Georges St-Pierre Dropping His Belt Ends a Year of Silliness for Middleweights
Robert Whittaker was promoted to official champ last week, and will defend the belt in February.
Noah K. Murray-USA TODAY Sports
Georges St-Pierre’s return to mixed martial arts was magical. It was teased a dozen times as he went back and forth with the UFC on contractual terms, but when he waltzed back into the cage and took the lineal middleweight title at UFC 217 it was like the final act of a movie. It wasn’t a deserved shot at the title by any means. In fact, the title itself was looking rather flimsy after Michael Bisping’s last defense against a geriatric Dan Henderson. Yet the quality of Bisping vs. St-Pierre seemed to retroactively justify the match up. Of course, it all got awkward the moment the fight was over and the belt was wrapped around St-Pierre’s waist. As the euphoria washed off, fans and pundits were left asking the same question as the UFC: “Okay, now what?”
Yesterday, St-Pierre announced that he would be vacating the UFC’s 185-pound belt due to ulcerative colitis. St-Pierre left the door open on continuing his career in the UFC but made it clear that he wouldn’t be competing at middleweight. Ulcerative colitis is a chronic condition—meaning that it cannot be completely cured, simply managed with further flare ups likely down the road. St-Pierre insists that he will be working with the UFC to decide his next move. A welterweight return seems the most likely course of action.
This leaves the UFC red faced. St-Pierre was supposed to unify the belts in his next fight, and even said (in extremely unconvincing terms) that he would do so in his post-fight interview at UFC 217. After returning from his own post 217 vacation, UFC president Dana White clarified that St-Pierre had promised to defend his belt and that it was part of "the deal" in him getting the Bisping fight in the first place. White went just short of saying it was in the fight contract, allowing the journalists to assume that, but did intimate that he would be "super pissed" if St. Pierre vacated the belt now.
As with any announcement regarding a fighter’s health, some fans see this as just too conveniently timed. Their belief is that after a strange twist of fate put Michael Bisping in possession of the title, St-Pierre saw his best chance at a second title in a one-off fight, and now he wants to get out of fighting the big, talented fighters who fill the middleweight top ten. Though going down to welterweight is no walk in the park either. Welterweight champion, Tyron Woodley would have been a stiff test for St-Pierre even in the latter’s prime, let alone this far removed from it. Then there are the many other fighters who have come to prominence since St-Pierre left—Stephen Thompson, Colby Covington, Jorge Masvidal, Darren Till. But match ups against the one dimensional Demian Maia, the aging Robbie Lawler, or old rival Carlos Condit—who has managed to continue rising in the rankings by not fighting—could be fun and a more fitting test of what he’s got left in the tank.
Tyron Woodley has been hankering for a money fight for a long time though. Nick Diaz, Conor McGregor, even Nate Diaz were considered. He’ll call out anybody just to see what sticks. Woodley wants to cash in on his championship standing, but his last two fights have been such snoozers that the title is quite possibly all he brings to the equation in terms of promotion—few are buying his fights expecting a good scrap anymore. St-Pierre might have impressed us all against Bisping but it was clear that he wasn’t quite the fighter who ruled over the welterweight division with an iron fist. As super fights go it’s hardly a safe one for Woodley—but it’s a bigger money, lower risk prospect than a fight against one of the actual contenders.
The sole upshot of St. Pierre’s dropping the middleweight title is that it ends a year of silliness in the middleweight division. For the best part of the last year, Robert Whittaker has been considered to be the most proven middleweight in the game. His last three victories alone—Derek Brunson, Ronaldo "Jacare" Souza and Yoel Romero—are three of the best wins on the trot that you will see on any record in MMA. From the moment Michael Bisping won the middleweight belt it was turned into a sideshow attraction by the fights the UFC moved him into. Bisping’s title defenses against Dan Henderson and against Georges St-Pierre left Whittaker to see off Jacare and Romero, actual world class middleweights, only to be rewarded earlier this year with an "interim" title for his troubles.
Now that Whittaker was just named official champ last week—and he will defend it UFC 221—perhaps we will see a concerted effort to push the new champion. Once in a blue moon a mega star comes along in the UFC, but for the most part it was consistently great match making and a degree of meritocracy which got the company to where it is. St-Pierre vs. Bisping only served to highlight the wild grasping at straws that was the UFC’s pay-per-view strategy in 2017. Everything was put on the backburner in pursuit of "money fights" and all we got out of it was that ridiculous boxing match and St.-Pierre vs. Bisping, which was more than an entertaining fight but failed to break the Rousey/McGregor million pay-per-view buy mark in the way that you would hope a once-in-a-lifetime super fight should.
And if Georges St-Pierre retires? Well perhaps that would just be the perfect way to go out. A one-night-only return to snatch a second title and push his list of accomplishments just that little bit ahead of Anderson Silva’s, and that bit further out of reach of the next generation. Taking Silva’s belt without ever having to fight Silva, now that’s a cerebral fighter! With how quickly Dana White turned his back on St-Pierre following that Johny Hendricks fight four years ago, perhaps this is the final act of St. Pierre’s Count of Monte Cristo. He reinvented himself as a middleweight, offered us all just a glimpse at his brilliance once more, and then sailed off into the sunset with a sack full of money. Or at least, that would make for a great last page in the screenplay…
But when you remember that Conor McGregor is a guaranteed million buy man, and that he seems destined to never defend a belt, you realize this might just be a brief respite…