When one thinks of the name Georges St. Pierre, the word dominant is followed soon after.
The French Canadian has punched, kicked, choked, and wrestled his way to the top of the 170-pound division, a legacy so stellar it is only rivaled by pound-for-pound stalwart Anderson Silva.
But it hasn't been a road free of potholes and unexpected detours for the welterweight champ. He's had to overcome mentally crushing losses, only to come back stronger than before.
Road to Toronto is a special series leading up to UFC 129: "St. Pierre vs. Shields." We'll take a look at some of the most important moments in the careers of the champion and his challenger. The ups and the downs, the highs and the lows. We'll examine the instances in time that have helped shape the men that headline this Saturday's (April 30, 2011) card, the biggest in UFC history.
The opening entry for GSP is the first of his two career losses. His career was still in its infancy when he took on Hall of Famer Matt Hughes, a man "Rush" idolized. Suddenly, the dynamic fighter who had finished all but one of his fights regressed from confident young man to awestruck fanboy.
Let's take a look.
The welterweight title was vacant. Earlier in the year long-time champion Matt Hughes was upset (and smooched) by B.J. Penn who promptly left the promotion to fight in his home state of Hawaii and Japan.
So Hughes, after scoring a win over Renato Verissimo, was booked in a title match at UFC 50: "The War of '04" to help bring a sense of normalcy to the 170-pound division.
His opponent was a young French-Canadian who had quickly picked up a handful of stoppage victories in the Great White North. George St. Pierre earned his slot opposite Hughes by beating Karo Parisyan and Jay Hieron in his first two UFC bouts.
When they met at UFC 50, it was the classic "youth versus experience" storyline and this time experience came out on top.
They circle the Octagon to start until "Rush" shoots in for a takedown, dropping Hughes onto his back. The former champion creates distance between himself and GSP and scrambles onto his knees, then to his feet. He barrels forward in a takedown attempt of his own but is shoved away by the French-Canadian.
Hughes is finally able to get close enough to his opponent to clinch him up and go for the takedown. GSP is able to defend at first but the Miletich-trained figher has been doing this for too long to be denied. The crowd roars when "Rush" is scooped up and then slammed back down.
The former champion in his guard, St. Pierre teases a kimura but nothing comes off it. He then explodes out from under Hughes, using his arm and leg to shove off the cage in an attempt to sweep the American. He doesn't get the reversal but "Rush" is able to get back on his feet.
Knees are traded in the clinch before they shove off and separate. They circle until GSP busts out a spinning back kick that drills itself into the wrestler's ribcage. Hughes' pain-shocked body bounces off the cage and he lurches forward in a weak takedown attempt.
The French-Canadian lands a few jabs but once again finds himself on the business end of a Matt Hughes takedown. In side control, Hughes lands short punches. "Rush" tries to escape back onto his feet but is kept down by the former champ. GSP is able to get Hughes out of side control and back in his guard at least.
The American begins to unleash the ground and pound he's built his career on but GSP is able to escape the most vicious strikes. Hughes opens up with several rights and "Rush" is able to latch onto the arm to attempt a kimura.
He commits a fatal Brazilian jiu-jitsu error, though, when he doesn't gain control of Hughes' legs. As the American's shoulder begins to get turned out of place, he spins over GSP's head and reverses the hold into an armbar of his own.
Jeremy Horn has taught Hughes well.
St. Pierre taps immediately. The horn signifying the end of the round sounds off one second later.
"Rush" would later say that Hughes had already beaten him before the fight had started. So intimidated by his idol was GSP, he couldn't even look the American in the eyes during the referee's pre-fight instructions. Surprisingly, he still performed remarkably well.
It was a fight the current welterweight kingpin had to lose. While obviously disappointed in not pulling out the win, it required him to grow mentally and become a better fighter.
When he stepped into the Octagon the next time, he fought with an enormous chip on his shoulder.
Tomorrow: One of MMA's most heated rivalries begins when GSP takes on B.J. Penn at UFC 58: "USA vs. Canada."