"Nice to meet you", Georges St. Pierre says, extending his hand.
I don't have a personal history with GSP other than enjoying his rise to the top in the UFC Welterweight Division. But he assumes me to be a member of the media, when in reality, I'm only pretending to be. I'm armed with Canon's PowerShot SD800 IS, which is something like Union militia standing across a set of Panzer tanks. I'm ready for Ball's Bluff. Not the Battle of Stalingrad.
I shake GSP's hand, and one by one, he shakes the hand of every photographer, and media member there to watch him pose for the shoot. It's a strange experience for me. I'm a fan of mixed martial arts. My responsibilities to MMA have always boiled down to how many beers the rest of my friends need for the PPV, and whether the television should be interrupted by re-runs of Ren and Stimpy when Jake Shields is fighting (kidding- I have a ton of respect for Shields). Instead I need to make sure I represent SB Nation with quality content surrounding the UFC Welterweight champion.
"How rapidly the mind adjusts itself", Oliver Wendell Holmces once intoned.
Holmes is talking about the adaptability of the mind after nearly getting killed in a battle that saw only 800 of 1700 Union soldiers make it back. It's a pretentious connection to make here, but it nonetheless describes my mental behavior. I can't contain my child-like enthusiasm, and for a second I can at least approximate the asinine joy of asking ‘Team Edward, or Team Jacob?'
The photographers and crew finish up, and we head back to a large room in the studio reserved for the media to ask GSP questions. The grub is decent, with shrimp chips being the main attraction. I don't feel guilty at all about slamming down as many shrimp chips as there are cells in my body before the other media members get to it.
Besides, they're busy doing their job. Damon Martin from MMA Weekly sets up his monopod nearby, and local media are making sure the lighting is fixed just right for their interview.
St. Pierre enters the room, and one by one, shakes each media member's hand. This can either be a prosaic ritual, or an act of professionalism. I'm leaning towards the latter. After all, he looks to be in good spirits.
When I finally get the chance to begin asking him questions, I'm something like 5th in line, so it doesn't occur to me that he's essentially answered all of my questions already. But it's worth asking whether the injury has affected his training, and whether he's needed to accommodate his training by emphasizing some parts of his game while limiting others."It's exactly like it was before. I can do whatever I want. I don't have to change anything. The only thing I change in training are the things I train to get better as a mixed martial artist."
What about Carlos Condit? What part of Condit's game is most threatening to him?
"He's good everywhere. His capacity of adapting is what makes him so good. He knows how to adjust himself. That's where he's the best."
This may not have been true several years ago of the kitchen-sink fighter who struggled with Hiromitsu Miura at WEC 35 in a brutal four round war, but it is definitely true of the Condit that fought Nick Diaz at UFC 143.
Dana White is currently dead set on GSP vs. Anderson Silva at Cowboy Stadium. What does GSP make of that?
"I don't even think about the next guy I'm gonna fight in the welterweight division, so I don't think about going up in weight class right now. I'm just thinking about Carlos Condit. That's all that goes through my mind."
The fact that GSP isn't thinking about going up in weight right now is telling, but typical. He's been asked the Silva question for years, but he's been defending his belt too.
However, he zestfully reminds everyone he fears no man, nor does he fear robots in disguise, apparently. "I'll fight Megatron. I'll fight Optimus Prime. The UFC puts a dinosaur in the cage, I will fight", he tells other reporters off the cuff.
Meeting St. Pierre provokes the fanboy in me, but it's not what I find most interesting. What I find most interesting about St. Pierre is that he spends hours with a bunch of people he doesn't know, all there to ask him questions he's answered a thousand times in his own head, and takes it all in stride. But standing across from him, I don't ever get the sense any of this bothers him. I get the sense that he feels like taking pride in fulfilling his duties contributes to his success.
There's a place for the migrant fury of a Nick Diaz, or the virile theatrics of a Chael Sonnen, but it's GSP's scrupulous professionalism that is ultimately more binding to the MMA community. In the wake of how everyone handled the UFC 151 debacle, I forgot how desperate this sport is for 'class', and 'grace'. GSP is that grace.
But he's still very personable. He recounts the story to another reporter of how his mind randomly wandered during his bout with B.J. Penn at UFC 94 where a beautiful woman caught his attention in the crowd. A beautiful woman who turned out to be no woman at all. He laughs about his mental hiccup, and the room laughs with him.
I try to throw him my own curveball, recounting the story David Epstein relayed to me, about how his girlfriend met GSP on a subway in New York, asking him to confirm whether or not he was a professional fighter. GSP told her he was in great shape because he's a Ping Pong champion. He's pulled different white-lie cards before, apparently.
"(laughing) I make jokes all the time. People who don't know me ask ‘I've seen you before, are you an athlete? Do you do some kind of sport?', and I like saying I'm a classical dancer, or I do ballet."
Everyone finishes up, and GSP once again searches everyone out in the room to shake their hand. That's St. Pierre. A world class champion, with an emphasis on the word 'class'. Thankfully it's the sport of MMA that benefits, and not Ping Pong.