“Even though I trained karate, sometimes you just face too many bigger guys and have to take a beating,” says St-Pierre. “That happened a lot at school. I would probably be able to beat all the kids one-on-one, but they would gang up on me and would often be much older and bigger. I usually had to fend off three or four guys at any one time.
“Gradually in time, I persisted and they left me alone.”
Pain is supposed to heal with time and yet St-Pierre shakes his head every time the adage is used. His post-fight injuries may heal up in a matter of weeks, but the memories of his early fights – those of the unsanctioned and unorganised variety – linger like saliva on a hood.
“I learnt a lot of life lessons from my time at school,” admits Georges. “The funny thing is, a lot of the scars I have in my head are from my time at school, not from any of my experiences in mixed martial arts. People find that hard to believe. They see me as this strong and dominant UFC champion and just assume that I’ve always been the one handing out the beat downs. That’s not true at all, though. The most pain I ever suffered was when I was growing up in school.”
The 28-year-old continues: “Competing in mixed martial arts is fairly easy, compared to what I had to go through as a child. You’re afforded weeks and months of preparation time for a fight in the UFC. You can train your body and mind to get ready for a certain fight. You know the time, place and reason for your next fight. You can visualise the outcome. On the school playground it’s completely different. I often didn’t know when a fight would break out or why an older kid would be kicking and punching me. There is no time to prepare or negotiate at school.”
St-Pierre never looked for time to negotiate or plan for events at school. He was just a kid. The only responsibility he had back then was getting to class on time and handing in homework on the specified day. Despite the fact GSP would go on to become synonymous with the fast-rising sport of mixed martial arts, a young Georges was always the kid walking in the other direction.
“People sometimes get the wrong impression of fighters and just assume that we always want to fight and show our skills off in any possible situation,” he says. “They think we’re always looking to beat someone up. It’s not true at all. I have never fought in the street or to just show off. MMA is my art – it’s the skill I use in performance.
“If my karate teacher had found out I was fighting in the street, I would have been thrown out and told to never return. That would have been the end of my karate. I didn’t want to get kicked out and I knew it was a bad idea to even think about fighting in the street.”
Despite his reluctance to get involved on the school playground-turned-fight arena, St-Pierre noticed changes in his body at age 14 that allowed him to walk through the school corridors with his head held higher than his peers.
“I remember at 14 years of age I was probably the strongest guy in school,” admits St-Pierre. “I wasn’t the tallest, but I was the strongest. Everybody knew it. I was stronger than all the other athletes, all the older guys and was even stronger than my own dad. We would mess around on the school field and I would take down the biggest, tallest guy in the school at will. It wasn’t even a contest.
“I was never aggressive at school. I didn’t go out to try and prove a point with anyone. I just wanted to feel strong so that I could have that confidence to stand up for what was right. By the time I was 14, I was no longer scared to stand up for myself. The bullies knew that, too.”
Everybody knew it. Years later, St-Pierre would receive all the indication he needed that the bullies knew what he hoped they knew.
“I never got proper revenge on the guys that bullied me back then,” says St-Pierre. “I would fight back, of course, but I never really got the sense that I’d won until a couple of years ago.
“I was walking through a mall in Montreal and I happened to see one of the bullies – now grown up – walk past me in the opposite direction. We both saw each other and our eyes locked. He saw me and I saw him, albeit for only a couple of seconds. My stare locked on him, but he was very quick to look down at his feet and shuffle along quickly. He didn’t want to look at me any longer. He had obviously seen me on television and heard about my life since our school days. He knew what I had become. I didn’t know what he’d become.”
Most men would have to be pulled down from the rooftop following such an ego-boosting shot to the arm. Not St-Pierre, though. Sure, the satisfaction was prevalent, but Georges only looks forward nowadays.
“Maybe I got vengeance in a psychological way,” ponders GSP. “It certainly felt good to know what he knew and to see it on his face. Ultimately, I see revenge as a really negative energy. You should never live with anger or the desire to get revenge over somebody. It’s very dangerous to fight or compete with that mindset.”
So, what had Georges St-Pierre become? Well, for starters, he’s now arguably the world’s greatest mixed martial artist. He boasts a professional record of 19-2 and has twice won the coveted UFC world welterweight title. In a career spanning nearly eight years, St-Pierre has twice defeated BJ Penn and Matt Hughes, and also claims wins over Thiago Alves, Jon Fitch, Sean Sherk, Matt Serra and Josh Koscheck, amongst many others.
St-Pierre has combined God-given gifts with an unparalleled work ethic to become the template for the modern day mixed martial artist. Despite never competing as a wrestler in college, St-Pierre is now considered the go-to guy for all aspiring MMA students and teachers. Not only that, St-Pierre can also call on devastating striking capabilities and a black belt in Brazilian jiu-jitsu. In short, St-Pierre is mixed martial arts in 2009.
“I have a theory on my success, and it’s to do with both the idea of nature and nurture,” says St-Pierre. “I’m very much into philosophy and believe that everything in life is down to a combination of genetics and natural environment. I have good genes, good health, lots of fast twitch muscle fibres and have been blessed with many things from my parents.
“I have also benefited from my natural environment a great deal. I’m blessed to be in a position where I can train with the best guys in the world and can improve my skill set on a daily basis. I have all the tools in my arsenal right now and not many people are able to train the way I do. They don’t have the same opportunities.”
Ultimately, St-Pierre was born to be a mixed martial artist. Even as a kid he was dabbling in karate, wrestling, boxing and jiu-jitsu as ways of fending off school yard foes and delinquent rivals. He was reacting to situations – aware that one bully may require a swift fist to the face, while others may drag him to the floor. St-Pierre never knew when he might be ambushed or taken by surprise. Although his arm was yanked in other directions while growing up, St-Pierre’s focus on the noble arts remained strong.
“I worked a few jobs growing up,” remembers St-Pierre. “I taught some seminars in the army, worked as a bouncer, and also helped delinquent teens turn their lives around.
“I did a number of speeches and lessons for these delinquents and it was kind of strange to think that these were the same kind of kids that once terrorised me at school. Everything seemed to come full circle and I was now trying to help out these kids. I figured that if what I said and did could inspire these kids to change their ways, it would be worthwhile. If I could help some child at school not get bullied like I was, my work would be of great use.”
Without knowing, St-Pierre may have inadvertently helped the school life of a young kid in Montreal and, in turn, removed the ingredients and drive from a potential UFC champion.
Georges St-Pierre: Even the invincible have scars