One of the greatest fighters of all time happens to actually despise fighting. That may not make sense at first glance, but that’s the case for two-division UFC champion Georges St-Pierre.
“I hate fighting. I really do,” St-Pierre told Joe Rogan. “I know a lot of people don’t believe me, but I’m going to try to explain the best I can.
“In every job, there’s no perfect job, do you agree? There’s no perfect job that you like everything about it. It’s impossible,” he continued. “My job, as a professional athlete in Mixed Martial Arts, I fight normally — when I was very active — twice a year.
“In 365 days, there are two days that I hate the most: The days that I’m fighting,” he said. “It’s freaking unbearable. The feeling of uncertainty. You don’t know if you’re going to be humiliated, you’re going to be the victor, or you’re going to be the loser. I care so much about it, that it’s freaking unbearable. As much as I try to dismiss it, it’s unbearable.”
As for every other aspect of the job, St-Pierre says he truly enjoys the rest of it.
“I like the fact that I’m a free man, I’m my own boss. I do whatever I want, I have access to certain things, VIP stuff, that most people don’t. My quality of life, the money, I didn’t have it before, now I do,” he explained. “I love my job, and I’m very happy about my job, but there’s this thing I hate about my job that I hate the most… It’s fighting. I hate it.
“I love the study of fighting. I love the science of it. The tactical, the physical. I love to train, I love to walk in the room, and feel strong. I know if something happens, I’m the man — even if it’s an illusion, with a bullet, nobody is faster than this,” he said. “I like the lifestyle. I don’t do it for the fight, I freaking hate the fight.”
This idea that a UFC legend would hate fighting can be both intriguing and hilarious, even for his other teammates. Specifically, fellow Tristar gym product Rory MacDonald, who is notorious for enjoying all the violent wars he’s been in during his MMA career.
“I had this talk with Rory MacDonald at one point,” St-Pierre recalled. “I was like ‘hey why do you like fighting?’ He said ‘I guess I like to fight, you (don’t) like to fight?’ I was like ‘F—k no! I don’t like to fight!’ and everyone in the room turned around and looked at me like I was crazy.
“‘You guys are all crazy, if you think I like to fight in a cage in front of millions of people! Maybe humiliated, knocked out, or die? Are you crazy?! I don’t like to fight, are you nuts??’,” he said.
“I like to win! When you win, the feeling is unbelievable! It’s so good, that it’s worth… this. But I hate it, man!”
In the past, Georges St-Pierre has spoken about how this “unbearable” pressure that comes with competing at the highest level contributed to his four-year break from competition. Former teammates like Brian Stann have also discussed how St-Pierre routinely suffers from some of the worst anxiety he’s ever seen before fights.
In professional sports, and fighting specifically, there’s generally an overabundance of machismo, that anything less than an unshaken — and somewhat unrealistic — self-confidence is perceived as weakness. In many of these circles, mental health issues are almost taboo and shouldn’t be seen or even discussed.
NBA stars like Kevin Love and Demar Derozan have been trying to turn the tide and remove some of that stigma by beginning to be honest and open about their battles with anxiety, panic attacks, and depression.
St-Pierre has been honest with what he’s been dealing with for a while now, but has since opened up even more about what he goes through before fights. He says everything is usually a mess, but he manages to just get his mind right at the very moment he’s about to compete.
“I hate the day (of the fight),” St-Pierre said. “The closer it gets to the day, I love it, but I start to hate it more. It’s like a hate that builds up, a bubble of hate. By the time that it’s time to freaking walk out, the millisecond that it’s about to fight (it’s gone).”
Despite countless accolades and a winning streak that has lasted several years, these issues were still evident during St-Pierre’s last bout against Michael Bisping at UFC 217.
He was backstage, about to come back after a four-year layoff, on a different division, and against the bigger and stronger current champion. With knowledge of St-Pierre’s anxiety and worries, his team tried to hide the results from earlier in the card, when the brother of his longtime coach and friend, Aiemann Zahabi lost by knockout.
They tried to keep him focused on his task at hand, but St-Pierre still eventually found out that all three of his teammates have been defeated earlier that night.
“So Aiemann lost, Joe Duffy lost, Mickey Gall lost,” St-Pierre recalled. “I go in my locker room, I see one guy with the ice bag. The other guy is all f—ked up, like this. All my locker room guys lost!
“Holy shit! I freaking hate this job, man!” St-Pierre said to himself.
“Then everybody is trying to make me think ‘it’s all going to be good!’ One of my agents was trying to tell me ‘don’t worry, it’s going to be fine.’
“It’s okay man, don’t talk to me like this,” St-Pierre responded, while still trying to gather himself. “I chose to be here. I’m a warrior. Go sit now. It’s going to be fine.”
St-Pierre’s team tried to be helpful, but it didn’t work, and it wasn’t the approach he wanted.
“So I’m in the locker room and everybody freaking lose. I go in the bathroom by myself. I look myself at the mirror — that’s what I do before my fight,” he said. “People think I go to the bathroom to piss or whatever, but I don’t.
“I see a lot of negative shit. I tell myself, try to convince myself — like a kid, ‘I’m the greatest, I’m the strongest!’ I think of it, I look at me and think ‘I’m this, I’m beautiful, I’m strong. I’m faster, I’m stronger, I’m going to win. These young guys, they lose, but I’m gonna show them the way to do it. Maybe they failed, but I won’t! I will show everybody how it should be done. I’ll come back to the gym with the glory, to show them that I achieved this, and that’s how it should be done, and they will follow me.’”
“So I try to boost myself. I open the door, and go back. I still hate my job, but I’m a different person than when I got in the door,” he said. “So I play with mind games like this with myself all the time. Stuff that try to change your attitude.
“It’s very important for a fighter, because confidence is key,” St-Pierre explained. “If you have the skills, but no confidence, it’s like having money and you don’t spend it. That’s what John Danaher told me. If you have the confidence without the skill, it’s not good too. It’s like a dream cannot be achieved. If you have both, that’s when the magic happens.
“Confidence is not a state of mind, it’s a choice. You can build it in your head. When something bad stuff happens, you build it and work on yourself to build it, and that’s what I’ve been doing.”
St-Pierre walked out to the cage, shook off all his demons, and defeated Bisping in the third round to win his second title in as many divisions. The battle outside the cage may have been as tough — if not tougher — on him than the one inside of it. But for a split second, the euphoria and everything that comes with getting his hand raised, once again made the excruciating build up worth it.
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