Georges St-Pierre (GSP to his fans) just might be the most famous Canadian athlete on the planet today.
His name is synonymous with the pinnacle of success in the brutal sport of Mixed Martial Arts fighting. Now a key piece of his legacy in the sport is part of the national collection held by the Canadian Museum of History.
The UFC superstar was on hand to help unveil the museum’s latest acquisition along with dozens of his fans and a contingent of media all assembled in the Grand Hall.
Along with GSP’s 2009 Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) 94 title belt, the museum has collected a pair of GSP’s shorts and gloves.
GSP is a two-time UFC Welterweight Champion and Middleweight Champion. He is the most successful Canadian ever to compete in mixed martial arts which combines wrestling, jiu-jitsu and kick-boxing. He successfully defended his welterweight title nine times from 2008 to 2013. He is recognized as one of the best-ever MMA fighters.
The museum’s CEO, Mark O’Neil greeted the acquisition on Thursday by saying, “we are very pleased to be the first institution to add to our collection a piece of memorabilia related to Georges St-Pierre, and in so doing recognize both his exceptional career and the popularity of mixed martial arts in Canada.”
St-Pierre told the crowd that he was pleased, and frankly relieved, to see the belt enter the national collection.
He had given the belt to a friend and gym owner, on the south shore of the Greater Montreal area, who had given a young and very broke GSP a chance to train for free. GSP has also given one of his belts to his mother.
The belt became the property of the gym owner’s wife when the couple divorced. She put the belt and the other items up for auction where the museum spotted the listing.
Jenny Ellison, who manages the sports memorabilia collection in the museum, said the artifacts on offer were too good to pass up. The museum moved quickly to buy the pieces.
“I am in the unique position of building the sports collection at the museum,” Ellison said. “I am trying to orient our collecting towards people who transcend their sport,” she added. GSP certainly does that.
GSP’s belt will now sit proudly alongside artifacts from other great Canadian athletes such as Maurice Richard, Jacques Plante, Terry Fox, Rick Hansen and Hayley Wickenheiser.
For GSP, that is an important recognition for his sport.
He told the crowd he remembered when he first fought in the Bell Centre a headline from a fight that he was involved in Montreal which called the fighters barbarians. Now his MMA belt is part of Canada’s sporting legacy for all time.
“We live in a culture where hockey is the No. 1 sport and it took some time for MMA to be accepted. It is not a sport for everybody. For me to be in the museum among all the great athletes, it’s immense honour,”he said.
The belt will be on public view in the Museum of History’s lobby from Feb. 1 to 4.
“The belt, which could have been lost for many years as a result of an unfortunate set of circumstances, is now in good hands for the long term. It is a great honour to have it on public display. I couldn’t be happier,” he said. “It’s my way to say thank you to the fans.
“Every time I won a belt I gave it to someone who helped me along the way in my career. I gave that belt to a gym owner who helped me when I could afford to pay for training. Because of the (divorce) law, his wife got the belt and it ended up on the internet.
“It was terrible and we couldn’t get it back until the museum” stepped in.
GSP is from the small Monteregie community of Saint-Isidore, which is south of Montreal and just south of the Kahnawake Mohawk reserve.
The former Canadian Athlete of the Year retired at the end of 2013 but returned in 2017 to defeat Michael Bisping to win the middleweight title.
He is now 37 and he hasn’t fought since 2017. He has recovered from a battle with ulcerative colitis and he told the crowd that he is trying to set up a bout with the current UFC lightweight superstar Khabib Nurmagomedov, but it has been difficult to arrange, in part because he believes the UFC may not be that interested, he added.
“For me as an athlete what is most exciting thing to do is to be able to beat someone who seems invincible. At the point that I am in my career, to keep my motivation high that is what I am targeting. Khabib right now is the best. He is a real big problem to solve.”
GSP holds the record for most wins in UFC title bouts, with 26 (including eight by knockout, six by submission and 12 by decision).
The belt in the museum’s possession was won Jan. 31, 2009. St-Pierre defended his welterweight title by defeating lightweight champ B. J. Penn. The match was the first to pit two UFC titleholders against each other.
The massive belt is made of leather and metal. It is encrusted with cubic zirconia and carries the UFC logo. It was acquired through Classic Auctions, a respected seller of iconic sports memorabilia. The belt, shorts and gloves were valued at $73,956.
Visitors will have the opportunity to admire the belt, which will be on display in the museum lobby, from Feb. 1 to 4.