Georges St-Pierre is known as the G.O.A.T. For those unfamiliar with this little bit of web-parlance (you old bugger), it stands for the Greatest Of All Time. It’s a huge call to make about a fighter, and Georges St-Pierre (also called GSP or Rush), isn’t the kind of guy who would make it. There’s no McGregor-esque showboating with GSP. He has no need to lord his considerable record over you. The 2,204 consecutive days defending his title, the plethora of fighting publications that have ranked him as the greatest welterweight fighter of all time, the rare ability to not only fight across divisions but to be the best. He’s earned the right to call himself a bad motherf*cker, but during our interview, he’s genial, polite – friendly, even. Maybe it’s because, at 37 years of age, GSP is older than most champs, or maybe it’s his Kyokushin Karate training, a martial arts discipline that emphasises humility and discipline. Or maybe years of cage fighting in the UFC has taught him, when it comes to brass tax, hubris gets you nowhere.
My opportunity to speak with the Quebec native comes a few months after his return from a four-year hiatus from the Octagon, a decision he made partly because he was suffering from ulcerative colitis and partly due to dissatisfaction with the ways the UFC were dealing with drug cheats. During his time off, he indulged his other passion, which – and this is not one word of a lie – is palaeontology. Yes, the guy who is famous for beating other grown men to a bloody pulp in a cage is a huge dinosaur nerd.
It’s this multifaceted nature – his fierce combativeness in the ring, his geniality in person, his dedication to such a physical sport and his nerdy love of palaeontology – that make him such an intriguing person.
As a fighter, is he the greatest of all time? Impossible to tell. But he’s definitely one of the most interesting.
What was behind your decision to walk away from the UFC four years ago?
I had a lot of personal issues. The pressure of always being in the spotlight and being criticised – it really got to my head to the point it was driving me a little bit crazy. I was developing anxiety and so, for my own health – for my mental health – I needed to leave. Also, I had problems with the UFC and their drug testing policy. I knew a lot of people were cheating. It had been bothering me for a long time. I was carrying this with me for a long time, fighting and trying to perform and it was starting to affect my performance.
What inspired you to get back in the ring?
When I left, I never said I was retired, because I thought I wanted to come back if changes were made. Now there’s the USADA [U.S Anti-Doping Agency], the sport is cleaner. Also, I wanted to come back to do something special, to do something unique. Something that would be different than what I was doing in the past.
Fighting for the middleweight title was something that interested me. I always received a lot of criticism from the fans. They say that I don’t finish fights, that I fight surgically, I don’t take enough risks and I never went up a weight class. So, I wanted to shut up these three criticisms in one fight and that’s why I came back. I was very hungry for that fight. I came back and it was a good night for me.
I get the idea that you don’t like to be told that you can’t do something.
If someone says that you cannot do something, that’s when you need to do it. It’s a very rare achievement, so that’s why I wanted to do it. I did it for myself. A lot of people do it for other people, but me, I wanted to do it for myself, for my own legacy, for me to be able to know that I did it.
What does being a champ and having a belt mean to you?
You know the belt and name... it’s more of a symbol. To be honest with you, the more experienced I became, I realised that there is no strongest man in the world. This doesn’t exist. When you have a belt, most people for them, it means, “Oh, I’m the most bad-ass man in the world.” It’s not true. Maybe the baddest man in the world is sitting on his couch eating popcorn, you know what I mean, you’d never know. The more experienced you are, you realise what it means. Winning the belt just means that that particular night at that particular moment, you beat that guy. You were better than that guy. It doesn’t mean that you’re better than all the other guys. Or it doesn’t mean that that guy you beat that day won’t beat you another day.
So a lot of things changed as I matured. When you’re young, you want to be known as the “baddest man” and when you get older, you realise it’s just symbols. I wanted to do it for myself and to have the belt, it was a great achievement but for me, it doesn’t mean the same thing that it means for a lot of the people.
What do you say to those who argue MMA is too violent?
It’s very dangerous. When people say, “It’s a barbaric sport, I don’t like it, I don’t want to watch it”, they’re right. It’s a barbaric sport. Like boxing is a barbaric sport. Like American football is a barbaric sport. Rugby is a barbaric sport. But you know what, I love it. I do it and, I grew up on it. It’s just a different form of entertainment and people have different tastes for different things, so that’s what I do and I love it.
I think everybody secretly loves it. I had a girlfriend that said she hated it, but every time the fight started she’d be glued to the screen...
What I can tell you about this, and it’s a fact: Dana White said it once and I thought it was very clever. Say you’re at a football match or a rugby match, in the crowd, watching the game and a fight breaks out in the crowd. Everybody will stop watching the game and start watching the fight in the crowd. Because it’s part of our nature. It’s part of who we are. I can put anybody in a situation where he will have to fight. It can be my mom, who is the nicest human being, but I can put her in a situation that she would have to fight to defend herself or defend the people that she loves. Everybody can relate to that, that’s why it is so popular.
You were talking about the psychological pressures of fighting. How do you deal with that aspect of the sport?
There’s a very important aspect to fighting, and it applies to every sphere of life: sport, business, when you ask a girl on a date – it could be anything. In my sport, there are skills and also confidence. Some people have the skills, but they don’t have the confidence. It’s like having money in the bank without spending it.
Other athletes have the confidence but they don’t have the skills. It’s like a dream that can never be achieved. That’s what my trainer John Danaher says to me and it was very, very smart: “The key is to have the skills and the confidence.” That’s what makes a good athlete. You need both. For example, Michael Jordan. Michael Jordan started acting like a champion before he became a champion. LeBron James, same thing. Tiger Woods in golf, before, same thing. Every actor, Arnold Schwarzenegger, same thing. They have that kind of confidence. Confidence is sort of a mental game; confidence is not a state of mind, it’s a choice that you can work on.
I’m not always that confident before a fight, but I can work on it. I have tricks that I use to work on it and make myself confident so when I go into the fight, I pretend that I’m confident, even though I’m not, but I become confident with a trick that I have. And confidence is very important for a fighter, important for a businessman, important for everything you do in life because when you do something, you need to do it and have trust that when you do it, do it 100 per cent, no reservations.
Who would you rather fight Khabib Nurmagomedov or Connor McGregor?
I would like to fight the best and I don’t know who’s the best. I think Khabib has more chance to win [against McGregor], however, you never know. Like I said, it’s not the best fighter who wins the fight. It’s the fighter that will fight the best the night of the fight.
And ideally, to complete your legacy, who would you fight?
MMA is a sport in constant evolution. Someone could be good today and in six months, there’s going to be another guy who’s going to come out of nowhere, do something incredible and he will be the guy to beat. He will be hyped up as the best ever so we never know. Right now, I like Khabib, he’s incredible... he’s an amazing fighter. But Khabib needs to fight another contender at 155 to be known and crowned the undisputed guy.
You’ve been called ‘The Greatest of All Time’ and you’ve spoken about your true loves and what excites you and that’s women, dinosaurs and fighting. So I’ve got three questions: greatest woman of all time?
Greatest woman of all time, my god, it’s a hard question.
There’s one very beautiful woman, Cindy Crawford. She was pretty amazing. I remember she came into one of my fights and I saw her and lost focus for a second. I think she’s amazing.
Obviously, now we need to know the greatest dinosaur of all time.
The greatest for me is the Tyrannosaurus rex, who is probably the most popular of all. The best olfactory senses of all the dinosaurs in history. That means a T-rex could walk in a room full of people and be blind and would still find you. That way he could hunt – he didn’t need his eyes to hunt. That’s something that people don’t know. He was an amazing animal.
Last one: greatest fighter of all time?
Greatest fighter of all time is hard to say. Like I said, it doesn’t exist. We can just pile up the achievement of the athlete. And the sport constantly evolves. The fighters of today are better than the fighters of yesterday, and it goes like this. Someone can be good today but in 10 years there are going to be guys that are better. That’s what I believe – that records are meant to be broken.