My weekend in Montreal (courtesy of UFC 2009 Undisputed, which looks to be a pretty successful videogame for THQ when it releases) was a blast, most of all because I got to talk to the UFC Welterweight Champion (and ladies’ favorite) himself, Georges St-Pierre. Seeing as how English is GSP’s second language, this was a really entertaining interview, much more entertaining than UFC 97 ended up being. Sure, it was cool to see Arcata native Nate Quarry open up Jason MacDonald’s forehead (which really upset the Canadian fans backing MacDonald), and seeing Chuck Liddell’s last fight was historic even though he was completely overmatched against Shogun Rua. But most of the fights were mediocre, capped by a yawn-inducing win by Anderson Silva over Thales Leites, a fight so bad that UFC President Dana White apoligized afterwards.
But talking to GSP (and the chance to watch the fights in a luxury suite at the Bell Centre) made up for all that. GSP interviews are rare. I talked to Ken Gonzalez, host of “Between Rounds,” a syndicated MMA radio show (that might end up on a certain local station at some point, but you didn’t hear that from me) a few hours after talking to St-Pierre, and he told me that GSP rarely gave interviews in the past, and one time St-Pierre went on Gonzalez’s show and got so nervous he was sweating profusely. GSP is a hesitant and humble superstar, a man who was voted Canada’s Athlete of 2008 by a landslide majority and became the first MMA fighter signed by Gatorade, although you wouldn’t know it when talking to him. He’s getting more confortable with the whole interview thing, but while talking to him I still kind of got the feeling he’d rather be training than talking.
The following was a round-table interview (literally, it was five gaming writers and yours truly sitting with GSP at a circular table). Some of the questions are gaming-related, some are fighting-related. Mine trend more towards the latter, and my questions are in bold if you want to skip down past the parts where GSP tries to answer how the game can educate people. Minutes before we talked with GSP he had played the game for the first time and beat White, his boss, in the second round. It was pretty entertaining to watch, since White was talking major trash about being undefeated in the game before GSP laid him out with a spinning backfist, a scene I describe at length here.
Georges St-Pierre: It felt great. Especially because he was so proud to tell me that he was undefeated. I gave him his first loss. It adds a lot of honor, that game.
BASG: Do you wish you were fighting tomorrow, seeing as the event is in your home town?
GSP: No, not really, because it is not good timing for me because I need some vacation. But I wanted to be here to support my two friends and training partners, Denis Kang and David Loiseau. (Ed. Note: Kang won his fight against Xavier Foupa-Pokam by unanimous decision and Loiseau lost to Ed Herman by unanimous decision.)
GSP: I remember when I was a kid I used to play a videogame with characters like Hulk Hogan, Bret “The Hitman” Hart, and I was looking up to those guys. Now I can play as myself. It’s kind of weird (laughs).
GW#3: How do you feel about your representation in the game?
GSP: It’s pretty accurate. A couple months ago they put me in a room with some sensors. They asked me to shadowbox, do my special moves. I can see that they really use them in the videogame cause I did some that were my special moves, like a “Superman Punch,” and some things like that.
GW#1: Dana called Canada the capital right now of MMA. Can you talk about that, I mean he thought that was a surprise for him because he didn’t expect it, how Canada’s embraced the sport so much over the years.
GSP: Yeah, it’s true, I’m very surprised. Here in Quebec, the reporters, they always thought we were a bunch of barbarians and guys like that back in the day. But now I think when people get more educated about our sport they start to change their mind. I think it was a lack of education and the way that they didn’t understand the sport. And if you look at the past, boxing had the same problem when it just came out. Boxing was a sport, a very brutal sport and it was known as a sport of barbarians. But with the time, people get more educated and it becomes a legitimate sport.
GW#4: How do you see the videogame educating people about the sport?
GSP: It will a little bit, for sure, but I think it’s with the time — the time that people will spend watching the fights and get more educated on it. The videogame will help a little bit, but I think it’s more that the people who will play the videogame will be more the fans of the sport.
GW#5: A little bit of an elaboration on that, do you think if somebody who knows absolutely nothing about UFC rents this game, do you see this game as kind of a gateway to getting into the sport, or at least becoming a fan? (Ed. note: yes, he really decided to ask that question again, the same question that got no response the first time)
GSP: Well, ah, I don’t know. I think it’s more the other way around. The fans will play the game. Maybe it will reach some people, I don’t know. That’s an interesting question. I have no clue.
GW#3: When you’re training, can you talk a little bit about your routine, and how many hours a day?
GSP: I train six days a week, twice a day, and even sometimes three times a day. I have very versatile training. I train in different places, I mix wrestling, Brazilian Jiu Jitsu, boxing, Muay Thai, like MMA sparring all involved, like he kickbox me, I’ll move, takedowns, submission holds. I try to have good conditioning and sprint, like I run track too, I sprint 100 meters. So I try to mix everything together and I train in different places, like in New York, Albuquerque, Paris, France, and also Brazil — Rio De Janeiro. So I have a very big variety of training partners. That’s what makes me good, I think.
GW#3: So you always make them some of the best cities in the world?
GSP: Every place that I go, I can learn something from them.
GW#5: How much have you trained on the game?
GSP: The game, it was my first time.
GW#5: How much did Dana play?
GSP: He played many times, I’m sure. So I was maybe lucky, maybe if I play him ten other times he would beat me nine.
GSP: That’s something very interesting. Everybody talk to me about that. People think that they take Thales Leites for beaten, which is the biggest mistake Silva could do (Ed. note: Actually, Leites pretty much beat himself against Silva, falling on his back anytime The Spider approached, followed by Silva kicking at him and walking away until the referee forced Leites back on his feet. Simply an awful fight to watch). I hope he’s not doing it, because it happened to me once with Matt Serra. And I learned from my mistake. And I hope for him it doesn’t happen twice, but right now I don’t look past Thiago Alves. That’s my next fight, Thiago Alves. But maybe if the outcome of the fights are good, maybe I will do it.
GW#1: Can you talk about the significance of that card, and your fight in particular, that’s a big moment for this company, 100th pay-per-view event, all the festivities around that. Is it hard for you to appreciate that you have this one fight to focus on?
GSP: I have more of a responsibility for my career. I always keep in mind that the most important thing is my fighting. So I never put my training in jeopardy. So you know before I came here, I trained. I trained really hard today before I came here. So I might have to make some adjustments, but my priority is always training. PR is second.
GW#5: Why should people play as you when they pop the game in the first time?
GSP: I don’t know. To tell you the truth, they can pretty much play anybody else, I wouldn’t mind (laughs).
GW#5: Who would you pick if you played for the first time?
GSP: I’d play myself, but if I wanted to play as someone I would probably choose one of my friends or training partners. Like Rashad Evans, David Loiseau, Nathan Marquardt, Denis Kang.
GW#2: To be on the cover, did that give you as well a financial stake in the game?
GSP: Yeah, it’s part of the contract with UFC, too.
GSP: It was pretty recent. It’s funny that you talk about it, because my parents called me and they told me that they sent a bunch of stuff. A cooler, a bunch of bottles of Gatorade, and they’re like “where is that coming from?” because I gave my parents’ address to them (everyone laughs). But it’s pretty recent, it was like a month ago.
GW#1: Being the Canadian Athlete of the Year, was it a big moment that Canada and also the US beginning to respect you and your sport as an athlete and as a sport and not like what you talked about before as a barbarian or something like that?
GSP: It has showed the education of the people. The more educated they are about the sport, the technique of what happens, the more interested they will be. It’s a very interesting sport, there’s a lot of action. It’s an exciting sport, I think.
GW#3: What are you looking forward to most at the event tomorrow?
GSP: I look forward to see my two friends, David Loiseau and Denis Kang. I have a lot of friends, Cheick Kongo is fighting, he’s from France (Ed. note: Kongo knocked out Antoni Hardonk in the second round in UFC 97, and is absolutely enormous up close — like Dwight Howard, only five inches shorter). And also the final, Silva and Leites. I think that’s going to be very interesting.
GSP: If it stays standing up it will be Silva, but if it goes on the ground it will be Leites. I think Leites has a chance to win. People think Leites is beaten already. He’s not. He’s pretty good. (Ed. note: he may be good, but he was definitely beaten.)
GW#1: Was that a big turning point in your career, that one loss (to Serra), because you said you’d never overlook anyone again. Tell me, was that a big significant kind of turning point, that you’d never look past an opponent?
GSP: That lesson was the best thing that ever happened for my career, it made me a way better fighter, and I changed my whole entourage, my whole training and that’s already made me a better fighter. I started to get more involved in sports psychology and philosophy, and it helped me out a lot because fighting is not here (points to his right bicep). It’s not at the muscle, it’s here (points to his head).
BASG: I know that you’re always learning as you’re training, is there a new style you’re studying right now?
GSP: Right now I’m learning some different techniques. If I compare my sport, it’s like if you look in the past, Royce Gracie won the first few times because he brought something totally new to the fight. Ghengis Khan won because he had the bow and arrow, a weapon nobody knew. When you play cards, you don’t want to show your hand.
BASG: So you’re not going to tell us, are you…
GSP: No (laughs).