Georges St-Pierre is the most famous athlete to ever come out of Canada.
UFC president Dana White took more than his fair share of criticism for that comment when the hockey gods of Canada reigned down the name of Wayne Gretzky after that phrase was uttered. Still, White stands by his proclamation about GSP and hopes Canada will get behind the athlete that’s been awarded Canadian Athlete of the Year 2 years in a row now.
“I never said anything about (Wayne) Gretzky, everybody keeps talking like I’m smashing Gretzky,” White commented. “I didn’t say anything about Gretzky. I said (GSP) is the most famous athlete to ever come out of Canada, and everybody’s like ‘what about Wayne Gretzky?’ and I said Wayne Gretzky too.”
White says it simply comes down to numbers, and the UFC is just available in more places and is liked by more people than hockey. St-Pierre is one of the faces of mixed martial arts on a worldwide scale, and that trumps anybody else.
“It’s a fact, we’re in half a billion homes worldwide, this guy’s a huge superstar. The PR guys were just telling me last night they had him call into the ESPN radio show in Albuquerque and the phones crashed, how many people were calling in to ask him questions and talk to him,” said White. “It’s a reality Canada, deal with it.”
St-Pierre has become not only the face of MMA worldwide, but one of the ambassadors of the sport. The Canadian fighter championed MMA’s sanctioning in the province of Ontario, going as far as meeting with the politicians there before the sport was officially legalized earlier this year.
Just this month, St-Pierre has been featured in two separate commercials for ESPN, and is also a spokesman for brands like Gatorade and Under Armour. His popularity just can’t be denied.
“He’s been a great champion, he’s a nice guy, he’s an incredible athlete, he represents the sport and the belt well. Be proud of him Canada,” stated White.
Usually a very soft spoken champion, St-Pierre grew up watching Gretzky do amazing things on the ice, but he does point out that on a worldwide scale MMA’s popularity is just too big to deny.
“Wayne Gretzky growing up he’s my idol, for me Wayne Gretzky he’s on top,” St-Pierre admitted. “For his sport, I believe Wayne Gretzky has done more for hockey than I’ve done in mixed martial arts. My goal is to reach that point, and maybe pass that point if I can one day in my life.
“If you talk about worldwide, the sport of mixed martial arts it’s true, it’s a fact, it’s actually more popular than ice hockey. Ice hockey it’s only in North America and some countries in Europe, and outside of that it’s not very popular. Mixed martial arts is worldwide.”
St-Pierre points out that there are different areas in Canada where his popularity soars and wanes, but nothing like the experiences he’s had overseas in some foreign countries.
“The place that is most popular where I’ve been it’s actually in Asia and the Philippines. That is completely insane, it’s crazy there,” St-Pierre said.
If St-Pierre is successful on Saturday night in Montreal, it seems almost a lock for the UFC’s welterweight champion to come home with yet another Canadian Athlete of the Year award in 2010, and many more to follow throughout his career.