Heading into UFC 167, Georges St.-Pierre stands at the doorstep of true sporting greatness. If St.-Pierre is able to gain a victory over Johny Hendricks, he will not only be the best Welterweight ever (he has been that for some time now), St.-Pierre will move into position to be the best mixed martial artist the sport has seen to date.
The title of “Greatest of All-Time” (GOAT) in MMA is something difficult to award because of the youth of the sport. The UFC has only existed for 20 years and, depending how you define what rule set constitutes true MMA, the sport could actually be younger than that. The mantle of GOAT is difficult to give in a sport so young.
How does one define greatness in the short span of larger Vale Tudo matches, Pancrase, the UFC, Pride and the other MMA promotions that have come and gone? Is the peak value of a fighter like a Shogun Rua, whose amazing 2005 run through Pride left MMA fans in awe? Or is fighters who changed the game like a Royce Graice, Marco Ruas, Bas Rutten, or Frank Shamrock?
Looking at these game changers is informative as the history of MMA is littered with them — they demonstrate a glaring weakness or deficiency in another fighters game and exploit it to great success. But then, often as not, the other fighters adjust and a new generation of fighters enter the game without that weakness, and the game changer finds themselves passed by as the sport keeps growing.
What truly sets apart great MMA fighters is consistent and sustained success at the highest levels in the face of a constantly evolving and changing sport. There are scant few fighters who can claim dominance over not just their own generation of fighters but a second. Fedor Emelianenko beat basically all the championship level heavyweights of the early 2000’s. Matt Hughes defeated the first generation of MMA welterweights and then beat his contemporaries. Anderson Silva beat the first generation of Middleweight champions and then turned away his own generation of challengers. An argument could be made he did turn away some of a second generation but ultimately he fell at the feet of Chris Weidman.
With a win over Hendricks, GSP would be in the unique position of having turned aside the best of three generations of fighters. He beat the old guard of welterweights headed by Matt Hughes, but also included the likes of Frank Trigg and Sean Sherk. GSP was then faced with a plethora of challengers from his own generation, beating Nick Diaz, BJ Penn, Jon Fitch, Josh Koscheck, Thiago Alves and Jake Shields.
And when GSP beat Carlos Condit, he had defeated one of the standard bearers of a new generation of fighters. Condit, while his career started in 2002, didn’t come into his own as a fighter until 2010 with wins over Rory MacDonald and Dan Hardy. Now in Hendricks, GSP faces another of the best a new generation of welterweights.
A victory against Hendricks is not a given and will not be easy for GSP, but should he end the evening by getting his hand raised he will have a streak of dominance stretching from 2005 to the present day with only the Matt Serra hiccup interrupting his winning streak, putting him at 16-1 since he lost his first shot at a title to Matt Hughes in 2004.
With a win tomorrow night, Georges St.-Pierre would become the greatest of all time.