For just about all of his heralded MMA career, former two-time welterweight champion Georges St-Pierre seemed intent to not make any waves outside of the ring. He fought impressively, kept his name free from scandal, hardly ever talked trashed, fought whoever the UFC wanted him to, whenever they said to, and repeated inoffensive, practiced lines in interview after interview.
For a while, it all paid-off for GSP. He scored multiple major corporate sponsors, got rich and became the UFC’s biggest star.
Like Michael Jordan before him, St-Pierre gained wealth and popularity from a carefully cultivated image which was bland outside his general amiability and peerless athletic excellence. Then, suddenly, it wasn’t enough – at least not for his UFC bosses.
After a rough title-defense back in 2013 against Johny Hendricks, a cut and bruised St-Pierre announced that he needed time away from the sport he’d dedicated all of his adult life to. Though the announcement was a surprise to most of the MMA world, and his language was slightly vague, the immediate reaction was, by and large, an empathetic one for St-Pierre, with fans wishing the living fighting legend the best.
UFC president Dana White was not one of those well-wishers. White immediately set out to angrily trash St-Pierre at the post-event press conference (an event that St-Pierre says he was initially told he wasn’t allowed to attend, inexplicably) in a bizarre and entitled tirade.
White continued to cast shade on St-Pierre over the next few years, questioning the man’s heart and desire to fight. When St-Pierre announced that he was ready to make a return to the cage, he says the UFC (under new ownership, but still with White serving as president) told his team that he would be too expensive to promote, and offered him terms that St-Pierre felt outdated and unfair.
Being a nice, get-along-to-go-along guy was no longer enough to keep St-Pierre in the UFC’s good graces. St-Pierre got more vocal, insisting that he was now a free-agent athlete.
On Wednesday afternoon, one of the biggest stars in MMA history was done being Mr. Nice Guy. St-Pierre and four other top UFC fighters (Tim Kennedy, TJ Dillashaw, Donald “Cowboy” Cerrone and Cain Velasquez) announced themselves as the founding board members of a new trade association, the MMAAA, that they hope to grow into a body covering all UFC fighters through collective bargaining.
All the fighters spoke personally and powerfully of their intention to force higher wages and better benefits for UFC athletes. St-Pierre’s presence was the most notable part of the announcement team, however, just because of his place in the sport’s history as possibly the richest and most beloved MMA fighter to date.
There is a lot to unpack in the coming days and months with regards to much of what was announced – as well as what was left unspecified on Wednesday’s conference call (the differences between trade associations and labor unions, alone, are an intricate and nuanced web)- but what was made immediately clear is that we’re dealing with a differently focused Georges St-Pierre now.
St-Pierre is done keeping quiet about matters that upset him. The future hall of famer has left behind polite diplomacy for militant advocacy.
St-Pierre more than rose to that leadership position over the course of a two-hour conference call – he appeared to embrace it, in full fire-brand mode. St-Pierre spoke directly to fighters he hoped to recruit to the cause when he said, “It is time to make our voices heard and make change happen.”
St-Pierre did no courtesies when speaking of the UFC. “Without fighters, ‘UFC' is just three letters of the alphabet,” he taunted.
St-Pierre’s testimony was of how, after years of traveling the world and going gym to gym, he always encountered the same, often tragic problems and situations befalling his fellow athletes. Fighters struggling to make ends meet, get adequate health care or have any job security.
St-Pierre told Champions that “nothing has changed,” with regards to his still wanting to make an athletic comeback. “I’m training and in the best shape of my life,” he assured.
“But, I want to fight for what is right. What kind of person would I be if I go back for a deal that is not fair to me?”
St-Pierre, addressing the fighters once again, spoke frankly of how “I don’t need to do this. I don’t need to fight, anymore. I have enough money to never work, again.”
St-Pierre reminded the UFC and the world that he didn’t enter MMA “with a silver spoon” in his mouth, and “worked for what I have.”
Georges began his prepared remarks by reminding fellow UFC fighters that it wasn’t that many years ago where he was, like so many of them, just another broke fighter with a dream who had trouble paying bills and putting gas into his car so he could drive from Montreal to New York to get some training at the Renzo Gracie academy. It was on such travels over the years that Georges met others on his same path and began to realize the shared needs and problems among fighters.
Now, after having accomplished so much for himself personally, St-Pierre insists that he’s most concerned with making sure those who have less than he, but who have worked just as hard, get more out of their careers. Inspired by what he considers his own relatively shabby treatment from the UFC, Georges says he’s devoted to remembering those who have it far worse.
Responding to honest admissions of fear of reprisal from the UFC for their organizing from MMAAA comrades like TJ Dillashaw and Donald “Cowboy” Cerrone, St-Pierre repeatedly interjected and preached steely resolve.
Fighters banding together, he promised over and over, will receive threats and that will naturally lead to fear. Fighters overcome fear every day and in every fight, however, St-Pierre reminded.
It is time for UFC athletes to take their fighting spirit outside of the ring, according to St-Pierre. Besides, whenever another fighter gets threatened, St-Pierre promised to make that battle his own.
“If I stand for something it’s because I believe in it and I’m going to do it, even for myself. I’m going to fight for it for myself, and also for other people,” he promised.
“I know a lot of fighters want to remain anonymous, but I’m telling you, guys, come see us and it’s time to stand, all together.”
St-Pierre used to stay away from controversy, keeping his warring inside the cage. Now, however, he doesn’t see himself as having too much to lose – “Rush” instead realizes that he has too much to offer others to stay quiet.
St-Pierre insisted that he is fighting for ideals and for common welfare now, and promised that he’ll never give that fight up. “I know a lot of the agents will be threatened by the UFC…a lot of the fighters will receive threats from the UFC. But I want to let you know something – I’ll make that my personal fight, and we’re not going to be bought to shut up,” he concluded.
“We’re not going to let any fighters down. We’re here to stay, and this same thing that is happening now has happened in every other sport…and now it’s happening in the UFC. It’s going to happen whether they like it or not.”