LAS VEGAS, NV -- In the lead-up to UFC 162, Anderson Silva spoke at length about the burdens that come hand-in-hand with a dominant title run. Each win sets the bar higher, year after year, until the pressure reaches its inevitable crescendo.
No man can relate more to Silva's theory than Georges St. Pierre, whose eight straight UFC title defenses are second only to the Brazilian. But when asked if he shared the same beliefs, St-Pierre found himself at a loss for words.
"I can understand a little bit what he means by that," he finally said after a long pause during Monday's UFC 167 media day.
"It seems like when you're champion for a long time, it's the fans, the people, that demand something different. They want the change. As more fights happen, they put more pressure. The pressure builds and builds and builds and builds up until it explodes. It's hard sometimes mentally, even for me sometimes, it's hard because my life changed. You need to find a way to keep having fun, and even though the critics are there, you keep having fun at what you do."
St-Pierre's reign in the UFC has been long and prosperous, propelling the 32-year-old to wealth and fame throughout the world, but most of all within his home country of Canada, where he's revered as a national icon. When he was a younger man, St-Pierre craved greatness, like all athletes, but he never anticipated exactly how much this ride would alter the course of his life.
"In Montreal, before I could've gone wherever I want. Now it's different," St-Pierre said. "I'm a shy guy. I'll tell you the truth, I don't enjoy being bothered, and I never say no to a fan. I say yes to everybody. But I don't enjoy this. That's not the reason why I'm fighting. I'm fighting because I like to do what I do.
"For the fans, it's part of the game, and you have to do it even though sometimes you have some days that you don't feel like it. ... You still have to do it because you owe them. They're the people that make me live."
Sometimes those fans can be a little overzealous. Those are the moments St-Pierre begrudgingly accepts the most. As an example, St-Pierre recollected an interaction he had with a fan two or three years ago in a Toronto airport. While waiting for his connecting flight, St-Pierre slipped into a stall in a crowded bathroom.
"I was sitting on the toilet and I heard screaming, ‘GSP! GSP are you there?!'" he explained. "I was saying to myself, ‘Are you serious? Is he really calling me while I'm on the toilet right now?' And I didn't say a word. So I'm waiting and I'm like, ‘Shoot, I can't believe he's doing this to me.' I'm a shy guy. I don't like to be on the spot. So I wait. When I finished, I flushed and I even waited the next five minutes to make sure everybody that was in the [bathroom] when the guy called me ... was gone, so it was different people because I don't want to be put on the spot."
It's moments like these, where the lack of privacy becomes overwhelming, that St-Pierre never prepared for when he was just another up-and-comer. Now, after almost a decade in the spotlight, most of which was spent with a bright red target painted on his back, it's understandable if St-Pierre acknowledges the validity of Silva's fatigue.
St-Pierre first verbalized this feeling when the glaring lights of the Nick Diaz circus were at their brightest, admitting that he was growing weary of the constant media and attention. St-Pierre still has plenty of time to write his own legend, but how long will he want to? His legacy as the greatest welterweight to ever live is already largely secure.
"I always want to fight the best guy, but there's so many guys coming up. They're all calling me because I'm the champion, so I'm the target for them," St-Pierre said. "I have the crown. One day, one guy [will] beat me; he's going to have the crown, so it won't be me anymore."
It's rare to see a dominant champion discussing the end so flippantly while still so relatively young. But more often every day, quotes such as these are becoming a theme.
"People forget a little bit," St-Pierre concluded. "I don't believe I will still be as famous as I am now, because I'm the champion and have the spotlight. One day I will retire. I will go away and after maybe three years people will start to forget a little bit. Some people will still recognize me. It won't be as much."