GSP: "I Fight Safe, And I'm Not Going To Hide It."
LOS ANGELES – Georges St-Pierre is grappling with UFC fans' expectations.
St-Pierre, one of MMA's most popular stars and a six-time UFC welterweight champion, said he's frustrated with the reaction to his most recent victory over Dan Hardy at UFC 111.
But the champion is more than willing to meet head-on the critics who say he plays it safe.
"That's true," St-Pierre (20-2 MMA, 15-2 UFC) told MMAjunkie.com (www.mmajunkie.com) on Monday evening as he honed his mat moves with jiu-jitsu coach Shawn Williams at a Renzo Gracie Academy school in the Mid-Wilshire district. "I fight safe, and I'm not going to hide it."
St-Pierre, 29, dominated Hardy over five rounds with an impressive display of wrestling that earned him a unanimous decision and fourth consecutive title defense. Former champion Matt Hughes holds the record for consecutive title defenses at welterweight with five.
St-Pierre nearly submitted the challenger on several occasions during the March 27 fight, which took place at Prudential Center in New Jersey. Although he pitched a shutout, the champion is "mad" with himself because he couldn't seal the deal.
"I had some great opportunities, and I made a stupid mistake, and I couldn't seal the deal," St-Pierre said.
But the champ also takes issue with fans who say he wrestles to avoid a real fight.
"I did add some great highlights that people don't even acknowledge," St-Pierre said. "At the end of the third round, for example, the best grappling highlight of my whole career was in (my fight with) Dan Hardy."
The highlight, he said, was when he took Hardy's back, transitioned to a legock and passed guard, all in quick succession.
"That was a beautiful display of jiu-jitsu," St-Pierre said. "People don't even know this because they don't have the knowledge to appreciate what happened. Some do, but a lot of people did not acknowledge what happened."
While St-Pierre is not the only fighter who's lamented an appreciation gap between casual and educated fans in MMA's current growth cycle, he is perhaps the most famous fighter to draw criticism for his style.
The champion has dominated his opponents since he reclaimed the title from Matt Serra at UFC 83, and he's mostly done so with superior skills on the mat. Many fans have wondered if St-Pierre – like the UFC's embattled middleweight champion, Anderson Silva – would benefit from moving up a weight class.
At the box office, St-Pierre is an unqualified draw. The promotion has raked in an estimated 3.9 million pay-per-view buys from the four cards on which he fought, according to industry sources, though the figures are not independently verified. St-Pierre is the only MMA fighter to be represented by Creative Artists Agency, a "big-three" entertainment management firm with an exclusive list of high-profile celebrities. The relationship recently landed him an ad campaign for Gatorade with other mainstream sports athletes.
St-Pierre said a recent calender in which he appears that was catered toward his female fans netted him "a year's worth" of "passive income."
Many have questioned, though, whether the French-Canadian fighter can maintain his fan base with grappling-heavy performances.
St-Pierre said he understands his duty to entertain but expressed dismay at the blame he took for the slow pace of the Hardy fight.
"I watched a fight the another day when (Ronaldo) 'Jacare' (Souza) fought Joey Villasenor," St-Pierre said. "The fight was on the floor almost the entire fight, and [Jacare] couldn't seal the deal, and Jacare is known as the best jiu-jitsu guy on the planet, almost. They don't blame him, but they blame me."
Always the optimist, St-Pierre said he uses criticism to turn in a better performance next time around. He refused, however, to change his style to accommodate fans who want to see him brawl.
"I'm fighting safe," St-Pierre admitted. "Every time I step into the octagon, my life is in jeopardy. For me, it's more important to not get hit than to hit the guy. I will never fight in a way [in which] I fight like I flip a coin.
"I never took risks. The only fight I took a risk was when I fought Matt Serra, and I went in a stupid exchange, and it was not smart. I got caught; Serra beat me fair and square, and he deserved the victory that night. But it taught me a good lesson, and I don't want it to happen again."
St-Pierre said playing it safe also applies to his stand-up skills in a fight.
"When I'm standing up, I hit the guy, (and) I pick my angle, and I'm smart," he said. "I'm not afraid to say it: I'm not a brawler, and I'm not a coward. I'm not going to trade punch one-for-one with a guy. I'm going to hit the guy and not get hit. That's a smart way to fight."
The champion said he's seen many examples of fighters who don't fight smart and have paid the price.
"I'm not going to give names, but if I would tell you names, you would know who's a brawler (and) who's not and who now has a problem with his career because he got hit too much," St-Pierre said. "They can't take a punch anymore."
Next up for St-Pierre is a fifth title defense against Josh Koscheck, whom he defeated nearly three years ago by unanimous decision. The two will soon head to Las Vegas to coach opposing teams on "The Ultimate Fighter 12."
St-Pierre said he wants to knock the fuzzy-haired fighter "out cold," but he won't do so at the expense of his smarts.
"I don't fight like an idiot," St-Pierre said. "That's what defines me. I'm (not the) champion because I'm the strongest guy in the division. It's not because I'm the fastest guy. I'm not the best grappler. I'm not the best striker. I'm not the best wrestler. But why I'm champion is because I fight smart every single fight.
"It's like F-1; you need a good driver and a good car. If you have a very good driver but a bad driver, you're not going to win the race. If you have a very good driver and a bad car, you're not going to win, either. So I have a good car and a good driver, which is even more important."
"Be of good comfort, Master Ridley, and play the man! We shall this day light such a candle, by God's grace, in England, as I trust shall never be put out."
--Hugh Latimer, October 16, 1555