Nice guys finish last.
You hear it constantly. Any jerk you run into on the street will tell you they’re that way because nice guys finish last. It’s become a mantra for anyone a little rough around the edges, a way that they can justify rubbing people the wrong way.
For a long time, it was hard to argue. Look anywhere, from the front office of a Fortune 500 corporation to the management of the McDonald’s around the corner, and chances are that the guy at the top of the heap is a bit of a jerk. Regardless of the context, the guy who isn’t there to make friends is the guy getting ahead.
Then, along came Georges St-Pierre.
Polite, courteous, friendly, willing to give his time to fans and media. When he won the UFC welterweight championship the promotion was almost doing celebratory back flips right alongside him in the cage.
They had their poster boy.
And, over time, St-Pierre helped to remove the stigma that was associated with martial artists who enter a cage to display their talents. This little French Canadian, so kind and mild-mannered, was far more athlete than warrior, and people took notice.
They began to realize that MMA is more sport than spectacle.
Even mainstream companies like Under Armour and Gatorade took notice, and St-Pierre became the face of brands advertising from Times Square to Tokyo.
However it seems as though this momentum—unbeaten in five years, acting as an ambassador for the sport, becoming the biggest star in Canada—has caused people to rethink St-Pierre as a champion.
He’s regularly criticized for being boring, fighting not to lose, and being far too nice for a sport that is still, at its core, about hurting people.
Funny how times change.
Upon his suffering a knee injury prior to UFC 143, people were nearly jumping for joy that GSP would be replaced by Carlos Condit in a fight with Nick Diaz.
The idea of two known killers going toe-to-toe was too much for fans to pass up, far more interesting than the same guy winning the same style of fight in the same boring fashion.
It’s a combination of fascinating and unfortunate for a champion who has given so much to the sport and the promotion.
St-Pierre rose to prominence with a thrashing of Jason “Mayhem” Miller at UFC 52, the same night that Randy Couture and Chuck Liddell completed the landmark first season of The Ultimate Fighter.
From there he went 9-1, became a pound-for-pound great, and may now be the greatest 170-pound champion in UFC history.
But people are tired of him. People have seen enough of his smiles, his jabs and double legs and his claims he’s trying to finish fights even when he’s not.
The fact of the matter is that you can only be the nice guy for so long. You can only get away with a squeaky-clean image and a boatload of endorsement money before people start to look elsewhere for entertainment.
The likes of Condit and Diaz certainly don’t have the mainstream appeal of St-Pierre—few in MMA, if any, do—but fans who tune in regularly would rather watch those guys fight any day of the week. They’d rather see them with the title too, if for no other reason than to see someone different holding the gold.
The most praise St-Pierre has gotten since he beat Matt Serra came when he said he’d vacate his title to fight Diaz because he has such a strong dislike for the man. It showed that GSP is human, that under the manicured, managed image is a guy who doesn’t like to be pushed or taunted any more than anyone else does.
Was the favourable response because people were happy he’d possibly vacate the title, or because people liked that he was showing some edge? Does it matter?
The reality is that GSP needs a little more of this, and a little less nice guy. The endorsements and video games covers will still be there if he tells a controversial truth from time to time. He’ll even secure more fans in the process.
Until he realizes that though, he’s always going be the man holding the gold while someone else is the people’s champion.