GSP has potential to be GOAT
Tactical. Technical. Champion.
Choose one to find an apt description of Georges St. Pierre. Or pick them all for a more accurate picture.
St. Pierre, the 29-year-old welterweight mixed martial arts king, affirmed his status as the best 170-pound fighter on the planet Saturday following yet another shutout decision victory. That marks more than 20 straight rounds judges, seemingly incapable of agreeing on anything MMA related these days, have come down on the side of the French Canadian powerhouse.
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Superlatives are bountiful, even as critics pine for something to whine about in the face of St. Pierre's continued dominance. In the three years since being stunned by Matt Serra, St. Pierre is 8-0, including wins before the final bell against Matt Hughes, Serra in the rematch and B.J. Penn, and clean sheets against the likes of Jon Fitch, Thiago Alves and Josh Koscheck.
Yet St. Pierre and those closest to him envision and expect exponential improvement in the next few years.
He is, after all, admittedly fighting to become the best mixed martial artist of all time.
"Georges is far from what he's capable of," said the fighter's longtime Brazilian jiu-jitsu instructor, John Danaher. "If that sounds scary, it is. When I think about it myself I think it's crazy. He's the most dominant mixed martial arts athlete in the world and he's running at 65 to 70 percent of his potential."
If this is correct, if in fact St. Pierre is operating at two-thirds of his ability, and if that missing fraction can be properly filled in, Danaher would have nailed it.
St. Pierre has already established himself among the top fighters in the sport, having dominated the UFC's deepest division to a 21-2 record. This is why fans and media are infatuated with the idea of St. Pierre moving up 15 pounds to challenge UFC middleweight champion Anderson Silva -- his rival for the top spot on pound-for-pound lists. It's something St. Pierre claims he wants to do, just not now. He isn't ready to make a full-time commitment to the weight, and until that happens he won't head off on some excursion in the name of trying.
"I don't want to go up and down [in weight]," St. Pierre said. "You see what happened to [boxer] Roy Jones Jr., it messed up his reaction time."
St. Pierre, it seems, always focuses on a three-dimensional view of his options, moving away from emotional outbursts in favor of pragmatism. It's a calculation prompting many people to view St. Pierre as cold, even boring when he fights.
"My game doesn't rely on chance," St. Pierre said less than an hour after neutralizing Koscheck's circular punches with stiff jabs, one of which fractured the challenger's orbital bone near his right eye. "I don't gamble when I fight. I try to put all the odds on my side."
Watching cage-side Saturday, Jake Shields, who is expected to fight St. Pierre in the first half of 2011, possibly at the Rogers Centre in Toronto, saw enough to come away feeling like he knows how to accomplish what so many others have attempted and failed.
"He's good at striking, wrestling and jiu-jitsu," Shields said of the champion. "He's in phenomenal shape and a super-strong athlete. He doesn't make a lot of mistakes. He goes in there and is really smart.
"He's a complete fighter."
This is a point St. Pierre and his camp aren't willing to concede, thus the desire to improve by 30 percent. However, even if his perceived weaknesses are exploitable -- and good luck with that -- the simple physical realities of St. Pierre's athleticism have been enough to ruin weekends for other top challengers.
Bob Cook, who dropped to 0-3 as a trainer against St. Pierre after preparing Koscheck (15-5) and Fitch (23-3) for the opportunity, explained it this way: While St. Pierre mixes his game together better than most and is always in tremendous shape, the key to his success is something not necessarily associated with the Montreal native -- speed.
"Every one of my guys that fought him, the big thing they took away from it is how fast he is," Cook said.
I watched his last few fights and I've seen a few mistakes. Not as many as other fighters, but he still has holes in his game. Like anyone, he's human.” -- Jake Shields, who is next in line to fight Georges St. Pierre
Fast and accurate is exactly how St. Pierre looked from Shields' cage-side seat in Montreal after jabs and lead hooks mangled Koscheck's face with frightening regularity over their 25-minute fight. And yet, even after several great mixed martial artists have come across as ineffectual against St. Pierre, there is always someone who thinks they have what it takes to best the champion.
"I watched his last few fights and I've seen a few mistakes," Shields said. "Not as many as other fighters, but he still has holes in his game. Like anyone, he's human."
Flesh, blood and the insecurities that come along for the ride, indeed -- which makes everything St. Pierre has accomplished during his climb to the top of the welterweight division, including, it could be argued, surpassing Matt Hughes as the best fighter at that weight, all the more impressive.
"I think he has a lot of room for getting better; at least I'm sure that's how he thinks because that's how a martial artist thinks," Greg Jackson said of St. Pierre. "I think there's a lot as the arms race continues that he can get better at. He hasn't peaked yet."
When St. Pierre eventually does, and there's no reason to think he won't, he could earn the description he covets above all others: greatest of all time.
Josh Gross covers MMA for ESPN.com. Follow him on Twitter at JoshGrossESPN.
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