9:40PM EST November 16. 2012 - Georges St-Pierre will earn a hefty paycheck when he defends his title against Carlos Condit in UFC 154 at Montreal's Bell Centre on Saturday night, but the 31-year-old Canadian doesn't fight for the money anymore. He doesn't have to.
Over the past couple years of his lengthy title reign, the UFC welterweight champion has become a business unto himself. And even with a knee injury that has kept him out of the cage for more than 18 months, business is booming for the man known as GSP.
For instance, in the last 12 months St-Pierre has signed lucrative endorsement deals with companies such as Coca-Cola, Google and Bacardi. He has a deal with HarperCollins to write a book that he describes as part autobiography and part philosophy ("Kind of like The Art of War," St-Pierre said). He also has renewed his apparel deal with Under Armour and signed one with noted MMA equipment manufacturer Hayabusa, all despite not setting foot in the UFC octagon since April 2011 thanks to a torn anterior cruciate ligament in his right knee.
COACH: GSP was back to his old self in no time
According to industry sources, St-Pierre has 14 endorsement deals, with each paying him in the six-figure range. If you tally up the numbers from past and present deals, his income outside the cage is well into eight figures, sources say, with much of it coming in the past year.
The question is, how does a fighter who hasn't fought in more than a year and a half become such a magnet for blue-chip sponsors while sitting on the sidelines? The answer, according to those who know him best, has to do with St-Pierre's squeaky-clean image outside the cage and the team of high-powered agents in his corner.
"He's a superstar, and he was a superstar when we met him," said Mike Fonseca of Creative Artists Agency (CAA), which has represented St-Pierre for four years. "We just had to take him and figure out how we were going to market him."
The initial difficulty, according to Fonseca, lay not with St-Pierre's image but with the sport's. Most of the companies CAA first reached out to had heard of mixed martial arts and the UFC, but few thought that professional cagefighting was something worth hitching their wagon to.
"The first two years there were a lot of brands that wouldn't meet with us, wouldn't take our calls on this, and basically said, 'Listen, we work with you on other clients, but this is not a sport we're interested in,' " Fonseca said.
It was a position that the team at CAA understood, he added, because they'd once felt that way themselves.
"As an agency, we were nervous about the sport," Fonseca said. "We didn't know much about it, but we sat down with Georges, and we fell in love with the guy. He's a really unique, interesting guy. I consider him sort of a Renaissance man. He's clearly one of the toughest pound-for-pound guys in the world, but he's also this really sweet, humble, articulate gentleman who wears suits everywhere. He's a different kind of guy."
UFC fans love Georges St-Pierre around the world, especially in his native Canada.(Photo: Mark J. Rebilas, US Presswire)
That's why CAA gambled that the same things that put them at ease – St-Pierre's natural charm, his intelligence and his ability to avoid negative press – would be as successful in wooing even conservative brands such as Coca-Cola, which recently tapped St-Pierre as a spokesman for its NOS energy drink.
"We spent a lot of time with the Coke team in those meetings, getting them used to Georges and how they can use him," Fonseca said. "They're a very risk-averse company, but to Georges' credit, people fall in love with him."
That's good news not only for St-Pierre, who acknowledged that he's made enough from fighting and endorsements to retire comfortably whenever he chooses, but also for the UFC and the sport itself. The would-be sponsors who once thought of MMA fighters as little more than glorified bar bouncers who would sully their image are learning otherwise, thanks to GSP.
"I think what they want is a good athlete, somebody who has success in the sport, but also somebody who carries himself well outside of the sport," St-Pierre said. "They want a good spokesman and role model with a good image. That's who I am."
That combination of star power and a safe image is not lost on UFC President Dana White, who says that St-Pierre (22-2 MMA, 16-2 UFC) is "the biggest pay-per-view draw we've got." The welterweight champion, who meets interim champ Condit (28-5 MMA, 5-1 UFC) in a heavily promoted title-unification bout Saturday, is also someone whom White has come to rely on as an ambassador for the company – and one of the few fighters he feels comfortable bringing to even non-fight-related meetings.
"There's no doubt that a guy like Georges St-Pierre helps the sport and the overall business," White said. "He's a guy you can rely on in every way, shape and form. He's a guy you can build your business around. You don't have to worry at night that you're going to wake up tomorrow with TMZ calling you. ... Not with him."
While other UFC fighters and even champions have made news with DUI arrests or embarrassing public displays, St-Pierre has maintained his image of the philosophizing gentleman fighter, free of even the hint of scandal. That has helped make him a wealthy man in and out of the cage, White said. But it also ensured that the UFC felt every month of his absence, especially when it came to PPV revenue.
"It hurts bad," White said. "Listen, guys are going to get hurt and whatever, but you don't want GSP out."
Of course, that begs the question of what will happen when St-Pierre decides he's had enough of the rough sport. With all the money he has made as champion, he no longer needs to do it for financial necessity, just like he no longer needs to slap the logo of whatever sponsors will have him onto his shorts in order to make an extra buck.
"I don't take any sponsors now that don't fit with me," St-Pierre said. "I don't do anything because I have to now. I do it because I want to."
So what happens when he doesn't want to fight anymore, and the UFC loses its biggest PPV draw? White already has considered that, though he insists he'd never try to talk a fighter into sticking around in such a dangerous sport just for the money – especially when his brand outside the cage is as lucrative as St-Pierre's.
"He's been at that point for a while," White said. "It all depends on what your number is; what's your 'game over' number. But it's not about that for GSP. He's had 'game over' money for a long time."
In fact, St-Pierre said, he even considered calling it a career during a difficult rehabilitation process after his knee surgery last December. He didn't want to return to the cage at anything less than full power, he said, and he was fortunate enough financially that he didn't have to. If his body wasn't up to it, he knew he could retire.
"But I don't want to retire," St-Pierre said. "I love what I do for a living. I'm more motivated now than I have been in a long time. I want to do this for a long time. I want to be the best – the best ever."
St-Pierre has eclipsed his peers in the earnings category, thanks to a sound business sense and a team of heavy-hitting agents. Now that he's healthy enough to return to action, he can set his sights on picking up where he left off in the win column as well
Daaaaaaamn. GSP surely is a superstar