Today, the biggest star in mixed martial arts (MMA) is UFC lightweight champion Conor McGregor. McGregor’s transcendent superstardom, which has earned him spots in commercials, video games, and even a blockbuster boxing match with the legendary Floyd Mayweather Jr, can be primarily attributed to his incredible skill as a mixed martial artist. Yet much of McGregor’s stardom can also be stacked up to his tremendous gift for trash talk.
In the lead up to just about all of his fights, McGregor has pelted his opponents with trash talk. The purpose of his trash talk his twofold. First, it helps him get into his opponent’s head, get them emotionally invested in the contest, and ultimately throw them off their game. Second, McGregor’s trash talk helps him generate interest in his fights. This is important because he receives a portion of the revenue from every pay-per-view he fights on. Trash talk creates more interest in these pay-per-views, and more interest means more money for him.
While the reasons for McGregor’s ceaseless trash talk are pretty transparent, not everyone can stomach it. Throughout the combat sports community, there are fans, pundits and fighters who criticize McGregor for his talk, and worry that this kind of verbal venom is separating MMA from traditional martial arts value like humility, respect, and honor.
McGregor, of course, is not the first fighter to use trash talk to his advantage – he’s just been the most successful at doing so. Before him, there was Chael Sonnen. Before Chael Sonnen, there was Tito Ortiz. The list goes on and on. The simple fact, however, is that more and more fighters are witnessing the massive advantages that trash talk can create, and so more and more are trying it out. And suddenly, the sport of MMA finds itself in a veritable age of trash talk.
Luckily, there are still few fighters out there who exemplify the traditional values of the martial arts. UFC welterweight Demian Maia is an excellent example of this type of fighter. UFC flyweight champion Demetrious Johnson is another fantastic example. So too is UFC interim middleweight champion Robert Whittaker. Yet there is perhaps no better example of a fighter who demonstrates traits like honor, humility and sportsmanship than former UFC welterweight champion Georges St-Pierre – who also happens to be one of the biggest stars in MMA history.
Canada’s Georges St-Pierre has not fought since November of 2013, when he defended his welterweight title with an extremely controversial decision defeat of Johny Hendricks. On November 4, however, that will change. Georges St-Pierre is scheduled to battle UFC middleweight champion Michael Bisping in the headliner of the absolutely stacked UFC 217, which will emanate from the suitably hallowed Madison Square Garden in New York City.
Given that the sport of MMA is now neck-deep in the age of trash talk, St-Pierre’s comeback really couldn’t come at a better time.
The great thing about Georges St-Pierre is that he never relied on trash talk, bravado, insults or saber-rattling to become a star. Instead, he became an MMA superstar with a blend of talent and sportsmanship. Even when he was faced with opponents who relied on trash talk, such as Nick Diaz, Josh Koscheck and Dan Hardy, the Canadian kept his cool, and did his talking in the confines of the UFC’s Octagon.
Even now, when trash talk is more prevalent than ever in MMA, Georges St-Pierre is keeping his composure and maintaining his status as a true role model for young martial artists.
St-Pierre’s upcoming opponent Michael Bisping, after all, stands out as one of the most successful trash talkers in the sport’s history. In the months since he was announced as St-Pierre’s opponent, Michael Bisping has unleashed a ceaseless stream of insults and verbal attacks, and yet, barring a few emotional moments, St-Pierre has remained calm and refused to play these games.
The purpose of this article is not to disparage trash talk. As stated above, trash talk is not a particularly new feature in the sport of MMA, and it has been a fixture in the sport of boxing for decades and decades. The simple fact, however, is that the more prevalent trash talk becomes in MMA, the easier it is to forget that the very martial arts MMA is based upon preached values like humility and respect – values that trash talk is in inherent contradiction of.
Whether he wins or loses against Michael Bisping at UFC 217 this November 4, the returning Georges St-Pierre is proof that trash talk is not a prerequisite for stardom in the sport of MMA, that great athletic and financial heights can be reached while still operating under the values that the traditional martial arts teach.