By Will Davies
Georges St-Pierre appears fearless in the UFC octagon but admits that is actually far from the truth. (Reuters / USA TODAY Sports: Stephen R. Sylvanie)
Mixed Martial Arts star Georges St-Pierre has won some of the most brutal bouts in UFC history, but, astonishingly, one of the most feared men in world sport admits he is scared of fighting.
St-Pierre has won 26 of his 28 professional fights in the Octagon. And despite defending his world title a record nine times, the 37-year-old says he’s petrified of stepping into the cage.
“I hate fighting. I never enjoy it one second,” St-Pierre said in Sydney this week.
“There is always part of your job that you don’t like. My job, I’m a professional athlete. There’s 365 days a year, I fight maybe twice a year.
“The time that I hate is the fighting part because of the uncertainty of failure — am I going to fail, am I going to succeed?
“The stress is unbearable, I’m scared.”
Learning to fight back
A three-time Canadian Athlete of the Year, St-Pierre started his martial arts journey at the age of seven to combat the severe bullying he suffered at school.
There was never a “Hollywood moment” where he turned the tables and beat up his bullies. Instead his confidence steadily increased, and the way he started to carry himself took the target off his back.
However, despite securing a black belt in karate at the age of 12 and dominating through his early cage fighting career, the affable St-Pierre has always battled with anxiety.
“Every fight I’m scared, I’m terrified,” he said.
“However, if you see me walk to the Octagon, I’m acting like it’s impossible for me to fail and I’m going to win and I’m excited to front up and I’m going to win.
“I’m walking like I’m a badass. That’s the attitude.
“So what’s happening when you do that, your physique will dictate your mind how to think and you will start believing it.”
Georges St-Pierre fights against Johny Hendricks in their welterweight championship bout during UFC 167 in Las Vegas. (Stephen R. Sylvanie: USA TODAY Sports)
St-Pierre remains active on the UFC scene and plans to fight again early in 2019 once he’s fully recovered from a stomach ulcer. In the meantime he’s swapping the Octagon for the lectern, conducting a speaking tour on Australia’s east coast.
In amongst private dinners and posing for fan photos, he’s hoping to entertain and change people’s lives by sharing the lessons he’s learned from fighting. Skills he believes can be used outside combat sports.
“It’s important because everybody in their life, they have to go through adversity and sometimes they’re caught in-between, they’re stuck with ‘how am I going to deal with the stress and the fear?’
“I’m in one of the fields of work where you’re going to fight someone and you can die, so it’s very extreme.
“Because of that experience I think I can help them, whether they have to go for an interview or something in their field of work to overcome that.”
Making fear your friend
The French Canadian tells his life story at “An Evening with Georges St-Pierre” with vibrancy and unbridled enthusiasm, before employing an even greater vigour when responding to questions from the audience.
“Confidence, it’s something that you can build up in your mind,” he said.
“Fear, you have to see fear as a friend. So when I’m going to fight I’m always afraid, I’m always terrified.
“The feeling is unbearable, especially when every fight is higher and higher. But confidence as a fighter is very important.
“The way you can work on your confidence is by acting. You act like it until you make it. Michael Jordan, Usain Bolt, LeBron James, Floyd Mayweather — you name it. They’re all different characters but they’ve all got one thing in common.
“They started acting like a champion before they became champions.”
UFC fighters exist in a brutal world, but they are still victim to the same moments of self doubt as the rest of us. (AP: John Locher)
Spreading his message is something St-Pierre is keen to do while he’s still a champion of his sport.
And as a champion, he’s also happy to continue to tread his own path.
“Everybody has a different mindset,” he said. “For me, I’m not afraid to admit that I’m afraid.
“Other people are afraid to admit they are afraid. That they don’t want to look like a coward and stuff like that.
“I’m saying it like it is. I’m trying to explain my feelings and my mindset as best as I can. Some people can relate to it and some people can’t.
“In terms of when I say I don’t like fighting, I’m stressed because of the fear of failure.
“Same thing for someone who has to do a presentation or is a producer of the movie, I guess they would be afraid of the critic.
“Every field of work has a stressful situation, has a fear of failure. If you really care about what you do, you want to be good at it and have a fear of failure.
“So that fear of failure, it’s a relation of a hate and love at the same time. Because I love my job, but I hate it in a certain way.”