Former UFC welterweight champion and one of MMA's all-time greats Georges "Rush" St-Pierre has announced he will enter the United States Anti-Doping Agency's (USADA) testing pool ahead of a potential return to the sport.
The 35-year-old Montreal, Canada, native told BloodyElbow of his negotiations with the UFC: "We're talking again and I'm starting the USADA process to be tested, I'm starting it [today] in Las Vegas. Because to be eligible to fight you need to be tested."
A man possessing the stature that of GSP's could have easily went down the treacherous route of asking for an exemption a la Brock Lesnar. But, after all the noise St-Pierre had made in the past in regards to being against performance-enhancing drugs, it would be a tad on the hypocritical side.
The subject of Lesnar popped up in the aforementioned interview, with St-Pierre stressing he has no intention of dodging the four-month window of testing before competition. Lesnar is presently the only athlete to have opted for this exemption and he promptly tested positive in two drug tests for banned substance clomiphene—an oestrogen blocker which also caught out former UFC light heavyweight champion Jon Jones—pre and post-UFC 200 in his victorious cameo appearance against Kiwi heavyweight Mark Hunt.
"He [Lesnar] had a free pass, I think it was an exemption of a month or something like that," St-Pierre said. "But me, I don't want to be an exception, because I was very outspoken about performance enhancing drugs. It would be bad for my reputation if I would have an exemption – I don't want to have a free pass, I want to be like everybody else. That's why I'll be starting the process [today]."
With a UFC record of 19-2 (23-2 overall), Rush will long be considered one of the best ever to have stepped into the Octagon. Before retiring, St-Pierre had defended his welterweight title in nine consecutive fights—his last win a controversial split decision victory over his eventual successor as champion on Johny Hendricks. As unconvincing as his last win was, GSP has overseen the welterweight division as champion for a total of 2,204 days—the second longest combined title streak in UFC history.
The build-up to the Hendricks fight was as messy as the action inside the cage. The pair traded barbs through the media, accusing the other of taking PEDs and GSP very publicly tried to organise extensive out-of-competition drug testing for each other with money from his own pocket. However, the pair couldn't agree on what drug testing body to use with Hendricks accusing GSP of being in cahoots with his preferred choice of the Voluntary Anti-Doping Agency (VADA).
The bizarre nature of it all led UFC president Dana White to tell fans on a Google Hangout session: "I think it makes them both look stupid. These guys are going to get tested by the athletic commission. This is something that Georges St-Pierre wants to prove to everybody, because for years people have been saying (he's on PEDs). When he fought B.J. (Penn), B.J. talked smack about him. Other people have talked stuff. The kid, not only is he another guy that's been with us since day one, he's never tested positive for anything even remotely close to anything bad. He's never tested positive for anything. He's always been a straight shooter and always professional, yet people keep talking smack about him. I just think it's crazy for him to even do this."
This fallout and a tough fight saw St-Pierre part the UFC with a rather odd in-cage interview with the promotion's color commentator Joe Rogan. The Canadian said that he needed time away from fighting on numerous occasions, citing personal reasons, before eventually vacating his title having officially announced his retirement-turned-hiatus.
However, not long after that announcement, GSP spoke to the Canadian media to explain why he left the sport in thorough detail. "It's [drugs] one of the reasons why I stopped," St-Pierre told RDS.ca. "Not really to [teach] them a lesson, because it penalizes me, too. But I wanted to do something for the sport that I love. I see the direction in which it goes, and I think it makes no sense. This is stupid.
"I think this is a big problem in the sport. Remember, because I'm an athlete, I have information internally and I know what happens. If you begin to test everyone, how (many) will be caught? I do not want to speak in public and I'm not accusing anyone, but the image of the sport may be affected.
"Everyone knows who, when, where and how. There are people, some doctors, and everyone will see the same. It's like all sports. Where there is money, there are ways to cheat, and it will always be so. But I think we should take steps to minimize those things, because it is not fair. I tried to change things remaining diplomatic. Unfortunately, people were not ready to change. This is OK, but I was disappointed.
"I am certain that it is a matter of time and one day, if things change, maybe I'll be back."
Those last words proved prophetic. During his two-and-a-half year sabbatical, lots has changed in the UFC's approach to drug testing. The UFC are now pumping millions into the USADA drug testing program to ensure all of the promotion's athletes consistently undergo thorough out-of and in-competition tests at random – whether they have a fight scheduled or not. There have already been some big-name scalps taken since USADA's partnership with the UFC came to fruition and St-Pierre soon announced his intentions of returning to professional mixed martial arts. It's not a perfect drug testing system—yet—but, it's a marked improvement on what GSP would be used to.
The question that springs to mind most about GSP's return is "why?" If you were to believe the words spewed by Dana White and GSP himself, it's not related to money—it's for the love of legacy and competition. But, can you really foresee a 35-year-old go through the rigmarole of fighting his way to a title shot once again and, if he were to win a title, would he be active enough to defend it as often as he and we would like?
It's been particularly telling that the fights and fighters St-Pierre appears to be most interested in are ones that don't make too much sense from a rankings/title standpoint, but would make a hell of a lot of money.
Rumors have been swirling around a potential fight with GSP moving up a weight class to face newly-minted UFC middleweight titleholder Michael Bisping to cement his legacy as one of the few figures to have held multiple UFC titles at different weight classes—as well as becoming the man to have won the most fights in UFC history, an honour he presently shares with Bisping.
Everyone wants a piece of St-Pierre and rightfully so. A chance to be the first man to face a UFC legend after a long lay-off is the golden ticket. Bisping has since been paired up with long-time foe Dan Henderson in his first title defence at UFC 204 in Manchester, England. But, before that announcement, he seized his opportunity to call out GSP in vintage Bisping fashion. Talking on his SiriusXM show The Countdown, "The Count" said: "I have nothing against Georges St-Pierre apart from the fact that he retired from the sport and was like, 'No, I can't do it because people are taking performance enhancing drugs.'
"Well guess what, they were and they're getting caught. But if you're a man, if you're a fighter, if you're not a little bitch, you'll still continue to take those chances and try to beat those people. You won't run away to the shadows and disappear because you think you can't compete. I'm not the coward. I'm not the coward that needs to takes steroids to compete with these guys. And I would have thought that Georges St-Pierre was man enough also to have the same attitude."
By now, those sort of comments would be like water off a duck's back to GSP. But, in St-Pierre's aforementioned interview with BloodyElbow, it's clear he was indeed interested in that match up—and the sticking point, as predicted above, was money. "The first offer they made us was for Bisping. We were interested in that fight, we made a counter offer, but like I said one day after we heard they sold the company.
"Bisping was already a world champion. They asked us if we wanted to fight in Toronto, I don't remember if it was the Rogers center or the Air Canada center, but it was to be Bisping. And I said yeah, I'm interested, but you know how negotiations go, they give you a price, they lowball you, you put a higher price, and then we meet somewhere in the middle."
I can see why St-Pierre would want the fight—it's winnable for GSP even with a long lay-off, adds to his legacy and will make boatloads of cash. But, would he really want to be thrown in against some of the middleweight giants in Luke Rockhold and Chris Weidman should he become champion? Highly doubtful given his previous concerns raised about suffering brain damage.
There were also a series of rumours linking GSP to a potential fight against Ireland's UFC featherweight champion Conor McGregor. Rush even attended his fight in early March against Nate Diaz at UFC 194—an appearance which Diaz later claimed was supposed to culminate in GSP walking into the cage after the fight to set up a fight against McGregor after he had beaten Diaz.
That was until Diaz spoiled the party for everyone, of course—something he took great pleasure in when talking to Chael Sonnen on his podcast "You're Welcome." "GSP's going to come out of retirement to fight this little ass Conor McGregor? What the fuck? This is all just a freak show now.
"Now what did I do? I pissed off Conor McGregor, I pissed off GSP and most of all I pissed off the UFC but LOL motherfucker. Get the fuck out of here motherfucker. I spoiled your shit," Diaz said. "That's what you get for fucking coming in and trying to steal the show, trying to make this about you. I spoiled everybody's day."
Still, GSP shows an odd interest in a fight with McGregor given their clear weight differences and differing caliber of opponents faced in their respective careers. That's certainly not a fight that will cement your status as one of the best fighters in UFC history, nor will it push you nearer to a title shot. But, it's another contest which would make him, McGregor and the UFC very rich.
"The way I see it is McGregor and Nate Diaz are both "bully" fighters, and the worst thing that can happen to a bully is when the tables get turned around and he gets bullied himself," GSP said. "That's what happened to Conor McGregor, that's why he lost that fight. Conor McGregor used to bully people and put people away in the first round because he's such an amazing fighter, and he gets into people's heads. But what happened was, he couldn't put Diaz away because Diaz is very resilient."
Another potential opponent suggested for St-Pierre is Nate's older brother Nick Diaz, who is coming off a two-year hiatus of his own following a positive test for marijuana after his fight against Anderson Silva. "I have no problem with Nate," he told Israeli journalist Ram Gilboa. "It seems to me to me like it's Nick Diaz that is running for another shot at me. I wouldn't mind, I'm not afraid of Nick Diaz, I'll tell you. I am telling you right now: If it's what the fans want to see, I'm in.
"I don't care if it's the first, or second, or third. If they want me to fight Nick Diaz it would be my pleasure. I don't mind, I am not afraid of Nick Diaz, I beat him last time, and I'll beat even worse, I'll beat him way worse next time that I'll fight him.
"I beat him last time easily, but I was not happy - It's one of these fights that I'm not happy with. Because I didn't feel like I gave enough, for different reasons. It left me angry that fight, when I look back at it - maybe I won, but for some reason it left me angry and I feel like I could have done so much better."
GSP has already soundly beaten Diaz, who hasn't won a fight since 2011. But, he's interested in a rematch. Present UFC welterweight titleholder Tyron Woodley—a man who has longed for a fight against Diaz since their days in Strikeforce—has been totally lambasted for suggesting that he would like the money fight against Diaz. There's no possible reason why St-Pierre would want the fight other than for financial reasons—hell, Diaz doesn't even trash talk the Canadian any more so it's not exactly a grudge match these days.
There's no doubting GSP's return to the Octagon is a thrilling proposition and this first stage in joining the USADA program has certainly got MMA fans and pundits alike excited at the prospect. However, would it feel the same if St-Pierre went down the route of taking comfortable contests in order for an easy payday? I wouldn't begrudge the man for it. But, it would be nice to know what we're getting excited for exactly.