MONTREAL – Georges St. Pierre answered the questions about his ability to handle pressure with a dominant win over Matt Serra to become the undisputed Ultimate Fighting Championship welterweight champion Saturday night at the Bell Centre.
The match drew more interest throughout the country of Canada than any match in UFC history. There were more than 120 credentialed media for the fight, and more than 1,000 bars and restaurants across the country ordered the fight, believed to break a record set in 2002 by the Lennox Lewis-Mike Tyson boxing match.
"I had a lot of pressure," said St. Pierre going in, which Serra was counting on to be one of his advantages in the fight. "I had a hard time sleeping, but that always happens before a fight. I'm afraid to fail. But if I don't feel butterflies, I can't perform."
A crowd of 21,390 fans paid in excess of $5 million USD, selling the building out to almost exclusively UFC Fight Club fans, with virtually no tickets put on sale to the general public. The few that were put on sale sold out in one minute.
It was both the largest and loudest crowd in UFC history, with St. Pierre, Rich Franklin and Sam Stout (who lost a split decision to Rich Clementi in a preliminary match) getting deafening reactions.
The crowd, heavily male and almost exclusively people in their 20s and 30s, came from throughout the country, and were heavily partisan to all the Canadian fighters. But they were there mostly to see St. Pierre, who grew up in a small farm town, Ste. Isidore, about 15 miles from the Bell Centre.
St. Pierre used to say that he got recognized more in Las Vegas than in Montreal, but with the promotion of this fight, that changed, and he wasn't able to go anywhere in recent days without being mobbed.
St. Pierre took Serra (16-5) down at will, and tried to use his conditioning to keep the action fast on the ground. Serra got virtually no offense in, with two judges giving the first round 10-8 scores in favor of St. Pierre.
At 4 minutes, 45 seconds of round two, after St. Pierre had connected with punches on the ground that had blackened both of Serra's eyes, and threw four hard knees to the body, ref Yves Lavigne felt it was enough and stopped the fight.
Serra was clearly disappointed, feeling he could have lasted out the round, but was taking it matter-of-factly, and not complaining, as he was never in the fight.
"This time Georges kicked my ass," he said after the match.
It was a rematch of the biggest upset title change in company history, held April 7, 2007, in Houston. Serra, an 8-to-1 underdog, knocked Serra down twice and finished him on the ground in the first round to win the welterweight title.
St. Pierre was technically an interim champion by beating Matt Hughes on Dec. 29, a title set up when Serra missed a scheduled title defense after herniating two discs in his lower back, and the fight was to unify the title. But St. Pierre said he was not accepting that he was champion until he beat Serra and portrayed himself as the challenger throughout the build-up.
"I didn't want to play a jiu-jitsu game with him because he's a world champion (at jiu-jitsu)," said St. Pierre, who at 26 is the youngest man ever to regain a UFC title. "As far as the fight goes, I had a good night and he had a bad night. Last time I had a bad night and he had a good night."
Serra was booed to almost insane levels both at the weigh-ins and when he came out for the fight. But after it was over, St. Pierre told the crowd that Serra had said things to hype the fight, praised him for agreeing to defend the title in Montreal and told his home fans to cheer Serra. And they did.
St. Pierre noted the noise level during the fight was so high that for the first time in his career, he couldn't even hear his corner giving instructions.
Both UFC president Dana White and St. Pierre after the match talked about Jon Fitch, a former wrestler from Purdue, as the next challenger. There was some talk by White and the press about a possible champion vs. champion match with Anderson Silva, the company's middleweight champion. The consensus right now is they are the two best pound-for-pound fighters in the company, if not in the entire sport.
"Never say never, but I have a lot of training partners at 185 pounds," St. Pierre said. "You can play baseball against your friends, but you can't play UFC. I will never fight a friend. Maybe I'd do it for a super fight."