Despite taking a break from the UFC Octagon, former welterweight champion Georges St-Pierre has been busier than ever throughout 2014. In recent weeks, he’s spoken out about lax drug testing protocols within the sport, cornered his friend Francis Carmont in Brazil, been the subject of a new documentary, and this Tuesday in Toronto, GSP was on hand at The Fifth pub to promote his partnership with rum maker Bacardi.
“Started drinking Bacardi even before I was associated with them,” quipped the French-Canadian superstar to a crowded room of VIP guests and media members.
The event was representative of the new era in St-Pierre’s life: Instead of being at the beck and call of a promoter, GSP is proud of the fact that he can leave his cell phone unattended for a week. Defending his UFC title was a Sisyphean task; St-Pierre claims his mental health deteriorated under the numerous demands being a professional fighter placed him under.
“I’m very happy where I am right now,” said St-Pierre, speaking to Sportsnet’s Joe Ferraro.
(GSP, living every retiree’s dream. Photo via TerezOwens. Click for full-size version.)
From the post-fight presser for UFC 167 all the way through to the Bacardi event, St-Pierre has been on a roll when it comes to shattering the sacred cows of the MMA game. When he criticized the lack of effective drug testing in the sport, many media members privately supported St-Pierre. It’s strange that journalists don’t use their platforms to illustrate the areas of MMA that need to be fixed, though.
While it’s subtle, St-Pierre has also been careful to let the media know that he usually deals with UFC majority owner Lorenzo Fertitta (“Lorenzo is the boss”) rather than president and front man Dana White. White’s profanity-laced rhetoric often makes him a prominent lighting rod for criticism. Yet he owns just 9 percent of Zuffa, and as St-Pierre alludes to, major decisions are either made or sanctioned by Fertitta.
A lifelong fan of Mike Tyson, St-Pierre was wearing a ‘Roots of Fight’ Mike Tyson sweatshirt. In his autobiography, Tyson reflected about the tumultuous journey of ups and downs that left him contemplating retirement just after his fight with Pinklon Thomas in 1987.
“I should have retired then, but I didn’t have control of my own life,” claimed Tyson.
Everyone is looking for the reason that Georges St-Pierre stopped fighting. Was it due to a lawsuit from his former manager, the abrasive criticism from Dana White, obsessive compulsive disorder or migraines pointing to brain damage? A better question is why a rational person would start competing in MMA in the first place.
By comparison, when an athlete like Michael Jordan succeeds in a major sports league like the NBA, the narrative in the news and among fans is that Jordan’s own talent was the deciding factor. Certainly, Jordan’s teammates, coaches, the team owner and assorted NBA officials play a role, but they don’t get equal billing. In MMA, the fighters are often regarded as chattels who owe their existence to the promoter’s generosity — a situation that the lack of competing promotions and absence of federal legislation to protect MMA fighters continues to reinforce.
When St-Pierre was done with his media interviews at the Bacardi event, he gave a speech and opted to mingle throughout the crowd. Instead of being able to easily circulate, he was swarmed by a frenzied crowd. Some were probably not even MMA fans — just ordinary people drawn into the swirling vortex of celebrity obsession who needed fodder for their own social media newsfeeds.
St-Pierre might have been uncomfortable with the crush of the crowd, but he is highly attuned to the reality that his relevance is at a major peak. After all, as much as Dana White talks up Ronda Rousey as “the biggest star we’ve ever had,” Rousey has little chance of replicating the pay-per-view numbers that GSP pulled throughout his years as the UFC’s welterweight champion.
The Bacardi campaign has a line fitting for the fight game, “Know your limits.” In the prime of his career, Mike Tyson was a relentless alcoholic who did everything to excess until it blew up in his face. It’s part of Tyson’s legacy as a fighter that he stayed around boxing too long and experienced losses to subpar opponents near the end of his career.
Does Georges St-Pierre know his limits? Or will he live out the tragic arc that so many fighters before him have endured?
Only time will tell.
Brian J. D’Souza is the author of the recently published book Pound for Pound: The Modern Gladiators of Mixed Martial Arts. You can check out an excerpt right here.