Years ago, after his stunning loss to Matt Serra, Georges St-Pierre began working with a sports psychologist that changed his view on many things. Chief among them was his outlook on the future. Instead of peering into the distance to see what might be on the way, St-Pierre began to focus on what was firmly within his reach.
The ability to ignore possible distractions is partially what's led him to his recent glory. Since that loss, he's won nine in a row, put a stranglehold on the UFC welterweight championship belt and become a huge star, but it's all happened one step at a time.
That's still the approach he's taking today. Currently engaged in physical rehabilitation of his surgically repaired right knee, St-Pierre is aiming to gain his doctor's clearance for full training at the end of August. When that comes -- and he's fully confident it will -- St-Pierre will finally set his sights on his octagon return. While he's expected to face Carlos Condit, nothing has yet to be officially signed. Recently, a renewed interest in a superfight pitting St-Pierre against Anderson Silva has sparked up, intensified after Silva's management team voiced an interest in the pairing.
Speaking for the first time personally about the possibility, St-Pierre wouldn't echo the idea but wouldn't outright dismiss it, either.
"I’m interested to fight whoever they put in front of me," he told MMA Fighting on Tuesday. "I’m not afraid of nobody. I want to make the biggest fight. Right now, I just came back from a long time off, and I think the first guy in line is Carlos Condit. So I’m going to get who they give me."
By "they," he means the UFC, and while the promotion's interest in the GSP-Silva fight seems to be growing, they have publicly stated that indeed, St-Pierre will draw Condit when he comes back, likely in November in Montreal.
His enthusiasm also might be tempered by the fact that it's not the first time the duo have been unofficially linked together for a fight. The idea goes back more than three years, to the time right after St-Pierre beat B.J. Penn at UFC 94. It didn't happen. A year after that, speculation intensified again, with UFC president Dana White seemingly suggesting it was an eventuality, saying, "It's hard for me to say this fight doesn't make sense."
The problem has always been timing. Each man either had a fight already lined up or an injury that precluded him from participating. That's why St-Pierre can't bring himself to get too worked up about the possibility.
"It could happen of course," he said. "It definitely can happen, but for me, that's far ahead in time. Right now, I’m not thinking about that. I can't. My main thing right now is to get better, and then when I'm going to fight, to get ready to win the fight, what I need to do to win and beat the guy. I need to focus on one thing at a time.
"You never know what's going to happen in the future," he continued. "A lot of things can change. There are a lot of big fights coming up. Chris Weidman, I've seen him in training. He's at a different level. He can be world champion if he fights Anderson first. So, this fight is not written in blood. If all goes well and all the stars are aligned, yeah, maybe one day it will happen. But right now, I just came back and I need to fight Carlos Condit. We'll see what's going to happen next."
St-Pierre said that he understands the fans' interest in the match, and said that he, too, has a desire to engage in a superfight that helps MMA "reach the next level." But right now, it's only something he can discuss in general terms, because there is no offer for it directly in front of him.
At 31 years old, St-Pierre says he feels physically as strong as ever, and unequivocally states that he's in his prime. While he initially had some fear about his knee responding to surgery and rehabilitation, he now compares the process to "changing a tire on a car." Instead, it's his mind that has been the most affected by his time away.
For St-Pierre, success became a weight on his shoulders, and he became a victim of his own expectations.
"Towards the end, I didn't have the drive anymore," he said. "I was doing it because I had to do it. I didn't have fun anymore. I lost a little bit of the love for the sport."
St-Pierre said that one day during this process, he started thinking about his early days in MMA, when he didn't have any money or titles, and he simply did it because it was fun. And he realized that was the mentality he needs to bring to the gym everyday. So, when he goes back to train for his next fight, the marathon training sessions will be out, and a newer, more dynamic setting will be in.
If it sounds a bit risky to change things up given his recent success, St-Pierre says it doesn't matter. After all, even while winning, he's heard some of the disapproval of fight observers for what they feel was a conservative style.
"There is a saying in English that you don't repair something that is not broken," he said. "Sometimes I believe you have to break it yourself to repair it, to make it better. Because the sport of mixed martial arts will evolve. If I stay at the same level, they will catch up to me. I need to evolve, to stay ahead of game. The critics are always there. I listen to the critics. I'm very critical on myself. I want to make more finishes myself. I want to be more exciting, take more risks, be more opportunistic. I've been working on that a lot."
He's also been working on a few other things during his time away. While getting his knee healthy has been the focus of his recent past, he's also taken some time to indulge his passion for studying paleontology, particularly the Jurassic and Late Cretaceous periods. He also wrapped up a stint as a consultant on a video game entitled "Sleeping Dogs." For that project, he helped technicians capture an authentic fighting style, lending some of his signature moves to the game, which centers on an undercover cop infiltrating the Chinese mob scene. St-Pierre says he likes to play as a villain, to "beat up innocent people and unleash my aggression."
But, he admits, video games are not something he's spent a lot of time playing in his recent past. And if all goes well, aside from helping to promote "Sleeping Dogs," it's not something he'll have much time for in the near future, either. Carlos Condit awaits, and then, maybe Anderson Silva. Maybe.
"Who knows?" he said. "I don't know. By the time I get there, maybe there's going to be a new other guy that will be the next big thing and I’ll be fighting that guy. Things go fast in mixed martial arts. You never know. There's a lot of guys that want to fight me. I'm going to tell you something I've learned: the only things you can control are what's in your present. What is happening right now is I don't have any fights signed. We don't control life, we don't control what goes on. Sometimes you focus on things you don't even control and it doesn't even happen. That's a waste of time and energy, and I don't want to do that."