Beyond a simple instance of another famous athlete taking an obligatory turn at giving back the bare minimum to society, this campaign is much more than that for St. Pierre. If you’re a fan of martial arts, or a practitioner at any level, the story behind what drives GSP is fascinating.
If St. Pierre continues to dominate the way he has, we may well see a movie about the best welterweight of all time in the coming years. The story will no doubt delve deep into the early years, and the motivation that put GSP on the path to greatness.
The real interesting part of the story is what it says about the current state of MMA, a highly evolved animal in comparison to the early days of bar room brawling which accounted for much of the initial excitement surrounding the sport in the very early years.
The fact is, in the very earliest years (’93-’96), the UFC amounted to a savage exposition of street fighting imported to the cage. In many ways, this was awesome—awesome in the way that everyone loves a good hockey fight or a bench-clearing brawl in baseball.
But most fights were street brawlers matched with each other, or an often clueless "classical-minded" martial artist against a street brawler. The chess matches were few and far between, with Royce Gracie dominating for just this very reason: The Gracie family had been mastering the game of martial arts chess for going on 80 years by ’93.
Is GSP's methodical style too boring for today's MMA?
The rest of the "fight world" was a decade away from catching up. Truth be told, other than Royce, there were very mixed results for the classically-trained athletes as opposed to the brawlers.
Let’s be honest, the noted success of guys like Tank Abbott did nothing to solidify the value of the classical arts in the minds of the audience who clamored for more blood, more KOs and more submissions.
As with most things in life, it often takes time for the cream to rise to the top and for the "truth" to be exposed about any endeavor…ever more so for a nascent experiment like MMA. While the UFC has never taken a clear stance of promoting the value of the classical martial arts over the "street" mentality, the truth has revealed itself.
If you look at the current list of MMA champions and the routine pound-for-pound top 10, you will clearly see who has won the chess match. While an occasional "street-leaning" fighter can find success even today, you’d be hard-pressed to find one that lasts for long anywhere near the top. The days of domination by guys like Rampage (the early Rampage) truly are over.
It's also over even for relatively young fighters like Brett Rogers, whose early success was very "Abbott-esque." Both tough guys are treating MMA like the trend...MMA treated as a methodical classic art.
The truth about Rampage is that despite his numerous vulnerabilities, this “brawler” has remained relevant at the top for so long due to his unavoidable acceptance of the new reality—the formula for MMA champions in today’s game is to treat MMA as a classical art.
Look at the names at the top over the past five to seven years—and especially currently—and the point simply is not up for debate. The greats are/were all serious-minded about a single or multiple classic arts, and now each treats MMA as a new era of classical art in and of itself.
Look no further than Jon Jones to see this recipe as it is being formulated.
This brings us to GSP.
No fighter in the world exemplifies the kingship within MMA of the classical martial arts better than St. Pierre. Along with Anderson Silva, GSP is a theory come to life. The theory which has been postulated about fighting for at least 3,000 years is alive and breathing in these two fighters.
Specifically with regard to Georges, the story is almost cliché, a mythological, even biblical application of self-defense and defense of kin. Think David and Goliath. If you haven’t read the full description given by St. Pierre of his entrance into the fighting world, and how it stems from “real world application,” you can find it here.
It really does amount to a Hollywood script…GSP was the living, breathing Karate Kid. This may be too sweet and trite for many—especially those who are more interested in buckets of blood splashed around the cage as opposed to subtle positioning and chess moves by methodical fighters.
Georges' own experience is so powerful because it is the story of all of us; we’ve all been the victim of bullying at one time or another, and it's clear that 100 percent of all bullies are actually the result of bullying or abuse themselves.
There are those who have never been anything but a victim of bullying, and there are those who have fought back and essentially ended the harassment—even by losing. We’ve heard this story again and again, and to hear an extremely common experience (again, think Karate Kid) told through the eyes of one of the greatest combat athletes the world has ever seen is eye-opening.
What makes Georges' story unusual is the immediate manner in which he decided he had seen enough. It is quite remarkable that an 11-year-old GSP would reach the conclusion of moral outrage so quickly, and not solely in response to his own welfare.
In fact, to the contrary, when safety was just a jog away, a young GSP put himself directly in harm’s way for the sake of a principle, and for long-term benefit. Remarkable courage indeed, but it fits the pattern of GSP’s career quite nicely.
While the story of the young GSP is so familiar and inspiring to so many martial artists, the story played out again for GSP on his road to becoming champion. Anyone who watched Matt Hughes taking aim at Georges while coaching on an early serving of TUF saw the naked bullying tendencies of the former champ.
We saw it again with Georges vs. BJ Penn, and glaringly in the instance of GSP vs. Koscheck. In both cases, the bully was served a severe dose of reality, and bullying was exposed for what it is: a lot of posturing and intimidation coming from the weaker man.
St. Pierre ran over both the former champ and the No. 1 contender. Neither fight was close. What does this say about the classical arts mindset?
The question as it pertains to pro MMA is this: Who cares about all this?
Sadly, I think it’s true that the majority of today’s fans are largely a combination of ignorant and misguided about what’s lacking in the UFC, Strikeforce, etc., concerning the “martial arts.”
That is not to say that the fans don’t know what they are seeing. The audience has never been more educated about the skills involved in a professional bout on a high level. But many (albeit a minority) feel that attention is sorely lacking in regard to the role of the traditional martial arts. Judging by the top of virtually every division in every promotion, the traditional arts are alive and well (even critical) in building a champion.
Look no further than Anderson Silva.
For all the weirdness surrounding his relationship with Steven Segal, cut through the nonsense and see that underneath it all, Segal is quite legit. Most continue to write him off as pathetic comedy (much to his own doing). But listen closer to what the man says about MMA.
He is not the only martial artist to have identified the single greatest aspect of MMA, but he is the first significant voice I have heard say it clearly in a very long time: MMA is a martial arts proving ground.
This was essentially the idea behind UFC 1, so it is certainly not another Segal invention (a la the simple high front push kick). Segal quietly but emphatically endorsed MMA as the single greatest test (the ultimate test) for the effectiveness of any martial art or combination of arts.
Very wise insight indeed.
So why has this simple explanation for “why we fight” rarely been voiced in the modern pro game? There are so many reasons, but suffice it to say that a legendary fight along the lines of Royce Gracie vs. Sakuraba could never happen today.
If you’re a martial arts fan, this fight was a sort of Holy Grail. If you’re a recent convert to MMA, that fight probably means next to nothing to you.
How far has the sport moved (both good and bad) from the original intention of finding out what style is best, and into the realm of which style is best at making less-educated fans stand up at live events?
Perhaps the sport would be one tenth of what it is today were it not for the direction that Dana White and Zuffa have taken it. I’m not naive or begrudging their efforts. But the true martial artists (like GSP) underneath the UFC umbrella could use a bit more help from the brass in this regard, raising the esteem of the classic arts in the minds of the newer devotees.
The fact is that it may be the single most important factor in building a world champion in today’s MMA. It could also be the single biggest self-esteem boost for the young victims of bullying.
—Joe Wise, Guerrilla Fight