St. Pierre’s win streak one for the books

TORONTO – It’s not referenced in reverential terms. It’s not splashed across the front of the company website. There haven’t been any television specials devoted to it.

Yet, Georges St. Pierre’s amazing streak of 30 consecutive rounds won against the best competition the Ultimate Fighting Championship has to offer should be regarded as one of the great streaks in professional sports history.

It should be up there alongside the likes of Joe DiMaggio’s 56-game hitting streak and Cal Ripken’s 2,632 consecutive games played. It is no less impressive than the University of Connecticut women’s basketball team’s 90-game winning streak or the Oklahoma football team’s 47-game winning skein.

St. Pierre, the UFC welterweight champion, has not lost so much as a round, let alone a fight, since he was unexpectedly knocked out by Matt Serra in the first round of a title bout in Houston at UFC 69 in 2007.

In that span, he’s faced a small army of the world’s most dangerous men, dominating top ranked challenger after top ranked challenger and putting a virtual monopoly on the welterweight belt.

He’s so good that his opponent in the main event of UFC 129 on Saturday at the Rogers Centre, former Strikeforce middleweight champion Jake Shields, is a 5-1 underdog despite a six-plus-year winning streak of his own.

The significance of the streak is not lost on UFC Hall of Famer Randy Couture, who will face Lyoto Machida in a light heavyweight match on Saturday’s undercard. Couture, who is 19-10, has won a UFC title five times, but never had a consecutive rounds win streak so much as reach double figures.

“It’s very difficult to do, in this sport, especially,” Couture said. “There are so many ways to make a mistake and come unhinged and get caught. It doesn’t take much, and I’ve been on both sides of that. It’s a tribute to Georges and his dedication and the amount of athletic ability that he possesses. It’s very, very impressive.”

It’s particularly impressive when considering that the men he’s dominating have generally been dominating everyone else before they got to him. They’ve trained for months to prepare, studied countless hours of film and then haven’t been able to even come close to causing him a problem.

He hasn’t lost a round since two of the three judges gave Josh Koscheck the first of their non-title match at UFC 74 in 2007 in Las Vegas. The seven men he’s faced during that streak – Koscheck at the beginning and end of it, as well as Matt Hughes, Serra, Jon Fitch, B.J. Penn, Thiago Alves and Dan Hardy – were 44-0 with 25 finishes combined in the fights they had before they faced him. Hughes is already in the UFC Hall of Fame and it’s a safe guess that Penn and Fitch will join him someday. It’s also no stretch to suggest that, as young as Alves is and the record he has already compiled, he may be able to do enough to make it, as well.

UFC president Dana White just shakes his head at what St. Pierre has been able to do despite the level of competition he has faced.

“Georges St. Pierre, not only has he not lost a fight, he hasn’t lost a round [since 2007],” White said. “He hasn’t lost a round. I didn’t know it was 30 rounds, but 30 rounds. That’s pretty amazing. Georges St. Pierre, and you’ll find very few people who will argue this, but he is a special individual. He’s one of the greatest ever, in every way, shape and form: As a fighter, as a human being, as an ambassador [for MMA]. You name it, he’s it.”

The record is a big deal to pretty much anyone in MMA except for St. Pierre himself. Reeling off round after round against the best fighters in the world is, to him, simply a byproduct of controlling the fight.

[Related: How Georges St. Pierre drops 20 pounds in one day ]

St. Pierre’s genius has been his ability to determine a game plan that plays away from an opponent’s strength. At UFC 111 against Dan Hardy, who is a powerful puncher but has next-to-no takedown defense, St. Pierre correctly reasoned he couldn’t be hurt by one of Hardy’s wild right hands if Hardy was flat on his back most of the night. Over and over that night, St. Pierre took Hardy down and repeatedly worked for submissions.

But the next time out, it was exactly the opposite. At UFC 124, St. Pierre faced Koscheck, an elite wrestler. St. Pierre spent time working on his boxing technique with heralded trainer Freddie Roach before that fight and wound up spending the night battering Koscheck with a powerful jab. He broke Koscheck’s orbital bone in the first round of that fight, on Dec. 11 in Montreal, and Koscheck has yet to be medically cleared to resume training.

It seems like a simple thing, to fight an opponent where he’s least dangerous, but no one does a better job of accomplishing that than St. Pierre. It’s a rare sight to see him post-fight with bruises or welts on his face. There are few outward signs of the battle he’s just fought.

“My game is about control,” St. Pierre said. “Control the game and most of the time, you win the fights. My game doesn’t rely on a knockout punch or something from a fluke. I rely on control, and I think it’s the most methodical way to fight. Also, it’s the best way to not get injured and [to be able to] have a long career and be able to implement your game plan.”

St. Pierre said his greatest performance has been his successful title defense over Fitch at UFC 87. Fitch looked like someone had beaten him in the face with a night stick after that bout.

But the scary part is, St. Pierre believes he can get better. He said he’s had the perfect training camp and is vowing a sensational fight. St. Pierre is an extraordinary MMA wrestler and Shields’ base is wrestling, so there has been some justifiable concern that it could be a dull fight.

St. Pierre brushed aside such talk, however. He predicted the fans “would be very pumped up” by the fight and said Shields has brought the best out of him.

“I’m going to bring the fight to Shields and he’s going to bring the fight to me,” St. Pierre said. “It might come out as one of the best fights in history. I’m very excited for this.”

An excited St. Pierre is a very dangerous man to face. And if Shields is unable to come up with a way to make St. Pierre fight outside of his comfort zone, that consecutive rounds won streak is going to continue its inexorable rise.

It’s difficult to imagine at the highest level of any sport any athlete being more dominant than St. Pierre has been over the last five years. But St. Pierre insists the world hasn’t seen the best from him yet.

“Jake Shields is going to make me show the best of Georges St. Pierre,” he said. “He’s going to make me show the best of what I’ve got.”

A North American-MMA record crowd in excess of 55,000 will be there to watch him try to do it. If he can sweep Shields the way he has Fitch, Koscheck, Hardy and Alves, he may be able to stretch his streak into DiMaggio figures. With St. Pierre, nothing is out of the realm of possibility.

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Kevin Iole covers boxing and mixed martial arts for Yahoo! Sports. Follow him on Twitter. Send Kevin a question or comment for potential use in a future column or webcast.
Updated Thursday, Apr 28, 2011