, crying fan or the calm, composed fan?
It depends on my mood, but I like both. Sometimes I’m in the mood more for fun and I like the excited, crazy fan. Sometimes I’m in the mood for more relaxing and I like the calmer fan.
What do you think it is about your fans that makes them so dedicated?
I think the fans see that I am who I am and I don’t try to be someone else. I stick to who I am. I think they see me as authentic.
You’ve been in the martial arts game for years, but when you’ve decided to stop fighting, do you think you’ll go back to just being a martial arts fan or do you think you’ll stick around in coaching and being involved with MMA in other ways?
I have no idea. It’s a good question, but I have no idea what I’m going to do. Right now, I do what I do because I love it. I go time by time. I live in the present moment. Right now, I don’t know. I might stick around for coaching. Who knows? Right now, I’m just focused on Carlos Condit.