LAS VEGAS — Hungry. Obsessed. Driven. Professional. The epitome of a champion.
UFC president Dana White was full of praise Thursday in summing up welterweight champion Georges St-Pierre, who looks to extend his MMA legacy this weekend with a win over Johnny (Bigg Rigg) Hendricks at UFC 167.
“When you’re as rich as Georges St-Pierre is, to stay that mentally tough and to keep having the drive and the passion to win that he does, that’s what separates him from all the rest,” White told reporters Thursday.
Asked how rich the 32-year-old fighter from Montreal was, White replied: “He’s rich. He’s very rich.”
And White knows rich. The UFC boss travels in a world of private jets, big bets, fast cars and the finest restaurants.
Saturday’s payday will likely help further pad the GSP retirement fund. St-Pierre, the organization’s biggest pay-per-view draw, is likely to earn several times over the US$2 million that Zuffa paid to purchase an ailing UFC back in 2001.
White has his favourites and villains in his roster of fighters past and present. Former light-heavyweight Chuck (The Iceman) Liddell is like family. Tito Ortiz, another former title-holder, was oil to White’s water.
But his tribute to St-Pierre, in a lengthy scrum of reporters after the pre-fight news conference Thursday, was unparalleled.
“He’s an absolute professional,” White said. “No matter how dominant he’s been over the last however many years, he still takes guys seriously, he still puts in the hard work. He’s a dedicated professional.”
White also said St-Pierre was easy to work with outside the cage. If the champion has an issue, he just picks up the phone and they hash it out. “There’s no ego with Georges St-Pierre … Nobody has been easier and more professional to work with than Georges St-Pierre.”
The champion has surrounded himself with good people, he added,
“There are no barnacles on that kid’s back. That kid is his own man. he does his own thing.”
And White seemed to marvel as the Canadian champion’s pursuit of excellence.
“The thing that makes this whole thing work, this whole machine is hunger and drive … To still have that drive and that desire to win is what sets him apart from all the rest.”
White was one of the early booster of St-Pierre.
“In my opinion, Georges St. Pierre is the most talented fighter on the planet right now,” the UFC president said in February 2006 before UFC 58.
“The Canadian people ought be all over him, man. The kid is good-looking, charismatic, an unbelievable fighter, one of the nicest human beings you could ever hope to meet. I’m surprised he doesn’t have major blue-chip sponsors here in Canada, because people are really starting to notice him in the U.S.
“It doesn’t matter where’s he from,” White added. “He’s a star, he’s a UFC star.”
White has also been critical. After St-Pierre was beaten in his first title defence, at UFC 69 in April 2007, the UFC boss questioned his mental strength,
“After watching that Matt Serra fight, I question Georges St. Pierre’s mental ability to fight.”
St-Pierre (24-2) has not lost since and has long put that criticism to rest.
On Thursday, as Hendricks drove himself to distraction over pre-fight bickering concerning additional drug tests, St-Pierre smiled and politely answered all questions on the topic.
In response to Hendricks’ sly claim that the champion wasn’t as big as he used to be, St-Pierre — speaking in French — turned the accusation into a testimonial for his fitness DVD RushFit.
He looked every part a champion, in an elegant suit and tie. Hendricks wore a garish yellow/lime green T-shirt under a black baseball cap.
White noted how St-Pierre looked on the televised preview show for UFC 167 — his nose split and face bruised from training.
“Eyes so black that it actually looks like he has black eye-liner across his eye. That’s a guy who’s busting his ass in the gym every day, That’s the guy who’s doing everything it takes to win another title defence.”
These days St-Pierre is on a quest to keep adding his name to the UFC record book.
He can make history by winning Saturday, becoming the first fighter to record 19 wins in the UFC.
The Canadian champion is currently tied with UFC Hall of Famer Matt Hughes, whom he first beat for the title, at 18 victories.
GSP is also tied with former middleweight champion Anderson Silva for most wins in UFC title bouts at 11.