Building a legend isn't easy for GSP
In the afterglow of yet another defense of his welterweight championship, many in the MMA community are still smitten with Georges "Rush" St-Pierre. Nobody can deny that his fight streak is incredible, and questions are being regularly raised of whether or not there is anybody in the UFC in his current weight class that is capable of defeating him.
Make no mistake, GSP was on a tear since losing his belt to Matt Serra in 2007. In his first three fights after that loss, GSP tore through the octagon like a man on fire. In his first fight after that defeat, he used all three rounds to dismantle Josh Koschek, winning in a unanimous decision. The fight after that? He submitted the champion, Matt Hughes, in the second round to win the interim belt. Ultimately, he won the right to reface the man who beat him and took his belt, Matt Serra, with the fight ending in a second-round TKO at UFC 83 in 2008, to unify the belts.
In the years since then, he's successfully defended his belt against Jon Fitch, BJ Penn, Thiago Alves, Dan Hardy, Josh Koschek (again) and Jake Shields. In all those fights that span over three years, he's had exactly one that didn't go to a decision—his grudge match with BJ Penn, which wasn't so much a match as a reckoning as GSP was determined to show that his split-decision win over him at UFC 58 in 2006 was no fluke.
Six fights, five of which go to decision. Now obviously there's nothing wrong with that, and you certainly can't fault a guy for using the rules of the sport to his advantage. GSP has formed a style that involves lightly and quickly striking his opponents (if you look at the fight metrics, in some of these fights he's doubled or tripled the strikes landed) and using the opportunities created by it to take the fight to the mat and grind it out.
Many would call this "lay and pray," and while I bristle at the term (as it's often used by people who just want to see a slobberknocker and can't appreciate the nuance of a battle for position), I think it might be an appropriate label for GSP's fighting as of late. In that stretch, while he's been able to regularly get his opponent to the ground, the only fight in which he's had more than one submission attempt was against Dan Hardy, when he had six. I don't know what else to call that except "lay and pray:" Gain the upper hand on strikes and takedowns, and then, meticulously work to make sure that you keep those points on the judges scorecard.
Who is your pound for pound all-time greatest fighter?
However, give him credit, as he not only has retained his belt for years now but also has worked his weight class so thoroughly that now most spectators believe his only real challenge is in moving up a weight class to take on the elite fighters at 185.
My point with all of this, or question rather, is this: Can a fighter really be considered a pound-for-pound great if, over the last few years, he's either unwilling or unable to finish a fight without a judges decision?
If you list off any group of fighters you either currently have on your pound-for-pound greats list, or previously have in recent years, that list is likely to include guys like Jon Jones, Anderson Silva, BJ Penn or even Fedor Emelianenko. The one thing that all of those fighters have in common is that they try to finish fights. (I know that most fans will tell me that they can argue that point with Silva, but even Silva will drive to finish opponents when he's not trying to stick it to the fans.)
The only guy that is also regularly put into this group, yet whom I haven't listed, is Georges St-Pierre. Can you really consider a fighter one of the greatest, across weight classes, if he's unable or unwilling to finish fights?
I don't think you can. I think a fighter has to show a fire to win and a desire for greatness. With the growing number of GSP fights I watch, I'm starting to wonder if he's growing complacent with his belt. That's the only rational thinking I can surmise to help me understand why his fighting style has shifted from one of aggressiveness to one of playing it safe.
Make no mistake—GSP isn't fighting for his reputation anymore. He's got nothing left to prove in the UFC. Now he's fighting to carve out a legacy, and in order to build that legacy into one that says he's a pound-for-pound great, he absolutely must adjust his fighting paradigm to a more aggressive one that'll see him finish more fights in the time allotted and render the judges' point totals completely irrelevant.
Then, and only then, will he be considered an all-time great.