TORONTO (CP) – Georges St. Pierre is on his way to becoming Canada’s first million-dollar mixed martial arts fighter.
On Friday the charismatic 170-pounder from Montreal was granted a second shot at UFC welterweight champion Matt Hughes.
There is no date yet for the title fight, but the St. Pierre camp expects it in early September. Las Vegas is the likely site.
Ultimate Fighting Championship president Dana White made the championship bout announcement Friday in a taped message during a Toronto appearance by the Montreal fighter and lightweights Mark Hominick and Sam Stout, who train out of London, Ont.
The title bout adds to St. Pierre’s status in the sport – and his bank account.
“He’s making serious money,” said Stephane Patry, St. Pierre’s manager and president of the Montreal-based TKO promotions company.
“(In 2005) he made close to $350,000. And if everything goes as planned, this year he’s going to make close to a million. He’s making a lot of money with his fights, and also a lot of money with his endorsements.
“It’s safe to say he’s going to be a millionaire.”
St. Pierre, 24, is already one of the UFC’s most popular fighters. He has a chiselled body and Hollywood good looks – think a young Jean-Claude Van Damme, albeit with a telltale hint of wrestler’s ear – with explosive weapons in the ring.
Fans love him. After taking down veteran Sean Sherk in UFC 56: Full Force in November 2005, St. Pierre got down on his knees in the Octagon and begged for another title shot.
He has celebrated victories in the ring by doing a backflip, breakdancing and pretending to strap on a championship belt.
Hughes, a hard-nosed champion with a penchant for playing head games, is the only blemish on the St. Pierre record, defeating the Canadian in UFC 50: The War of 04 in October 2004 in Atlantic City, N.J., in a bout for the vacant 170-pound title.
St. Pierre started well against Hughes in that fight, getting his attention with a spinning side kick to the gut. But St. Pierre went for a kimura hold late in the round and Hughes reversed it, catching him in an armbar. It was either tap out or have your arm broken. St. Hughes submitted with one second remaining in the first round.
The Canadian, known as Rush or GSP, says Hughes did not see the real St. Pierre that night.
“I will prove to everybody I’m better than him,” a smiling St. Pierre said Friday.
His manager was even more confident.
“Georges will beat him for sure,” Patry said. “You can bet your house, your car, anything you have. Georges will win that fight.”
While Patry is obviously biased, he is also a canny judge of talent. At UFC 58: USA vs. Canada in March, he correctly called an upset win by Hominick, a 5-1 underdog against veteran Yves Edwards.
St. Pierre raised his MMA record to 12-1-0 when he scored a split decision over former champion B.J. Penn in UFC 58 in Las Vegas. St. Pierre agreed to that fight, only if a title shot came with the contract.
But while he won the promise of a chance at the championship, St. Pierre knew he may have to wait. That changed Friday.
“To hear it from the (UFC) president is very exciting,” he said.
St. Pierre showed his heart against Penn, who had the best of the early going and quickly began work on altering his opponent’s good looks. But a bloodied St. Pierre rode out the storm and then began to impose his will on the Hawaiian, taking him down repeatedly.
St. Pierre sees his comeback against Penn as the answer to critics who said he was “mentally weak.”
Still, the Canadian paid a price for the Penn win, leaving the ring with his shaved head pebbled with welts and abrasions and his nose swollen. The good news was nothing was broken.
He took a week off in Mexico after the fight – “I swam with dolphins” – and then resumed training.
Penn is a common foe for St. Pierre and Hughes.
Hughes, whose record is 40-4-0, lost his welterweight title to Penn in UFC 46: Supernatural in January 2004. He won it back after Penn was stripped of the championship belt in a dispute with the UFC.
Hughes, 32, is slated to meet UFC legend Royce Gracie in UFC 60: Hughes vs. Gracie in a non-title fight on May 27 in Los Angeles.
The champion is no stranger to fighting Canadians. He stopped Toronto’s Carlos Newton in both UFC 34: High Voltage in November 2001 (when he won the title for the first time) and UFC 38: Brawl at the Hall in July 2002.