Then he was labeled as the greatest welterweight champion of all time.
Now he’s considered one of the top pound-for-pound athletes in the sport.
For all the accolades heaped upon UFC welterweight champion Georges St-Pierre, the weight of those achievements also puts a tremendous amount of pressure on the Canadian to come out and perform to that level each and every time.
With that pressure also comes the spotlight, which shines brightly on St-Pierre before, during, and after every single fight he has. Everything St-Pierre does comes under scrutiny, some positively, some negatively, but he’s always under a watchful eye.
Following dominant, shutout wins over fighters like Thiago Alves and Dan Hardy, St-Pierre was criticized for not being a finisher. After a blistering performance that saw him stop former champion B.J. Penn, St-Pierre was called a cheater.
But through it all, St-Pierre keeps a smile on his face and understands that pressure is part of the job when you are a champion. It’s the pressure that has turned St-Pierre from a raw piece of coal into a flawless diamond.
“Pressure is always there,” St-Pierre said recently. “At the point where I am, I realize that every fight the pressure is always bigger. The sport is getting bigger fight after fight, so there’s more pressure, more people that are watching you.”
How St-Pierre stays focused is by looking at each and every fight like a science experiment. He takes out all the variables and focuses only on the constants. The things he can control.
Take for instance the upcoming fight with Jake Shields in the main event of UFC 129. St-Pierre is a big betting favorite and likely to have the majority of the 55,000 fans in attendance in his home country on his side.
Those are things that could serve as a distraction, so St-Pierre boils everything down to a very simple equation. It’s just him and Shields in a cage, two men fighting to see which one of them is superior.
“Let’s say I would fight Jake in a basement when nobody is watching, maybe the pressure would not have been that bad. Sometimes it’s having the people around and the entourage that makes it worse. But on the other side, I perform better when I’m under pressure,” St-Pierre stated.
Whether it’s fans, critics, journalists, or whoever with a watchful eye on St-Pierre as he stands in the Octagon, when the cage door closes, he still has to face the guy standing across from him ready to take him down, submit him, and walk out of Toronto with the UFC welterweight title.
“It’s the same Octagon, it’s the same rules, just a different appointment,” St-Pierre described. “And of course, this time the bar is already much higher. I’m fighting a much better guy and I welcome the challenge. I want to fight the best. I want to be the best.”
Being the best is something very important to the top welterweight in the sport. He’s said in numerous interviews over the years that he wants to leave a legacy behind where people talk about him as the greatest fighter of all time. With 16 wins in the UFC, five consecutive title defenses, and outside of Shields, literally running through an entire division, St-Pierre has already established himself in high regard when it comes to that distinction.
Still, to hear St-Pierre tell it, none of that matters with a fighter the caliber of Jake Shields standing in the Octagon across from him. He regards this fight as the most important of his career, and if he falls short in this one, St-Pierre looks at it like it was all for naught.
“I don’t want to be a paper champion,” St-Pierre said. “I want to be a real champion and to be a real champion I need to fight the best contender like Jake Shields.
“He’s a champion in many different organizations in many weight classes, something I’ve never done. I take this very seriously.”
St-Pierre will look to establish just how serious he is when he meets Shields in Toronto as the main event of UFC 129 this weekend.