Georges St-Pierre doesn’t like to lose. That probably comes as no surprise considering he didn’t do a whole lot of it during a dominant UFC career that saw the Quebecois mixed martial artist record 26 career wins and only two losses. So while trading blows with a big-name heavyweight opponent in his Marvel debut in 2014’s Captain America: The Winter Solider may have felt pretty natural for the four-time UFC champ and three-time Canadian Athlete of the Year, getting knocked out by Captain America definitely didn’t.
“I escaped! I didn’t lose that fight,” GSP protested when we spoke over Zoom the other week. For a guy used to not just winning fights, but dominating them, St-Pierre had some unfinished business in the MCU. And he finally got his chance at an Avengers-sized rematch thanks to The Falcon and the Winter Solider, the latest Marvel original series to premiere on Disney+.
UFC and MCU fans alike had been eagerly awaiting St-Pierre’s return ever since a set photos of GSP reprising his role as the deadly French mercenary Batroc the Leaper leaked last fall. Fortunately, they didn’t have to wait long, with GSP’s Batroc showing up to throw down with Anthony Mackie’s Falcon during an opening action sequence that looked far more like the type of big-screen Marvel action we’re used to after WandaVision’s smaller scale and offbeat sitcom homages.
Considering St-Pierre’s character played a frequent foil for Cap in the comics, and even had his own super-squad called Batroc’s Brigade, it hopefully won’t be the last we see of St-Pierre in the MCU—who teased as much during our call. So don’t expect to see GSP headed back to the Octagon any time soon; the mixed martial arts GOAT is having way too much fun in his second career as an action star.
We spoke to the Canadian UFC legend about his triumphant return to the MCU, the difference between fighting for the cameras and fighting for real, and the time he accidentally tagged his co-star Anthony Mackie during a fight scene.
I’ll tell you right off the bat, I’m not going to try to get you to give me any spoilers. I know no one wants to be the next Tom Holland or Mark Ruffalo, accidentally giving away secrets in an interview… That’s a good way to get Batroc killed off.
[Laughs.] It’s your job to dig and it’s my job to make a shield to block you, and to deflect you in different directions.
Marvel’s become pretty famous for having their master plan set out years in advance. After you showed up in Captain America: The Winter Soldier, did they tell you, “Keep your phone on, we’re not done with you yet?” Or did the call take you by surprise when they said they wanted to bring Batroc back?
The call took me by surprise. Because at the time I was competing in mixed martial arts. I’d just retired; a few months passed by and I received a call. And I was very excited. Because I’ve always been a huge fan of these franchises. Marvel, Disney, Star Wars, all of that. To be part of this, for me, it’s a childhood dream come true.
Was it hard keeping your return a secret once you knew you were coming back?
No, I’m a very disciplined person. And it’s very compartmentalized with Disney and Marvel. I only know what I needed to know in order to play my character—so even if I wanted to try to give leaks away, it would be impossible, because I don’t know [anything] myself. They’re very good at dealing with this stuff. In terms of entertainment, I would say they’re the best in the world. They’re the elite of the elite. They know how to run their series.
“Let me tell you something about Anthony Mackie: he’s made out of steel. [Laughs.] He’s a really tough guy. When I hit him, my arm went numb, because it touched my nerve.”
Nothing against Anthony Mackie, but your fight with him lasts a bit longer than it did with Captain America. Did you enjoy getting the chance to show off some more moves? Because it looked like Batroc’s fighting style has evolved a bit since we last saw this character.
We say in mixed martial arts that you never fight the same fighter twice. You can fight the same name twice, but you never fight the same guy twice. My character is a mercenary who has no morality. When a mission has been given to him, he doesn’t care if it’s good or bad, he just focuses on the objectives, because he wants to be paid. So when you see him fight Steve Rogers, he’s only using savate technique—because he’s a champion of savate and Olympic lifting. That’s why he can jump so high, and he’s called the Leaper.
When he fights Steve Rogers, he’s only using savate technique and acrobatic stuff. But when he fights The Falcon in the plane in the first episode, you see him use a technique that we see only in wrestling and jiu-jitsu called a “power double leg takedown slam.” So that means he’s not the same guy. He has improved since the last time we’d seen him.
Were you encouraged to give your input when it comes to fight choreography?
A little bit, but the team that made the choreography are very good at making stuff that suits me well. Of course, sometimes I can discuss with them, but they’re just unbelievably good. I’ve been taught that to have good stunt people in the movie industry, it’s like a secret weapon. And they’re the best in the world, these guys.
What works in UFC isn’t necessarily the same as what looks good on camera. Do you almost have to retrain your brain when it comes to fighting for the camera versus fighting for real?
When you fight for real, everything is small. But when you fight for the camera, everything is big. You can’t do that in a real fight, because you will telegraph your punches and kicks, and your opponent will see you coming. But for the camera it looks great. That’s the major difference.
Well, also, as a professional athlete, you have that mentality of wanting to win at all costs. And here, you have to lose. When you go up against Captain America, you can’t beat him—
I’m not losing! No no no, I escaped! I didn’t lose that fight. And actually, I got the best out of Falcon. I kind of kick his ass. So…
That’s true. You did score a knockdown. You took him down in the plane.
Exactly. And I didn’t die, so… If I can say to The Falcon, from now on, my Brigade and I will be ready. And we’ll make sure you don’t get that lucky ever again.
One thing I’ve always wondered, after so many years in the Octagon, all that muscle memory, is it hard to pull punches in these fake fights? Are you ever accidentally taking shots, or dishing them out?
Because it’s choreography, it’s not dangerous. It could be dangerous. I have a little story: I was working with Anthony and you know, Anthony and I, we spend a lot of time doing the same choreography. And when you do the choreography, it becomes like a flow. You do things and you expect your partner to move along the same way.
Then at one point, I threw a punch and he ducked, but I was not able to pull the punch on time, and Anthony, he has so much on his plate—he has all the lines to remember, the choreography, plus his suit, it’s huge. And I was not able to pull the punch on time, and I hit the top of his head with my elbow. But let me tell you something about Anthony Mackie: he’s made out of steel. [Laughs.] He’s a really tough guy. When I hit him, my arm went numb, because it touched my nerve. We were joking about it after, I said, “I think you’re the only guy in my life that I’ve hit, and I got more damaged than the person that I hit.” He’s really a superhero.
In those fights, what percentage of those scenes are you versus Anthony as opposed to you sparring with someone from the stunt team?
It depends on the fight choreography. However, it’s understandable that they cannot have the lead actor getting hurt. And even for myself, there’s things that I cannot do. In the world of martial arts, I would say there is three different dimensions. There’s the performer, in terms of performance, fighting for real, like I did. There’s the choreography part, the action scenes that you see. The guys doing jumping kicks. They’re way better than I am at this kind of stuff. And there’s also the philosopher. A good example of that is Bruce Lee. Bruce Lee changed our world not because he was a fighter—he was a fighter too, but he was mostly a philosopher. His philosophy changed the world. I read his book and it changed my life. We still do things in fighting that he talked about in his books many years ago.
So there’s the performer in terms of real fighting, the choreography, and the philosophy. But in movies, what you need is specialists, choreography specialists. And these guys, they spend a lifetime doing this stuff, and they’re better than anybody else in the world.
Did you talk to the team at all about Batroc might have gotten up to between your two appearances? What happened to him during The Blip? Because it seems like that’s going to be a major focus and theme for this series.
One thing for sure, he has improved his skills because of his encounter with Captain America. He’s not the same guy. He’s the same name; he’s the Leaper. But he’s not the same guy. He’s way more lethal now. He’s much, much better than he was. Much smarter. Much cleverer. He uses the element of surprise. And he has improved his fighting skills because he knows he’s going up against superheroes. In order to match that, he needs to use all these different tactics. Because he does not have superpowers. But he’s a ruthless guy. A very smart mercenary.
Same thing as in the UFC, right? You lose a fight, you know you’ve got to go back to the drawing board and get better.
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