Standing on a balcony and watching as the street below filled with fans clamoring to catch a glimpse of him, stopping traffic in the process, UFC welterweight champion Georges St-Pierre said he felt like “the President of the United States.”
And less than a decade removed from the days when he began fighting in the sport of mixed martial arts, the man known as “GSP” could now add the Philippines to the nations he has conquered.
“I was not expecting to see that many people,” said St-Pierre of his tour of the Philippines last week. “If people think I’m popular in the United States, they should have seen how it is over there. It was insane. I needed to have three bodyguards everywhere I went, and people were stopping the cars and buses in the street to come see me. I couldn’t believe my eyes. It’s hard to believe that the sport is even more popular than even in America.”
If it’s not, it’s certainly on its way to achieving that status, and when you consider that current boxing superstar Manny Pacquiao is not just a Filipino icon, but an elected congressman, that’s not surprising. And this combat sports-rich nation has saved plenty of admiration for trips featuring some of the UFC’s finest, including Chuck Liddell and Brandon Vera. But it may have pulled out all the stops for St-Pierre, who was greeted at Manila’s Ninoy Aquino International Airport last Thursday by scores of fans and television news crews shortly before 5AM.
From there, it was a whirlwind three day ride for St-Pierre, who still found time to get in some training before the camp for his December showdown against rival “The Ultimate Fighter” coach Josh Koscheck begins in earnest.
“I had a very busy schedule, but I always found time to train at least twice a day, so it was perfect,” said St-Pierre, who met with local media, appeared on several television shows, and also found time to catch up with one of his own fighting idols, Pacquiao, who was training with Freddie Roach in preparation for his upcoming bout with Antonio Margarito.
“Manny Pacquiao is one of my favorite boxers and it was a great experience to see him and how fast he is,” beamed St-Pierre. “To see it live and see it on TV is two different things.”
After visiting with Pacquiao and Roach, St-Pierre received the shock he never expected.
“After the training I was leaving the gym,” he recalled. “I was on the balcony and the traffic on the street was stopping. People were pointing at me like ‘hey, this is Georges St-Pierre of the UFC,’ and the traffic stopped. It was like the city was shut down and I had never seen something like this before.”
The big event was still to come though, and even before St-Pierre arrived at the Mall of Asia in Pasay City, fans flocked to the site in droves, chanting “GSP” all the while. And once the champion got there, it was pandemonium as people filled the Mall (some even said that more people came to see St-Pierre than Pacquiao when he made an appearance there) to watch one of the Octagon’s finest work out.
“It was great,” said St-Pierre, who welcomed the opportunity to meet the people of the Philippines and spread the word about the world’s fastest growing sport. “It was my first time in Asia and the people were the nicest people I’ve met.”
And you get the feeling it won’t be the last time he’ll visit.