There are a lot of people that believe George St. Pierre (GSP) is the best welterweight of all time. Matt Hughes is the other obvious candidate given his high rate of success in the UFC. So in comparing their accomplishments, can we currently consider GSP to be a better fighter than Hughes and, thus, the greatest of all time?
In considering the two fighters' win percentage, GSP has a 90 percent win rate, but he has still has under half the fights that Hughes has had. Hughes has over 50 fights and maintaining an 85 percent win average is pretty tough to do, especially when you've been out of your prime for a few years yet still fought at a competitive level.
With eight TKOs, six submissions and seven decision victories, GSP is certainly more balanced than Hughes, who has 12 TKOs, 20 submissions, 10 decision victories and 3 KOs. However, there's a difference: GSP is increasingly winning more of his fights the safe way, by decision, and GSP has no KOs on his record as opposed to Hughes' three KOs.
Many MMA fans know that GSP has already beaten Matt Hughes two out of three times. One could easily maintain that GSP is therefore the better fighter and be correct. But in determining the greatest welterweight of all time, this breaches on MMA math.
Many more factors are taken into consideration. GSP deserved those Hughes victories (perhaps aside from some complaints about his being extra slippery), and although he proved to be the better fighter between the two, a couple of things must be taken into consideration.
One, Hughes had already beaten GSP once, and by submission--no easy feat.
Two, Hughes was 33 the first time he lost to GSP compared to a 25 year old GSP.
Although bringing up age is like splitting hairs, this is elite competition between professional fighters, and a prime GSP versus a sub prime Hughes could easily make the difference between the fighters. Not an excuse for Hughes, but something to consider as the two did not fight in a vacuum and age very well could have been a factor.
While it's true that Hughes has experienced half of his losses in the last ten of his fights and that one of those losses was to GSP, Hughes was ending a 13 fight win streak after two losses which proceeded another fight streak of 18 wins. By the time he was GSP's age, Hughes had 34 wins with only three losses under his belt.
Granted that by the time he was 29, the majority of Hughes' fights were with organizations other than the UFC, he still became the UFC welterweight champ before he was 30 and had defended his title as much as GSP currently has. Again, though, this was after having won 34 fights in his career.
The case could be made that GSP has accomplished what Hughes did by the time he was also 29 while having the majority of his fights in the UFC, which is a higher quality of competition, but that's where the types of wins should be considered; namely, decisions.
As far as decisions go, Hughes has an overall win percentage of 22 while GSP has a decision win percentage of 35. Given that Hughes has 45 wins and GSP has 20 wins, the fact that GSP already has a higher decision rate over Hughes' is not a good indicator that GSP's wins will eventually hold as much weight as Hughes. Again, there is a big difference between beating someone by decision and actually finishing an opponent.
Hughes always goes for the finish. Lately, though, GSP hasn't been successful in finishing his opponents. Dan Hardy should have been a finish, but GSP was unable to secure a submission. GSP effectively neutralized Thiago Alves' gameplan, but failed to finish him off. The last person he finished was BJ Penn by TKO, but before that GSP won by decision against John Fitch and Josh Koscheck, with submission and TKO victories in between against Hughes and Serra.
Decision victories shouldn't necessarily work against GSP, but they shouldn't hold as much weight as finishes either. Frankly, Hughes has a higher finish percentage than GSP in comparison to their win statistics. The issue involved is trend, though. Whereas Hughes has finished eight of his last ten victories, GSP has only finished five of his last ten.
There is also the issue of title defenses. While Hughes has defended his title 7 times, GSP has defended it only four times. GSP has a few more high quality wins to go before growing beyond Hughes in that respect.
Not holding GSP's technical prowess against him by any means, but his success mainly lies in his successful fight strategies. Now with anomalies like his embarrassing fight against Hardy, where GSP perfectly executed his strategy yet couldn't finish the submission, there certainly seems to be work needed in the area of technique, and so many failures against such an inferior opponent should certainly hold weight.
The biggest issue with GSP is time. Concerning the issue of duration, Hughes is obviously the most dominant welterweight in MMA history. Thus in gauging who is the best welterweight of all time, let's make sure this is a matter of fighter capability and not a current comparison of Hughes, who is past his prime.
Although he has the potential to become the greatest welterweight in MMA history, GSP needs a lot more fights under his belt before proving it to the world. And remember, this is not about who could be whom in a current contest; it's about being the greatest welterweight of all time. Or more specifically, the greatest welterweight to date.
I say until GSP can finish his opponents more consistently, defend his title at least eight times and add a considerable amount of fights to his resume, Hughes still takes the gold for being the greatest welterweight of all time.