We should have seen this coming from a mile away. Several miles, actually. With fog.
Just a little over five weeks removed from becoming the UFC’s middleweight champion, Georges St-Pierre finally admitted what many of us believed all along: He won’t be defending the championship.
“We’ll talk about it, but I’m not sure if I compete I will go back at 185,” St-Pierre told TSN. “I don’t think so.”
This, after months of maintaining that his contract required him to defend the title should he become champion at UFC 217.
St-Pierre said he would do it. UFC president Dana White said he would do it. And yet, here we are.
While the end of St-Pierre’s four-year hiatus from the UFC was always expected to be celebrated for what it was, the nature of his return rubbed many a mixed martial arts fan the wrong way.
In spite of establishing his legacy as the greatest welterweight champion to ever live, St-Pierre made waves when he revealed he had a greater interest in fighting at middleweight in his return to the cage. While devastating news to 170-pound champion and logical opponent Tyron Woodley (as well as the loads of deserving 185-pound contenders), it was worthy of celebration for 185-pound champion Michael Bisping.
Bisping vs. St-Pierre was a money fight through and through, expected to result in the sort of dollar signs WME-IMG was hoping for when it purchased the UFC in 2016. In spite of that, the middleweight championship showdown had the potential of developing a great deal of substance in the months, and possibly years, to come.
See, because for as likely as St-Pierre was to overcome the odds and defeat the naturally larger Bisping at UFC 217, many doubted he had the necessary tools to retain the title beyond that. Standing at 5-foot-10, GSP would have needed to cede several inches of height against just about any one of the UFC’s top middleweights. His chances against Bisping were fairly high, but one couldn’t say the same if St-Pierre was scheduled to face Robert Whittaker, Luke Rockhold, Chris Weidman or Yoel Romero.
But in that valley of doubt is where St-Pierre could have birthed the next chapter of his storied career. Beating fighters he was supposed to beat at 170 pounds was enough to cement St-Pierre as one of the greatest fighters of all time. But beating those he wasn’t supposed to? That’s how one becomes the greatest fighter of all time.
No other fighter in the history of mixed martial arts has dominated multiple divisions in ways St-Pierre did at 170 pounds. But there’s a reason for that: It’s really, really hard. At one point or another, size does become a factor, trumping whatever advantages any given fighter has in general skill.
He moved up to 185 pounds because he felt he could beat Bisping, taking advantage of what was the easiest path he ever had at attaining UFC gold as a middleweight. It felt like a cheap, expedited way of adding his name to the short list of fighters who’ve won gold in two weight classes, but it would have been forgiven and celebrated had he stuck around long enough to face the true sharks of the division.
Alas, St-Pierre is swimming the other way.
“Of course, in terms of weight, if I want to go back to compete at 185, I will – obviously eating, like I did what I did, I learned from my mistakes, I don’t think it’s a good thing to do, force myself to eat to gain muscle mass,” St-Pierre said. “I’ve always been against performance-enhancing drugs, and I did it the natural way. There is no easy way. I did it the hard way and it was to gain weight and to maintain my muscles mass and it was very hard and it was not healthy. I think the body has a natural weight it can perform at its best athletic ability and for me, the weight that I am now is my perfect weight.”
It’s entirely possible, and likely accurate that St-Pierre’s decision to abandon his post has to do with a recent colitis diagnosis. Already an undersized fighter at 185 pounds, keeping on the sort of mass he needs to succeed would inherently be more difficult with intestinal issues.
That doesn’t make this any less convenient, though.
The UFC is in dire need of a viable headliner for its pay-per-view event in Perth, Australia, on Feb. 11. Whittaker, easily the most popular fighter from that region today, is a perfect candidate. The only thing standing in the way is St-Pierre and his inability to get back in the cage by that date, prompting the UFC to begin looking into the possibility of a bout between Whittaker and Rockhold.
There isn’t all that much time left between now and then, with a decision needing to be made soon.
That scenario would likely result in St-Pierre being stripped of his title, with the UFC moving on from his brief run as champion.
Ending as quickly as it began, St-Pierre’s middleweight run will be a nice addition to his celebrated narrative; but it won’t have quite the impact many believe it could have.