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Great Expectations: The Problem with Georges St. Pierre

On Saturday night UFC welterweight champ Georges St. Pierre once more notched a win against a worthy challenger to his belt, meeting jiu-jitsu specialist Jake Shields head on with strikes for five full rounds to earn a win via unanimous decision.  As usual, it was a strong performance by the Canadian, who was never really in any trouble throughout the bout.  And of course, as usual, the fight stunk.

What is it about St. Pierre that makes him so dominant a champ?  Clearly, it’s his amazingly-high level of skill in all facets of MMA combat, which, coupled with his athleticism and ironclad game planning, has made for a combination that’s virtually unbeatable.  Also, boring.  But really, the Canadian can only take half the blame.

St. Pierre can kickbox like nobody’s business, as evidenced by his stunning performances against Matt Hughes and Jay Hieron, and he can submit cats just as easily (see his UFC 54 bout with Frank Trigg or his third and final pairing with Hughes).  He can out-wrestle wrestlers, he can withstand punishment and bounce back – he can do it all.  We’ve seen it in action with our own two eyes.  But it’s been so long since we were treated to St. Pierre “wowing” us (like Brock Lesnar likes to be wowed).  As they say in show business, he’s got a great act but man is it stale.

Consider this: since winning his belt at UFC 83 in 2008, St. Pierre successfully defended his title six times.  Of those six, all but one were victories by unanimous decision, with the BJ Penn fight the only stoppage (which came when the Hawaiian’s corner threw in the towel after four grueling rounds).  As championship reigns go, that’s not a lot of finishes.  At least middleweight lord Anderson Silva mixes in sudden, dynamic endings (like his front-kick KO of Vitor Belfort and his submissions over Chael Sonnen and Dan Henderson) with his uninspired decision-based stinkers.  Why can’t St. Pierre do the same? 

The truth is, because St. Pierre is so dominant and capable a competitor, we expect more from him.  Yes, he can find an opponent’s weakness and exploit it to perfection, but how much more entertaining would it have been if he had beaten striker Dan Hardy at striking in lieu of laying on him?  How much more thrilling would it have been if he’d stood and traded with Thiago Alves instead of mashing the Brazilian into the canvas?  As viewers of such a kinetic sport, we would much rather see the Canadian defeat Jake Shields and Josh Koscheck like 205-pound champ Jon Jones did to Shogun – crushingly, overwhelmingly, not with just one cautious jab and overhand right at a time.  We want dominance from the man, and sure, we’re getting it.  But it’s not enough.  It’s not fun.

Shouldn’t it be fun, though?  As fans, don’t we deserve more?  Or should we just be satisfied with our heroes getting the “W” regardless of the method?

Those are very good questions, but the answers aren’t that cut and dry.  Yes, St. Pierre has a duty to entertain us, and yes, as consumers feeding the coffers of the UFC and ultimately putting the zeroes on fighters’ paychecks with our pay-per-view buys, we do deserve more than a champ really good at winning by points.  But St. Pierre also has a duty to himself – to win by any means necessary and keep winning – and between those conflicting interests (ours and his), a balance must be struck.  Unfortunately, the key word when it comes to the welterweight champ’s performances in the past couple years is “imbalance”.

We’ve seen wondrous, breath-taking things from St. Pierre throughout the years, but lately we’ve been unsatisfied.  What it all boils down to, though, is our great expectations.  Excessive or not, St. Pierre is not living up to them.

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