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A Critical Look at a Critical Look at GSP's Legacy
by Scott Newman (MMA)
Posted on April 5, 2010, 4:10 AM

Ah, the wonders of online “columnists”. I discovered this article by a writer named Bjorn Hansen this morning via a forum post from a fellow fan of Georges St-Pierre who was disgusted with this guy’s opinions. Normally I’d laugh it off but for some reason this one really hit a raw nerve. I don’t know how long Mr. Hansen has been watching or writing about MMA, but evidently he’s considered well-informed because he’s writing for a site like MMA Torch! Spare me. For those reading on the Oratory who remember the infamous ‘Justin Response’, you will enjoy this. Hansen’s column is in italics, my responses are underneath in regular font.

Georges “Rush” St. Pierre has often been mentioned as the prototype for future mixed martial artists. He can do it all. Whether he was karate kicking on his feet, or using his explosiveness to nail takedowns and submissions, it seemed his game knew no boundaries.

The UFC—whose initial name was “War-of-the-Worlds”—started off as a trial of singular styles in the early nineties. You could say that Royce Gracie (son of the Father of Brazilian Jiu Jitsu, Helio Gracie) represented martial artists before convergence took place.

Soon, it became evident that the fighter that was most able to blend a variety of styles would thrive best. Matt Hughes would signify the next level in the evolution; a dominant wrestler with high-level BJJ.

Yes, because Matt Hughes is really the greatest example of an “evolved” fighter. Firstly Hughes still doesn’t really resemble a “well-rounded” fighter even now because his stand-up is still relatively weak. And back when he first broke through as the top WW in the world – in 2001 – you could make a fair argument that his BJJ game wasn’t that great either and didn’t become great until around 2004-ish time. Until then? Matt was a big, powerful wrestler who could take you down and beat you up. And you couldn’t do anything about it. It worked.

Then comes GSP; Mixed Martial Artist 2.0. The progression seemed complete. The War of Worlds had transformed into Mixed Martial Arts, and it bore the chiseled face of GSP.

GSP emerged into the UFC in 2004 and didn’t really hit the elite level until 2005. So you’re saying he was the first “well-rounded” guy in the sport? In 2005? When Frank Shamrock had successfully blended everything together oh, about SEVEN years beforehand? Look, I understand that you’re clutching at straws because this whole article is a sham, but could you at least *try* to pretend that you’re a long-time fan who’s been watching pre-TUF, please?

UFC 111 forced me to revisit history. Just how “mixed” was GSP’s game? Dominant? Absolutely. Beautiful? Not even close.

I found his inability to close hard to watch. I was rooting for him, and appreciating the takedowns he performed so effortlessly. Yet, I felt like we were forced into watching a Jonas Brother trying to close on prom night; finishing isn’t everyone’s forte.

The question is, how can you excel at something you don’t do?

Quick look at GSP’s professional record tells us that he’s won twenty fights, of which thirteen have been finished. Oh, and that includes finishing BJ Penn, Sean Sherk, Frank Trigg and Matt Hughes twice. This is really a guy who doesn’t finish fights. For comparisons sake, Anderson Silva has nineteen finishes out of twenty-five wins, and Fedor Emelianenko has twenty-four finishes out of thirty-one wins. So yes, they do have a higher finishing percentage than GSP. But then you have to look at quality of opposition, and if you work out the statistics (I did this once and if you’re that desperate I’ll do it again – last time I did it was early 2009 and all three have fought since) GSP’s opponents when added together have a far superior cumulative record than the other two. In fact, GSP might be the only top-level mixed-martial-artist to never fight a guy who sports a losing record, period.

As GSP said during the press conference, he taps guys all the time at the gym. But causing a guy to submit when he’s carrying an island of patriotism in his heart requires perfection of technique (and please don’t tell me he has “rubber” shoulders; are his carotid arteries also rubbery?)

GSP also claimed during the press conference that he could stand and trade with Dan Hardy if he wanted to. The question is will his Octagonal-striking match his gym-striking? I’m sure he thought he could submit Hardy before UFC 111, too.

Shining in practice and in the Octagon are two completely different things.

You know what? The biggest reason people were disappointed in GSP’s performance at 111, if we’re totally honest, is that they underestimated Dan Hardy. Everyone figured he was some sort of overmatched scrub who GSP could get out of there in under a round. Nobody took into account that Hardy hasn’t been submitted since May 2005 and has never been knocked down in a fight, let alone out. Was everyone disappointed when GSP went to decision with Thiago Alves? Not really, because they actually respected Alves’s skills. Hardy got disrespected going in and really, he’s still being disrespected now seeing as everyone’s bashing GSP’s inability to finish him as something under GSP’s control. Hardy wasn’t a grappling dummy, people. While he was definitely overmatched he was able to defend himself well on the ground.

If it continues at this pace, GSP’s skill set will resemble a hologram; a mono-dimensional surface only fictitiously projecting three dimensions. Best Mixed Martial Artist ever? Would Best Mono Martial Artist be any consolation?

Yes, because GSP never stands and strikes any more. Oh, wait, didn’t he bash Jon Fitch about on the feet, scoring three knockdowns in their fight? Which brings us onto...

Jon Fitch on the other hand, does everything he can. You can’t blame the guy. Jeff Blatnick, the first color commentator for the UFC and former wrestling Olympic gold medalist, has repeated the adage “he does what his body allows him to do” when referring to less-than-athletic-yet-successful wrestlers. This adage holds true for Jon Fitch. The problem is, GSP probably could be, as we once believed him to be, supremely dominant in every aspect of the game.

GSP CAN do everything; but he’s too afraid to push his training beyond wrestling into the Octagon. Meanwhile the game is catching up & passing him over in those unutilized disciplines.

So wait, Jon Fitch is allowed to have boring, stifling fights with no attempts at finishing (like the one with Ben Saunders at UFC 111) but GSP is supposed to kickbox a kickboxer rather than take him to the ground because GSP is a better athlete? Not only is that a retarded idea, it’s, well, no, it’s just retarded. Give GSP a BJJ whizz like Demian Maia to fight and you can bet your bottom dollar that he’d stand up with him rather than take him down. Why? Because it’s the smart thing to do. Just like it’s smart to stand and strike with Matt Hughes, but it’s smarter to take Thiago Alves and Dan Hardy to the ground. GSP isn’t in the cage to try to prove his manhood or something by standing and wanging with great strikers. He’s there to win. And so far he’s been doing that pretty well, don’t you think?

GSP voiced HIS own personal expectations for UFC 111; and to be frank, he fell embarrassingly short.

“Win in a beautiful fashion”? If you were arranging a bachelor party for your best friend, and ordered a stripper resembling Scarlett Johansson, and instead a sloppy Rosie O’Donnell-lookalike walked through the door, would you find that acceptable?

Again, you’re selling Hardy short. Say he’d tapped to that first round armbar, like 90% of other fighters would’ve, would you have even written this article then? Probably not.

GSP has said with regularity that he is not fighting to be a Champion. He’s fighting for a legacy as the best pound for pound fighter (P4P) on the planet. Any MMA fan with a quarter of a brain will mention Anderson Silva, Fedor Emelianenko and Georges St. Pierre as the trio sitting on top of that P4P list.

First off if you’re talking P4P you have to include BJ Penn if you’re including Fedor, who fights sporadically and against questionable opposition for the most part. But that’s another argument so....

Personally I have GSP in third place. For me, there are three key differences that separate Anderson and Fedor from GSP: famous finishes against larger opponents and no humiliating losses in recent memory.

Does Ryo Chonan and diving heel hook jog your memory at all? Probably not because you most likely weren’t watching MMA until April 2005. But I digress. I have GSP in first place because he beats nothing but top-level opposition. There are no Hong Man Chois or Zuluzinhos on GSP’s record. There aren’t even borderline top ten or sub-top ten guys like Patrick Cote and Thales Leites on there.

As for beating larger opponents, Frank Trigg was ranked in the top ten at 185lbs for the most part of 2007 and 2008 and GSP choked him out in 2005. Jason ‘Mayhem’ Miller was ranked in or around the top ten at 185lbs in 2006 and less than a year previous GSP gave him a one-sided beatdown.

Josh Gross from Sports Illustrated nailed it on the head when he asked at the UFC 111 press conference: how will these performances ultimately affect his legacy? The only highlight from Hardy vs. GSP is a failed submission by GSP.

Picture this: every fight GSP has from now on, presumably all at welterweight, ends up as a five round decision. Now do you think that’ll be enough to pass over either of the other pair? Not without finishing his opponents, it won’t.

Did you know that Fedor Emelianenko’s three greatest victories (two over Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira, one over Mirko Cro Cop, both men in their primes) went to decision? Does anyone care really? If they have a brain, they shouldn’t. It should be obvious to them that the only key to becoming a great fighter is WINNING.

Holding GSP to this standard isn’t excessive; it’s what he publicly and privately demands of himself.

So while B.J. Penn is willing to put up his dukes against competitive competition by fighting above his weight class—even after GSP put him on his lap and grand-daddy spanked him at UFC 94—it isn’t the course GSP is taking into consideration. Dana “doesn’t” like it.

Ok, so B.J. Penn, Anderson Silva, Nate Diaz can all move up, Jon Jones will most likely move up (down the road), Couture can move down at the age of forty-six, but GSP, a top three pound-for-pound fighter, move up a weight-class he’s ruling gracefully? No. That isn’t a sensible move at all.

You know who the greatest champion in UFC history is? It’s a guy called Matt Hughes. And despite probably not having the natural talent of BJ Penn, right now his legacy far outweighs that of BJ’s. Why? Because Matt Hughes won the UFC Welterweight Title twice and defended it successfully on seven occasions (which would’ve been eight had Joe Riggs not botched his weight cut). No other UFC fighter has made that many successful defences, particularly in the division most loaded with talent, 170lbs. So now go back in time and imagine that Hughes had randomly decided he had no more challenges at 170lbs after beating Sean Sherk in 2003, and moved to Middleweight. Would his legacy have been the same? Of course not. A true champion doesn’t flip-flop through weight classes, they stick around and make title defences.

GSP now has four successful defences under his belt. Dangerous fighters like Josh Koscheck, Paul Daley, Carlos Condit, Martin Kampmann, Anthony Johnson and Paulo Thiago still lurk in the division, and that’s not even mentioning potential rematches with the likes of Fitch and Alves, or any potential newcomers to the UFC like Jake Shields or Nick Diaz. Why should GSP move up in weight when he has the chance to cement his legacy by ruling over the most stacked weight division in all of MMA with an iron fist, breaking Hughes’s record in the process?

I hate to pick on the guy for this, but it must be mentioned. GSP is known to have visited a sports psychologist after his legacy-damaging loss to Matt Serra. I know about as much about psychology as you do, but I presume he’s afraid of getting “Matt Serra’d” again.

What has happened since?

Gone is the awe-inspiring striking we saw against Jay Hieron, and Matt Hughes. Gone is the failed submission attempts as we saw against Matt Hughes at UFC 50... well, some things haven’t changed.

Again, did you not see the Jon Fitch fight? GSP stood with Fitch for long periods in that fight and knocked him down three or four times. If you actually watched the fights, you’d also notice that he’s not just taking guys like Alves, Serra and Penn down, either. He’s outstriking them standing and using his striking skill to set up his takedowns, which is partially why he’s such a good “MMA wrestler”. Just because he’s smarter than to trade with a devastating Muay Thai guy like Alves doesn’t mean he can’t strike any more or is terrified of being knocked out again. Like I said, give him a guy with a red-hot guard like a Maia or an Aoki and I’d bet money that GSP would look to stand with them.

The ultimate question is, is it too much pressure for GSP, wanting to be the best P4P fighter ever, gold medalist at a sport he’s never competed in before, all while under Gatorade and Under Armor’s watchful eyes?

The endgame is that Dana’s afraid because GSP is afraid. And GSP is afraid because he knows he’s far from invincible despite how he’s marketed/promoted.

I find it ironic that GSP is trying to put on more weight. Because the way I see it Georges “Rush” St. Pierre has become “too big to fail.” He means too much to the UFC banner now and too much for MMA sponsorship deals in the future. The fruit of the dollars he’s earning now will not be enjoyed only by him; more importantly it marks an opened door for mixed martial artists to receive increased sponsorship compensation in previously untapped markets.

This matters to Zuffa because they have no collective bargaining agreement in place now or for the foreseeable future. It can be argued that the more money a fighter makes outside of Zuffa, the less they’ll feel the need to compensate their fighters with their own funds. To Zuffa brass, GSP is bigger than just PPV figures that may or may not dwindle if he keeps up his best Floyd Mayweather impersonation.

That’s just my own conspiracy hypothesis. What’s for sure is that he’s breaking down barriers with his marketable Ken Doll qualities and otherworldly takedown prowess. Whether it’s the one he wants, he’s paving a path for years to come for all MMA athletes. He may not go down as the best mixed martial artist ever. But “most impactful” seems to be well within his reach.

I just wonder if Georges will harbor any regrets and be at ease with that marginalized legacy.

I really don’t know what to say to these last few paragraphs. Any notion of credibility you might’ve had just goes out of the window there. So GSP is fighting for decisions and trying to put on boring fights because he’s afraid that losing might lose him all his big endorsement deals, and Dana is quite happy with that because GSP is raking in cash? I don’t know what to say to that, I really don’t.

I’m not really sure on what note to end this. I guess I find it sad - and quite frankly, pathetic - that a guy like Bjorn Hansen, writing for a semi-large MMA website like MMA Torch, can write such an ignorant, borderline-slanderous article based on the fact that Georges St-Pierre wasn’t able to finish Dan Hardy over five rounds. Do I think this is an opinion common across the MMA fanbase? Of course not. UFC 111 apparently hit 850,000 buys, and this was after GSP put on another supposedly “boring” fight with Thiago Alves. No, it’s more concerning to me that MMA Torch – which claims to have been “providing MMA coverage since 1993” – has a guy on staff as ignorant as to state that GSP was somehow the first fully-rounded mixed martial artist and that Matt Hughes of all people was the first guy to “evolve” in the sport.

Endemic of a problem with idiocy in the general (online) MMA fanbase? Probably not. Endemic of the problem that certain people have with jumping to conclusions based on one fight, the problem of underestimating fighters pushed into title opportunities by Zuffa simply because former pro-wrestling writers don’t understand the dynamics of booking MMA fights and so-called “journalists” like Josh Gross and Loretta Hunt don’t rank them higher than guys who might fight elsewhere? Definitely.

Until next time,

Scott Newman:

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