What makes St. Pierre, Pacquiao similar?
During the course of one week, the welterweight kings of mixed martial arts and boxing will both be in action. Georges St. Pierre will face Jake Shields in UFC 129 on April 30, and Manny Pacquiao defends against Shane Mosley seven days later on May 7.
Both are heavy favorites in the eyes of fans, commentators and the betting lines, with St. Pierre minus-450 and Pacquiao minus-600.
In many ways they are mirror images of each other; St. Pierre is the Pacquiao of MMA, while the Pac-Man is the GSP of boxing.
The similarities begin with their background. Both are natural outsiders in what are essentially bi-polar sports. In the same way the Philippines lays outside the North America-Western European axis of boxing, Georges St. Pierre was a trailblazer for Canadians in a UFC that's been traditionally dominated by Americans and Brazilians.
Both were drawn away from their countries of origin by the power of the American dollar, which despite the repeated predictions of combat sports becoming a truly global game continues to dominate the business of fighting whether inside the cage or the ring. Pacquiao hasn't fought outside the US since 2006 while 15 of St. Pierre’s 17 UFC fights have taken place on American soil.
Luckily, this pair of atypical foreigners both connected with US fans better than even homegrown fighters; whereas typically non-Americans can expect to be taunted by fans with "U-S-A!" chants, St. Pierre and Pacquiao are firm fan favorites. This is in part due to the way they avoid the aggressive and confrontational ways of many American stars. Talking to UFC commentator Joe Rogan, Freddie Roach, who trains both Pacquiao and St. Pierre, directly compared this aspect of the two fighters’ personalities: “[Georges St. Pierre is] very much like Manny Pacquiao ... He’s not a trash-talker, he’s a gentleman.”
Indeed, despite taking on American opponents in their next fights, the vast majority of American fans will be cheering St. Pierre and Pacquiao. Both are crossover stars like their sport's rarely seen before, with St. Pierre attracting the endorsement deals and magazine profiles previously unthinkable for a participant in a sport still banned in New York State, while Manny Pacquiao's made numerous forays into the worlds of film and music.
And such is their popularity that they've been able to return home in style. St. Pierre has led a revolution in Canadian combat sports, leading the UFC to a dominant position ahead of Canadian boxers such as Lucian Bute and Jean Pascal and the traditional market leader, Vince McMahon’s World Wrestling Entertainment. The past two times he's fought in Canada the UFC has broken the North American attendance record for MMA, and this Saturday he will do so again in front of 55,000 fans at the Rogers Centre. The fight will also likely break the all-time MMA event gate record with the final figure being in excess of $10 million.
The issues surrounding time zones and the lack of purchasing power of his native fans may prevent Pacquiao from doing the same, but he has managed to successfully make the transition into the world of politics, being elected a congressman in the Philippines last year. And who knows, maybe his political ambitions will necessitate him bringing a country-pleasing fight home at some point?
Curiously, however, despite their global fan bases and mainstream popularity in America, neither can credibly lay claim to being the No. 1 draw on pay-per-view. In each sport, a controversial American who knows how to push people’s buttons is better at getting people to part with their hard-earned cash to purchase the latest PPV. However, with Brock Lesnar’s UFC championship credentials in doubt after coming off a one-sided loss to Cain Velasquez, and with Floyd Mayweather seemingly being forced into a second premature retirement from boxing by multiple lawsuits, both St. Pierre and Pacquiao may be on the brink of becoming their sport’s top draw.
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But away from the box office and the cheering fans, it’s perhaps the similarities between the two men as people that are most striking. Both are driven professionals who have not been spared the jarring experience of tasting defeat. And yet both came back the stronger after their losses, making the changes necessary for them to establish their current dominance.
Unsurprisingly, each has made use of the services of legendary boxing trainer Roach. While Roach has been Pacquiao’s head trainer for years, it was only recently that St. Pierre has started to work with the owner of the Wild Card gym.
As Roach has attested to in many interviews, St. Pierre is, like Pacquiao, a perfectionist, saying both champions are determined to push themselves further by expanding their knowledge of their sport and learning new techniques.
However, for all the things they have common, there are differences between the two, differences from which they can learn from each other. Whereas Pacquiao is facing Shane Mosley — yet another faded, aging superstar with a dubious recent record, St. Pierre is taking on an unheralded, but highly credentialed fighter in former EliteXC and Strikeforce champion Jake Shields, who enters the fight on a 15-fight winning streak.
St. Pierre vs. Shields is exactly the sort of "trade fight" promoter Bob Arum is diverting Pacquiao from in favor of name opponents in his Top Rank stable. Pacquiao would do well to follow the example of St. Pierre and give the likes of Timothy Bradley a chance to prove themselves in the big leagues.
St. Pierre, on the other hand, is facing growing calls from fight fans the world over for him to move up in weight and face UFC middleweight champion Anderson Silva. It had looked like the fight was as good as made back in February. The final obstacle was if St. Pierre could beat Shields. But since then Yushin Okami has been given a middleweight title shot in Brazil this August, while St. Pierre and Dana White are now downplaying the possibility of the welterweight champion moving up in weight. Indeed, several reports have surfaced of St. Pierre having been convinced he’s too small to make the jump up.
But before he dismisses the idea of testing himself at middleweight, St. Pierre should look to Pacquiao for inspiration. On the same night St. Pierre first won the UFC welterweight title, Pacquiao was defending his WBC super featherweight belt. Almost five years and 20 pounds later, Pacquiao's earned the admiration of people worldwide by repeatedly moving up in weight and beating men who were bigger and stronger than him. Only by winning world championships at multiple weights and proving himself capable of beating larger men can St. Pierre emulate Pacquiao’s in-ring accomplishments.
And he can do more than that. By moving up to 185 pounds, he would be challenging his only rival as the pound-for-pound king in MMA in Silva. Just as boxing fans have been salivating at the thought of Pacquiao vs. Floyd Mayweather, MMA fans have been loudly demanding that St. Pierre and Silva square off inside the ring. Defeating Silva would prove beyond all doubt that St. Pierre is the greatest UFC fighter of his era.
Georges St. Pierre has called Manny Pacquiao his "idol." Only if he has the nerve and the ambition to challenge Silva for the middleweight title can he not just emulate Pacquiao’s moves through the weight classes, but go one better by being one half of MMA’s version of the superfight boxing just cannot make.