The path to fame and fortune for young Canadian athletes usually begins the first time they lace up a pair of ice skates.
For Georges St. Pierre, it began when he was bullied at school.
The Quebec native took up karate at age 6 to defend himself and immediately fell in love with combat sports.
He moved on to boxing and Brazilian jiu-jitsu and even trained for a time with the Canadian wrestling team.
Now one of the biggest stars in the world of mixed martial arts, St. Pierre will defend his Ultimate Fighting Championship welterweight crown against lightweight champion BJ Penn in the main event of a sold-out card at the MGM Grand on Saturday night.
St. Pierre said he played a little hockey in his youth and still plays occasionally for fun, but he clearly made the right career choice when he decided to pursue MMA professionally.
The 27-year-old has amassed 17 wins in 19 career fights and is in his second stint as the UFC welterweight champion. He also owns a previous victory over Penn, a split decision in 2006.
St. Pierre said a second victory over Penn, who is at the peak of his career, would be a significant moment in his career.
“I’m world champion right now, so I don’t fight for the title anymore. My goal in this sport is to be the best fighter ever. To reach that goal, I need to beat the best guys, and BJ Penn is (one of) the best,” St. Pierre said. “I don’t want to defend my title; I want to beat BJ Penn.”
St. Pierre’s fighting skills might have served him well in hockey, though he doesn’t think he would have fared too well as an NHL enforcer.
“Fighting on the ice in hockey is a totally different game than fighting in the octagon. On the ice, I would get beat up, but in the octagon, I would beat them up. It’s a whole different thing,” he said. “It’s like if you fight Mike Tyson in the pool and Mike Tyson doesn’t know how to swim.”
Though hockey still gets most of the attention of the Canadian sports fans, St. Pierre did garner some recognition from Sportsnet, which named him the 2008 Canadian Athlete of the Year.
He was the first MMA athlete to win the honor, receiving 89 percent of the votes to easily defeat finalists Jarome Iginla (hockey), Daniel Nestor (tennis), Justin Morneau (baseball) and Chantal Petitclerc (Paralympics).
“Actually, it surprised me because hockey is so very big there,” St. Pierre said. “But it’s a great honor for me, and I think it’s a big step for MMA.”
St. Pierre says his popularity throughout the rest of Canada has not affected his home life a great deal.
“In Quebec, where I come from, the sport is not as popular as it is in the States or in the English-speaking parts of Canada,” he said. “A lot of times people ask for my autograph, but most of the time I can do what I want.”
Contact reporter Adam Hill at firstname.lastname@example.org or 702-224-5509.