The following editorial was sent in by MMATorch reader Dan Cooper.
When the first wave of fight announcements rolled in last week for the much-heralded UFC 200 event, it didn’t quite feel right. Something was missing. Sure, the fights themselves look great on paper (even if a couple of the higher profile bouts are rematches) and from top to bottom, the card thus far is full of intrigue, talent, and potential. Whilst there are certainly more than a few MMA fans scratching their heads at the McGregor-Diaz rematch, to a certain extent, the UFC’s hands were tied. With the Irishman coming of a loss and yet seemingly hellbent on proving himself outside of the featherweight division, options for McGregor were suddenly much more finite than the limitless heavens that Mystic Mac had us all stargazing into for the past year. Add to that the fact that Dana and company are no longer entirely in the driving seat when it comes to determining McGregor’s next opponents and we are where we are. Ignoring the high-profile immediate rematch that nobody asked for, you’re theoretically left with a queue of contenders for highlight reel matches. Aldo-Edgar, Tate-Nunes, Velasquez-Browne, and Hendricks-Gastelum all have massive potential. So what on earth could possibly be missing?
After all, for longtime fans of the sport, it’s difficult not to compare UFC 200 to its centennial predecessor. Contextually, UFC 100 found the company in something of a similar spot to 2016 as they looked all set to make the leap to the next level. In Brock Lesnar, the organisation had a superstar who had the pre-existing exposure to take MMA further into the mainstream – meanwhile, (despite having already captured the UFC Heavyweight Title) fans and press were riven as to whether Lesnar actually had the talent to lead the UFC into its bright new dawn. Fast forward seven years and countless shows, and once again the company has the necessary superstars to elevate it further into the public consciousness; though once again, with McGregor and Rousey having lost their vaunted auras of invincibility and Jon Jones seemingly obsessed on methodically working his way through every traffic violation in the New Mexico penal code, the jury is out as to whether this current crop have what it takes to get the company to where it wants to be.
What UFC 200 doesn’t yet share with its older brother is that alluring sheen of championship gold. Currently, the July card has a dearth of true championship fights. To compare, UFC 100‘s top three fights featured two major title matches (Lesnar-Mir, GSP-Alves) and a middleweight number one contender’s bout in the form of Henderson/Bisping. As of right now, despite the organisation boasting twice as many champions as it did when UFC 100 aired, UFC 200 features just one legitimate money bout (Aldo-Edgar isn’t for a legitimate championship and is instead more of a title eliminator with an interim title tacked on). Although the recently announced Tate-Nunes title fight should be a real barn-burner, there are presently no other belts on the line at what has been purported to be the UFC’s biggest show ever, the event set to finally top that nine year-old buy rate record from UFC 100 and catapult the company to the much-heralded “next level.”
Surely then, another championship fight is coming… but from where? With the heavyweight, middleweight, and bantamweight divisions all featuring bouts of their own too close to the big night to be booked again, it won’t be any of those. We can rule out Strawweight Champion Joanna Jedrzejczyk too, as she defends her title against Claudia Gadelha the night before UFC 200 at the TUF 23 Finale. In spite of Jon Jones’ incessant trolling of Daniel Cormier on Twitter, it’s doubtful that he’d really bet on himself making two fights inside forty-seven days, and with their recent history of plans backfiring, neither will the UFC. With the same logic probably applying to the winner of Johnson and Cejudo (who also fight on the same night as Jones), that leaves us with two possible options: a lightweight rematch between Rafael Dos Anjos and the newly-available Khabib Nurmagomedov – the only man to beat the current champ inside the Octagon – or perhaps the long mooted Robbie Lawler-Carlos Condit Welterweight Title rematch.
With both fights being rematches, are either of these bouts feasible title matches for UFC 200? Perhaps not, we suspect, otherwise the card really does start to look like a UFC Greatest Hits tribute album. Speaking of Lawler, we haven’t seen the Welterweight Champion in action since the turn of the year, and with no announced opponent as of yet, it’s hard not to imagine that there’s feverish work going on behind the scenes to put something together, but with whom? Carlos Condit may be more than deserving of another shot, but as previously mentioned, with two, possibly three rematches already on the docket, adding another one to the mix may just be a bridge too far. With Thompson and McDonald tied up in a title eliminator, that only really leaves one option.
I’m talking, of course, about Georges St-Pierre.
It isn’t just about the title here either. With the exception of the UFC’s long-awaited first event at Madison Square Garden later this year, there aren’t many events with the lofty status to welcome back the welterweight icon who never lost his UFC belt. Adding the untainted aura of a true legend to the card to face off against the current champ (who seems to garner Fight Of The Year nominations every time he steps into the cage), would surely cement UFC 200‘s status as the Greatest MMA Card Ever. Stylistically, it isn’t a bad matchup for the former champ either: Lawler’s takedown defence isn’t his greatest asset, and if St-Pierre could avoid getting drawn into a war with Lawler, then his chances of a successful return to the octagon would be pretty good.
Does that mean that GSP should return, though?
It’s reasonable to conclude that St. Pierre’s risk-averse style in the Octagon extends to his choices outside of it too. Whilst Lawler may be a good match on paper, the current champion’s real strength is not so easily quantified: Lawler’s ability to dig deep and find hitherto unknown reserves are enough to stir unease in any opponent, even GSP. Despite being ahead in fights, multiple opponents have been unable to call on the same tenacity as Lawler, finding him not only impossible to put away, but also that he improbably grows stronger as their own vigour wanes. That said, for GSP, whose legacy and wealth are assured, it’s all about competition and the temptation to prove himself against such a man must be an alluring one indeed.
Ultimately, there is more for GSP to consider than just the man standing opposite him when the cage door shuts. St-Pierre has suffered approximately eight hundred head shots during the course of his career, he’s thirty-four years old, and lest we forget, the last time he left the Octagon, he was bloodied and bruised like never before; victorious or not, there was a palpable sense that his era of dominance as the sport’s greatest pound for pound fighter was drawing to a close. Beyond that, there’s one more good reason for GSP to sit back and let his legacy do the talking: from the moment he announced his leave of absence, Dana White and the UFC have treated him with little but scorn and disrespect, from White’s tirade during the UFC 167 post-fight press conference through to rubbishing his legacy by comparing him unfavourably to Conor McGregor. And all of this because the French-Canadian superstar had the temerity to talk about such Evil (with a capital E!) concepts as improved drug testing and a fighter’s union.
So Georges, my advice? Don’t do it. Part of creating a great legacy means always leaving them wanting more, and right now, they want you a lot more than you want them. Much like myself, I advise you to enjoy UFC 200 from the comfort of your couch – you’ve got absolutely nothing left to prove. Sure, the spotlight may be tempting – and it may never shine as brightly as it will at UFC 200 – but all it can ever offer is MMA immortality, and your place in that pantheon has long been assured
[Photo (c) Jason Silva via USA Today Sports]
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