UFC: Will Georges St. Pierre's Legacy Be Tarnished by Low-Risk Approach?

Sports WriterCorrespondent IMay 5, 2011

NEW YORK - MARCH 24:  Georges St-Pierre of Montreal, Quebec, Canada speaks at a press conference for UFC 111 at Radio City Music Hall on March 24, 2010 in New York City.  St-Pierre will face Dan Hardy of Nottingham UK in the Welterweight title bout. (Photo by Jeff Zelevansky/Getty Images)
Jeff Zelevansky/Getty Images

After a couple of lacklustre decision wins harmed Anderson Silva's reputation and back to back losses saw Fedor Emelianenko plummet down the rankings, there is one name at the top of almost everyone's pound-for-pound list.

That man is Canadian mixed martial artist Georges St-Pierre, but while he made the seventh successful defence of his welterweight title against Jack Shields at UFC 129, the performance raised more questions than answers.

In the build-up to the fight the talk was of whether Shields would be able to utilize his superior ground game against St-Pierre. The answer was an emphatic "no," the challenger was totally unable to execute his game plan yet never looked like getting stopped by the supposedly superior striker.

There were, of course, extenuating circumstances. St-Pierre was deprived of the vision in his left eye at some point in the third round and was forced to live with this not inconsiderable impediment for the remainder of the fight. He never looked like losing though, he seldom does, the problem for an increasing number of fight fans is his inability to finish fights against patently inferior opposition.

It is difficult to escape the suspicion that, were St-Pierre to throw caution to the wind in search of a fan-friendly KO, more often than not he would be successful. Doubtless master tactician and trainer Greg Jackson would argue that, at an elite level of competition, risks of this nature are as likely to result in failure as reward.

Had the reigning welterweight champion decided to push the pace, he could probably have finished the fight long before the bell rang at the end of the fifth and final round. He would, however, have run the risk of offering his opponent an opportunity to take the fight to the floor, arguably the only place where Shields stood a chance of actually winning.

If the mark of a champion is measured only by the quantity of his successes than the low risk Jackson formulated strategy which is repeatedly employed by St-Pierre is clearly the right one. If, however, you subscribe to the notion that fighters have an obligation to entertain then it is easy to find fault with the tactics of arguably the most proficient exponent of mixed martial arts on the planet.

In most sports teams which entertain, such as Barcelona's current crop of footballers, are held in particularly high regard. However, first and foremost fans crave success and will accept it at any cost, regardless of which methods might have been used to acquire it.

Fighting is a little bit different. While the Rogers Centre in Toronto might have been packed with partisan Canadians who were all there to see their idol win, the UFC's audience is mainly made up of spectators who simply want to see a good show and are more concerned with the performances than the results. 

St-Pierre got the right result but he could not put in a performance to match. It was a similar story in his last three fights: Josh Koscheck, Dan Hardy and Thiago Alves were all dominated but in every instance the result was ultimately left in the hands of the judges.

Becoming a UFC champion is no easy task and remaining at the top of the sport for an extended period of time, as St Pierre has successfully done, is an achievement of epic proportions. He has won contest after contest in the Octagon but, due to a string of uninspiring one sided decision wins, he is gradually losing the battle for hearts and minds outside it. 

The UFC has created an environment in which winning is absolutely everything. A couple of losses is often more than enough for a fighter's contract to be unceremoniously cancelled and, at an elite level of MMA, the margins between success and failure are razor thin.

St Pierre is a winner, there is no doubt about that but he is not, at present, an entertainer. He certainly has it in his arsenal to finish fights in spectacular fashion but, for whatever reason, he chooses not to attempt to do so.

The UFC's welterweight champion is determined to to go down in history as one of the sport's all time greats. The question is if results alone will be enough to secure St Pierre's legacy or whether it will be forever tarnished by the less than swashbuckling style with which he has achieved many of his wins.