In 2019/2020 one of the UFC’s biggest focuses has been expanding to markets outside of the United States. Isreal Adesanya, Alexander Volkanovksi, Zhang Weili, and others have been at the forefront of this expansion. However, the UFC’s expansion outside of the United States started in 2004.
One of the fights at UFC 46 on January 31, 2004, saw the debut of an athlete from Montreal, Quebec, Canada by the name of Georges St-Pierre. It became very clear very fast that St-Pierre was a special fighter. He debuted in the company’s “Golden Era”, fighting alongside legends like Matt Hughes, BJ Penn, Frank Trigg, and others. There was one thing in particular about St-Pierre that made him stand out from the rest; he was Canadian. And Canada had not yet seen an athlete to this caliber in the sport to this point. At this point in history, Canada needed a flag-bearing champion in the wake of Carlos Newton.
The country had not won a Stanley Cup since 1994, the Raptors had a 33-49 record, and the Jays had not won the World Series since 1993. Canadians were looking for something to root for, and Georges St-Pierre was that thing. Before St-Pierre’s championship run, the UFC had not touched down in Canada. The impact St-Pierre had on the Canadian market for the UFC can not be understated. Very quickly he became a household name throughout the country and became a cultural icon. Bret Hart, Wayne Gretzky, Georges St-Pierre … he was on that level.
If we want to talk about the impact of St-Pierre we must talk about the Canadian market for the UFC. Canada has held the second most amount of UFC events outside of the United States, only behind Brazil. Included in those events was UFC 129, headlined by St-Pierre himself. That event has the third-highest gate and total attendance in the company’s history. Canada is one of the biggest markets for the UFC and that likely wouldn’t have happened without St-Pierre.
Financial and cultural impact is not the only significant thing about St-Pierre. He is also arguably the greatest fighter of all time. He holds several UFC records and is one of the only men to hold a championship in two weight divisions. On top of that, he has the most successful defenses in the welterweight division (9), most consecutive title defenses in the welterweight division (9), most takedowns in UFC history (90), and four Fight of the Night bonuses. He holds wins over legends like Matt Hughes, B.J. Penn, Dan Hardy, Nick Diaz, and Michael Bisping.
When you talk about building the UFC as a company, the Canadian market is extremely significant to the UFC’s success. It could be argued that the UFC and MMA as a whole would have entered the Canadian market without St-Pierre. However, would it be as big as it is today without his success? Having been in several bars, MMA gyms, dojo’s, there is often a photo or plaque of him on the walls. In my opinion, St-Pierre brought MMA to a country of nearly 38 million people. As a result, his impact and significance in the success of the promotion can not be understated.
Georges St-Pierre helped build the Ultimate Fighting Championship.