MANCHESTER, England – Georges St. Pierre, the Ultimate Fighting Championship welterweight champion, is one of the few individuals who can look you in the eye, smile, say that his goal is to become the greatest pound-for-pound fighter of all time, and not have it come across as the slightest bit arrogant.
"My goal is that when I retire, I want to be considered the greatest pound-for-pound fighter in the history of the sport, and to have made a difference in the sport," St. Pierre (19-2) said.
The Quebec native, who has been sidelined since suffering a torn abductor muscle midway through his July 11 win over Thiago Alves, will return early next year to face Dan Hardy, who defeated Mike Swick via decision on Saturday to earn the title shot.
And if you listen to him, you will be seeing an improved St. Pierre coming off the injury for the match that UFC officials hope to deliver around March.
St. Pierre, who is ranked No. 2 behind Anderson Silva in the current Yahoo! Sports poll, said he's all healed up, training hard two or three times a day, six days a week.
Hardy, or for that matter anyone in the 170-pound weight class these days, would go in as a major underdog to even the St. Pierre of several years ago, let alone the current version.
He's up from his usual 187-188 pounds as his walk-around weight to 195-196, and said he's slowly developing muscle that he will maintain. At the same time, he emphasized that his athletic performance comes second to his health, and despite competing in a dangerous sport, he is not going to take any steps that would hinder his long-term well-being.
The 28-year old St. Pierre said that if he gets up to 200 pounds, he may have to move up a weight class. He's noted that he goes against middleweights, light heavyweights and heavyweights in training all the time, and does very well against them.
The key is whether St. Pierre can continue to make 170 without a problem. He said if and when the cut becomes too drastic, that's when he'll stop. It's in that next class up where Anderson Silva, his much talked-about potential future opponent in what would be one of the biggest matches in company history, resides as champion.
"I'm not afraid of any man in the sport," said St. Pierre in reference to Silva, who along with St. Pierre and Fedor Emelianenko are the three fighters most debated for the No. 1 pound-for-pound spot. "Everything is a question of timing." Because of the substantial size difference between St. Pierre and Silva, who also competes at light heavyweight, UFC has been reluctant to make a Silva-St. Pierre match no matter how much it is discussed.
"Now Anderson wants to fight heavyweights and light heavyweights," said St. Pierre. "He's considerably bigger. It all depends on what the UFC and the public wants. But a lot can happen. I could lose or he could lose and then the interest would drop. But I'm up for it."
It would be easy for St. Pierre to rest on his laurels at this stage of his career. He's been the UFC's most dominant champion in terms of having the advantage start-to-finish in almost every fight against the best in his division. In the past two-and-a-half years, since returning from his shocking loss to Matt Serra in Houston on April 7, 2007, he's won 20 straight rounds, and every fight in that streak has been against either a champion or a top contender at his weight.
He's made legitimate No. 1 contenders like Jon Fitch and Thiago Alves look like they aren't even in his league. He's reached a point that no matter who he faces, whether it's fair to the challenger or not, it is going to take a great sell job by UFC to convince the fans that the challenger has much of a chance.
But no matter how dominant he's been, the loss to Serra means that St. Pierre will never take another challenger lightly again.
"Everybody is a threat," said St. Pierre, who noted Strikeforce middleweight champ Jake Shields as someone he is interested in facing. "It's always a mathematical problem. I look at what my opponent's chances are against me in every part of the game and try and find where he has the lowest percentage of chance to win."
While St. Pierre has been on the sidelines, he has made some changes to his approach, chief among them hiring a nutritionist. John Berrerdi of Toronto, who works with his personal cook in planning all of his meals.
"I recuperate better and I feel better," St. Pierre. said. "He talks to my cook, who makes three meals a day for me, and they work together."
St. Pierre was brought by UFC to England to watch Swick-Hardy at ring-side, and for a UFC Fight Club question-and-answer session that took place on Friday. St. Pierre told fans he terms himself a true mixed martial artist, noting that he's not a guy who trains in one gym for his sport, but instead drives around Montreal from gym to gym training with the best boxers, wrestlers and jiu- jitsu people he can find.
While his contract with UFC wouldn't allow it at the moment, St. Pierre admits he'd like to challenge himself in other sports, and even discussed the idea of trying out for the Canadian Olympic team in wrestling.
He said that although he has never had one competitive wrestling match in his life, he has trained so much in the sport with high-level wrestlers that he was going to enter the Canadian Olympic trials at 84 kilos (185 pounds) for the 2008 games when he ended up rushed into a fight with Matt Hughes at the end of 2007.
He would be 31 when the 2012 games come around, but he'd have to start winning tournaments in 2011 be able to qualify. While St. Pierre has out-wrestled high level wrestlers in MMA competition and may be the best MMA-style wrestler in the sport, freestyle wrestling is a different game, encompassing far more than who can get the first takedown.
"It's in my mind," he said, noting it's something he hasn't talked about publicly before and doesn't know if he will do. "I'll have to clear it with the UFC. We'll see."