A case can be made that he belongs on MMA’s Mount Rushmore, his accomplishments in line with Fedor Emelianenko, Anderson Silva, Kazushi Sakuraba, Royce Gracie and other legendary fighters. Georges St. Pierre has not fought in more than two years but remains firmly entrenched as the greatest welterweight of all-time.
What began on Jan. 25, 2002, seems to have concluded more than a decade later on Nov. 16, 2013. In the spaces in between, St. Pierre put together a resume filled with unprecedented success. His career record stands at 25-2, the only two defeats on his ledger avenged in emphatic fashion. While St. Pierre has not yet officially retired and though rumors continue to swirl about a possible return, it becomes less likely with each passing day that we will ever see him compete inside the Octagon again.
If the book has indeed closed on St. Pierre, his achievements speak for themselves. He ranks first on the Ultimate Fighting Championship’s all-time list in wins (19) second in successful title defenses (nine) and second in Octagon time (5:28:12). Per FightMetric, St. Pierre has landed more total strikes (2,523) and completed more takedowns (87) than any other fighter in UFC history while ranking second in significant strikes landed (1,254), takedown accuracy (73.7 percent) and significant strike defense (73.0 percent). His two welterweight title reigns spanned 2,204 days, the equivalent of more than six years.
In a historic career littered with defining moments, here are five that stand out:
1. Uneasy Lies the Head
No one saw it coming, least of all St. Pierre. Having been awarded a title shot for winning Season 4 of “The Ultimate Fighter” reality series, Matt Serra entered their UFC 69 main event on April 7, 2007 at the Toyota Center in Houston as a +700 underdog. He was viewed as David to St. Pierre’s Goliath, minus the sling and the stone. Some wondered if “Rush” would even break a sweat in defending the welterweight championship for the first time since he dethroned Matt Hughes. A little more than three minutes after their main event began, the MMA world had witnessed arguably the greatest upset in the sport’s history. Serra showed no fear, carved up St. Pierre with power punches and eventually climbed to full mount to finish him 3:25 into the first round. The adversity forced St. Pierre to look in the mirror at age 25. He would not lose again. After consecutive victories over Hughes and Josh Koscheck, St. Pierre brutalized Serra in their rematch to reclaim the welterweight crown. He went on to win his next nine bouts against some of the best fighters in the welterweight division.
2. Exit Strategy
St. Pierre did not travel an easy road during his 2012-13 campaigns. He endured a grueling rehabilitation process on his surgically reconstructed knee and then went 15 hard rounds against Carlos Condit, Nick Diaz and Johny Hendricks. The split decision victory over Hendricks at UFC 167 in Las Vegas was particularly contentious, as many observers believed the “Bigg Rigg” had done enough to unseat the champion. St. Pierre absorbed 142 total strikes in the win, the most in his 27-fight career. Less than a month later, he announced he was vacating the 170-pound title to take a leave of absence. “I’ve been fighting for long time,” St. Pierre said. “I’ve had 22 fights in the UFC at a very high level, and I decided I need to take some time off. I know the UFC is a business, and they have to keep things rolling. I don’t want to make people wait out of the respect for the sport, so I vacate the title. One day, when I feel like it, I might come back, but right now, I need a break.” St. Pierre has yet to fight again and will turn 35 in May.
3. Taking the Torch
St. Pierre cleared the first significant mental hurdle of his career at UFC 65 in November 2006, when he faced Hughes for a second time. Hughes had handed St. Pierre his first loss two years earlier, as he countered a kimura attempt and submitted him with an armbar at UFC 50. The tapout came with one second left in the first round. Subsequent wins over Dave Strasser, Jason Miller, Frank Trigg, Sean Sherk and B.J. Penn put St. Pierre in position for a rematch with Hughes. The Tristar Gym cornerstone made the most of his opportunity at the Arco Arena in Sacramento, California, as he bashed the future hall of famer with a second-round head kick before finishing him with punches and elbows on the ground. While his first title reign would be brief, St. Pierre proved he had the goods to be champion and that sometimes, a country boy can’t survive.
4. Masterpiece Theater
While he was not a headliner, St. Pierre was in many ways the star of the show at UFC 100 -- a landmark event held on July 11, 2009 that saw Brock Lesnar wreck Frank Mir with ground-and-pound and Dan Henderson obliterate Michael Bisping with his fabled right hand. Sandwiched between those two matches, St. Pierre dominated Thiago Alves for five rounds, fighting through a groin injury to retain the UFC welterweight championship at the Mandalay Bay Events Center in Las Vegas. He was in visible distress afterward. “I don’t know what happened, but I am in real bad pain,” St. Pierre said. “It happened in the third round and when I was on my back. It could have been a very bad night for me if this thing would have turned bad.” Through it all and in front of a massive pay-per-view audience, he painted a masterpiece. St. Pierre outlanded American Top Team’s Alves 148-72 and paired 10 takedowns with 13 guard passes.
5. Box-Office Smash
A North American-record crowd of 55,000 fans packed the Rogers Centre in Toronto for UFC 129 on April 30, 2011, many of them in attendance to see St. Pierre. In what can only be described as a clinical performance, he kept his stranglehold on the welterweight championship with a unanimous decision over former Shooto and Strikeforce champion Jake Shields. St. Pierre did not leave the cage unscathed. Shields connected with probing jabs and right crosses, one of which left “Rush” with significant damage to his left eye. “I think it was the second round,” St. Pierre said afterward. “In the beginning, I was able to see. I can’t see out of my left eye right now. I just see a blur, and it’s very bad.” The jab was St. Pierre’s weapon of choice, backed up by spinning back kicks to the body and overhand rights. He shook the durable Shields more than once, delivering a head kick in the fourth round that had the Cesar Gracie-trained Brazilian jiu-jitsu black belt in search of an emergency takedown. Shields never got the fight to the ground. His strikes were better than advertised but lacked the potency necessary to give the champion real pause. The defeat was the first for Shields in more than six years and halted a string of 15 straight wins.