St-Pierre among Canadian greats

In January 2004, a 22-year-old MMA prospect from Montreal named Georges St-Pierre made his UFC debut on an undercard bout against Karo Parisyan. St-Pierre would dominate the fight, winning by unanimous decision to set up a welterweight title fight with Matt Hughes at UFC 50 later in the year. St-Pierre would lose for the first time, succumbing to an armbar with one second remaining in the opening round.

Fast forward to 2013, and GSP has taken the MMA world by storm, staking a legitimate claim to being the best pound-for-pound fighter in the sport. He is a two-time UFC welterweight titleholder, holds an 18-2 record in the UFC (24-2 overall) and is just one win away from becoming the winningest fighter in the company’s 20-year history, ironically passing Hughes.

St-Pierre has won 11 straight fights, the last eight in defense of his welterweight title. Those eight defenses are the longest current streak in the UFC and second all-time. Because of his accomplishments, St-Pierre was named the Sportsnet Canadian Athlete of the Year three times from 2008-2010 and also a three-time finalist for the ESPY’s “Best Fighter” award.

With St-Pierre at the top of his game, the argument could be made that he is the most elite Canadian athlete in all of sports today. Here are some of the other premier athletes from Canada:

Sidney Crosby

It’s no secret that the sport of choice in Canada is hockey, and the athlete who personifies Canadian hockey today is the Pittsburgh Penguins Sidney Crosby. Since entering the league as the No. 1 overall pick in the 2005 NHL Draft, Crosby has taken the league by storm. Crosby scores an average of 1.4 points per game, more than any player in the league since his debut.

In 2007, Crosby was named captain of the Penguins and led them to the Stanley Cup Final back-to-back seasons, winning the title in 2009. Crosby would then play for the Canadian team that would win the gold medal in the 2010 Winter Olympics. Crosby was the figurehead of the team, scoring the game-winning goal in overtime to defeat Team USA in the gold medal game.

Despite injuries in 2011 and 2012, Crosby signed a 12-year contract extension in 2012 with the Penguins, virtually guaranteeing the Nova Scotia native finishes his career in Pittsburgh. He will again be a part of Team Canada in the 2014 Winter Olympics, most likely as its captain.

Steve Nash

While Andrew Wiggins get his feet wet at Kansas, Steve Nash is the most prominent basketball player from Canada. Nash started his NBA career in 1996 with the Phoenix Suns after a successful college career at Santa Clara. Over his 17-year NBA career, Nash has played for three NBA franchises, winning two MVP awards in 2005 and 2006. Those awards earned him notoriety in not only basketball, but the Nelly Furtado song “Promiscuous” with the line “Is your game MVP like Steve Nash?” Nash is currently fourth on the all-time list for most assists in NBA history.

Off the court, Nash has been an ambassador for his home country, raising money through the Steve Nash Foundation and his youth basketball league in his home province of British Columbia. In 2007, Nash was awarded the Order of Canada, the highest civilian honor in the country. In 2008, Nash was inducted into the Canada Walk of Fame in Toronto.

Christine Sinclair

Among women’s athletes in Canadian sports history, soccer player Christine Sinclair is one of the most recognizable figures. From British Columbia, Sinclair started her career with Canada’s senior team in 2000, and over the past 13 years has scored 146 goals. That is the third highest total all-time behind Americans Abby Wambach (162 goals) and Mia Hamm (158 goals).

Sinclair has won two WPS (Women’s Pro Soccer) championships and a NWSL (National Women’s Soccer League) title this past season with the Portland Thorns. Internationally, Sinclair is a six-time finalist for FIFA’s World Player of the Year and part of Canada’s bronze medal winning soccer team at the 2012 Summer Olympics. Because of her performance at the Olympics (leading goal scorer with six), Sinclair was selected as the Canadian flag bearer at the closing ceremonies. In September, she was inducted into Canada’s Walk of Fame. Sinclair will most likely captain the Canadian squad in 2015 when they host the FIFA Women’s World Cup.