- UFC 154
Parish of St Georges preaches message world must hear
Georges St-Pierre. Undisputed UFC welterweight champion: Georges... Saint... Pierre.
Names occasionally grace sporting icons so seamlessly that one has to wonder if destiny comes inscribed into their identity. George Best, for example, had a calling card tailor-made for his unrivalled talents on a football pitch. Usain Bolt was surely never meant to take a desk job.
In Georges St-Pierre, mixed martial arts - and it is mixed martial arts rather than 'cage fighting' - has exactly what his name suggests: A Saint. And it is high time the religion for which he evangelises, MMA, is adopted more prominently by sections of the outdated UK media.
On Saturday Montreal's Bell Centre, which had hosted Bob Dylan 24 hours earlier, became much less a rock venue or sporting location at UFC 154, but rather a church that housed a parish of over 17,000 practitioners. Chants of "GSP, GSP, GSP" rang around the Centre in blisteringly loud decibels, but they were not typical cries of support - rather poignant acts of worship.
For 25 spell-binding minutes in the UFC 154 main event, the blare of the crowd did not relent. Reverent chants of "GSP" only gave way to roars of approval as Canada's Holy One tore into Carlos Condit, punctuated by bursts of "Ole ole ole ole". The only time the din stopped was when St-Pierre was momentarily poleaxed by a head kick in the third round, at which point screams of anguish embodied the concern of the masses.
Heaven knows what would have happened had he lost.
Prior to UFC 154, the greatest atmosphere I had ever witnessed in person was Liverpool's dramatic 2005 comeback against Olympiakos at Anfield when, needing to win by two clear goals to stay in the competition (which they eventually won), Steven Gerrard cracked home a 25-yard piledriver with four minutes remaining for a 3-1 victory.
That was special - unforgettable even, but Saturday's homage to GSP beat it all ends up.
St-Pierre is much more than a star in North America, he is a role model, an icon and a figurehead on a level with the 'royal' appreciation David Beckham receives in England. That much was obvious simply by asking a local barman if he would be watching the St-Pierre fight on Saturday, a question that drew a mocking scoff as if he'd been asked if he planned on pouring a drink that night.
The magnitude of St-Pierre - both inside and outside his native Canada - cannot be overstated. His face was on restaurant menus, his previous fights were replayed over and over on giant screens in every hotel and bar in Montreal. Even a student from out of town, working at a simple lunch café, knew of GSP.
Yet still the mass media in the UK turn a blind eye to mixed martial arts - home of the best fighters on the planet. St-Pierre is a man who could, without a shadow of doubt, hand the beating of a lifetime to Floyd Mayweather Jnr and have the fight finished in under a minute. Not in pure boxing, granted, but in fighting... it would be embarrassing.
After arguably the fight of the year between St-Pierre and Condit on Saturday, which saw GSP return from a 19-month layoff and instantly ambush the No. 1-ranked opponent in his division, the UK instead woke up to a media that focused on Carl Froch's win over that household name Yusaf Mack.
Froch, a 1/22 favourite at one stage with Bet365, was so guaranteed to win that when he did so it should have been rendered about as newsworthy as an Audley Harrison defeat. Of course he is British, unlike GSP, but the same comprehensive UK media coverage is granted to non-Brits like Mayweather, Manny Pacquiao and Wladimir Klitschko.
They also ignore England's Michael Bisping, a man who sells more tickets in the UK than Froch, and a man who has fought live on Fox in front of seven million people in the US - more than eight times the number who have ever seen Froch fight in the US.
St-Pierre is Pacquiao's equivalent. He is the No. 2 pound-for-pound mixed martial artist on the planet, and should soon be heading into MMA's own version of Mayweather v Pacquiao when he fights Anderson Silva. However, but for the dedicated work of Gareth A Davies at the Daily Telegraph, GSP receives almost zero acknowledgement in the UK written press.
The issue is not with boxing, which is a bastion of British sport and deserves its coverage. It is with the resistant, outdated editors who choose to ignore MMA's overwhelming claims to the same column inches. The very fact that over 60,000 people stay up in the UK to watch UFC events at 3am highlights the ignorance of those who refuse to cover it.
Most of that ignorance comes from a belief that mixed martial artists are cage fighters - brutal thugs knocking seven bells out of each other. I challenge any such editor to become a black belt in Karate, Jiu-Jitsu and Gaidojutsu - as St-Pierre has - and still hold that opinion.
Quite to the contrary, during times of racism and scandal involving some of the top stars in England, St-Pierre is a perfect role model - a "French Superman" to quote the afore-mentioned barman in Montreal. He is currently a leader of a campaign against bullying, something from which he himself suffered as a child, which prompted his move into mixed martial arts.
From traumatic adversity GSP has grown to become the No. 1 box-office star in a sport that is burgeoning in Brazil, smashing statistics in the States and kicking ass in Canada. Saint Georges is leading a powerful sporting religion, and it is time for the nation that celebrates St George's Day to start spreading the gospel.