Tyron Woodley wants a big money fight rather than fighting No. 1 contender Stephen Thompson. If Georges St-Pierre is available and willing, should that fight happen over the Thompson bout? Why or why not.
MICHAEL BANE, MMATORCH CONTRIBUTOR
The problem of competing interests is that there is no absolute right thing to do. Depending on which party you are, right and wrong may be opposite things compared to one of the others involved. That is precisely what we’ve encountered here: different parties, with different motivations, and no singular answer that meets all interests and benefits all parties. To find the solution to this particular dilemma, let’s take a look at the players and their circumstances and motivations.
Party 1: The UFC
a. Promotes the Sport of MMA
b. Has a lot of Money
c. Pays fighters Money
d. Wants more Money
Party 2: Tyron Woodley
a. Fights in the Sport of MMA
b. As a current Champion has a PPV Clause that potentially pays him a lot more money than fighters typically get
c. Gets hit in the head for a living and has a limited shelf life
d. Wants to maximize money before exiting the Sport of MMA due to age, injury, or not wanting to forget his children’s’ names due to getting hit in the head
e. Wants to fight Georges St-Pierre or Nick Diaz so his PPV clause will pay him a ton of money
Party 3: Stephen Thompson
a. Fights in the Sport of MMA
b. Gets hit in the head for a living and has a limited shelf life
c. Current #1 contender who wants to be Champion so he can get a PPV Clause that potentially pays him a lot of money (and also because being champion is the best)
d. Wants to maximize before exiting the Sport of MMA due to age, injury, or not wanting to forget his children’s’ names due to getting hit in the head
Party 4: Georges St-Pierre
a. Used to fight in the Sport of MMA
b. Left the sport as one of the all-time greats and Champion, possibly due to visits by aliens.
c. Wants to fight again to become maybe become Champion (because it’s the best) and to definitely get a bunch of money
Party 5: Nick Diaz
a. Recently came off of suspension so he can return fighting in the Sport of MMA
b. Probably wants money
c. Is likely high right now
Party 6: The Sport of MMA
a. Has become a very established, and sometimes legitimate, sport in the mainstream consciousness
b. Continued growth will generate more money
Party 7. The Fans
a. Want to see fighters they care about
b. Gives The UFC money by watching the Sport of MMA.
Did we get everyone and their motivations? No, but hopefully we’ve listed enough factors to come up with a suitable course of action for the next 170 pound title fight. Let’s start with one very simple truth: the UFC will be weighing the factors and ultimately making the decision. So what does this mean? It means that the overriding factor in this decision is going to be how much money they can generate. Different parties are going to have different levels of influence on what The UFC ultimately decides. For example, if Georges St-Pierre tells the UFC he’s ONLY coming back if it’s against Tyron Woodly in his next fight, then the UFC may hold Woodley back until GSP is ready to go. On the other hand if Tyron Woodley says, “Forget you guys, I’m not fighting unless it’s against GSP so I walk away with a ton of $,” Dana White will probably tell Woodley to go f*ck himself and strip him of his title. So yes, not all parties are close to equal in this sense.
Look, there’s absolutely nothing wrong with trying to make as much money as you can in a fight. In a sport that constantly takes a toll on your physical well-being, a fighter should absolutely take the chance to grab any cash they can while they can. Of course Woodley wants to fight GSP or Nick Diaz, because that’s who the fans tune in to watch. More eyeballs equals more dollars for Woodley under his PPV clause. Either of the aforementioned fighters is going to make him a ton more green than Stephen Thompson. While a win against Thompson would keep the GSP fight alive, the unpredictability of this sport doesn’t make that a sure thing by any means. As Rafael dos Anjos found out, those multi-million dollar paydays are fleeting. When RDA got hurt just before his fight with Conor McGregor was supposed to go down, he missed out on the biggest payday of his life. While the hope was that he could still have it at some point down the road, an unexpected loss to Eddie Alvarez may have killed that dream altogether.
The simple way to make the most money in the next fight is to throw GSP in there. That said, it may not be the way to make the most money in the long haul. It’s a balancing act for the UFC to give fans the fights they want while simultaneously promoting the fights that maintain the integrity of the sport. Sometimes the “right” fight to make, is the one the fans don’t give two craps about. There’s also the problem of shelf-life and circumstances changing. A lucrative fight passed over today may not be as lucrative in the future due to a fighter losing (See GSP vs. Anderson Silva, Jon Jones vs. Anderson Silva, etc). But, if we make two assumptions, sometimes we can at least see some logical reasons for certain fights being made, even if we don’t necessarily agree.
The first assumption is that everyone wants more money. We’ve already established that the UFC’s decision is ultimately going to rest on money, and this just expands it a little further. Secondly, continued growth of the sport of MMA will generate more money. So which fight do we make that ensures the most cash possible, not just in the short term, but in the years to come? Will one of these fights keep the fans happy in the short-term, but damage the sport as a whole because it’s not a “legitimate” fight made on merit? Will one of them keep the eye-balls coming and also contribute to higher buy-rates in the future? Thankfully for the UFC, there’s a pretty simple solution to all of this.
If GSP comes back and says he wants the fight, you give him the fight. One of the greatest fighters of all time, GSP left as a champion, and it’s easy to argue he should only fight for the title that he never lost. Yes, it sucks for Thompson, but when you’re one of the best to ever compete and one of the biggest draws in the history of the sport, you get some special treatment. However, Dana White has already come out and said that Thompson is getting the next shot at Woodley, and there are some pretty good reasons they prefer Woodley fight Thompson rather than take on a returning GSP.
GSP has enrolled in the USADA drug-testing program, and unlike Brock Lesnar, he isn’t taking an exemption to waive the four-month testing period. That puts his comeback in December, which is going to be too late for the likely huge show happening in Madison Square Garden. That show is going to feature some big fighters and draw some big money. There’s no need to put St-Pierre on this card, as it will sell fine. We also know GSP’s return fight will do big numbers. What the UFC is attempting to do is maximize the dollars of a third fight card, one that will feature the Welterweight Championship fight after GSP returns. It’s going to be huge if St-Pierre is defending his belt, but they want to make it as big as possible in the event that he isn’t.
St-Pierre should have lost his title to Johny Hendricks. He’s been out of the sport for three years now. There’s a good chance that he loses to whomever the Welterweight Champion is in his return fight. If you’re the UFC, do you want Woodley to be the guy that takes down a future Hall of Famer? Woodley is not a draw, often fights a boring style, and has been beat enough that he’s unlikely to rattle of a bunch of victories against top competition in a dominant run. Stephen Thompson, on the other hand, has won seven straight fights. In those fights, he’s stopped former champion Hendricks, and beaten the mess out of Rory MacDonald, a guy who Woodley lost to. He also fights an exciting karate style that no one has been able to solve. If you have to pick any guy becoming a dominant champ and selling fights in the 170 pound division, this is the horse I’m betting on.
Woodley getting a push from taking down GSP will generate a lot of short-term cash, but is ultimately a bit of a waste. Thompson doing so however, positions him as a possibly the UFC’s next all-time great Welterweight. Yes, probably not going to turn out that way, but in a world of things that probably won’t happen you go with the one that is least unlikely. We’ve got a three step plan to generate short-term and long-term profit:
1. Woodley vs. Thompson at Madison Square Garden – The event will generate a ton of buys because of the others on it, and both will get some exposure as as co-main event. Ideally there’s an exciting victory by Thompson, but regardless of who wins and how, their names will be more recognizable to fans.
2. Thomspon vs. GSP at one of the tent pole shows of early 2017 – HUGE PPV buys. If GSP wins, his next fight will be huge. If Thompson wins, he’s been on two huge PPV’s in a row and just got the torch passed to him by GSP. Yes, I realize that you can substitute Woodley’s name for all this, but we’re assuming the UFC is betting on:
a. Either Woodley or Thompson is likely to beat GSP
b. Thompson would probably bet Woodley
c. Thompson has more potential to be a better sell than and popular fighter than Woodley by beating GSP.
3. Thompson vs. Maia/Lawler/Condit – Thompson has now had mega-exposure and is primed as well as anyone to become a household name.
Look, it’s unlikely that any individual fighter in this sport becomes a household name, but it does happen. You pick the ones you think have a chance and hope for the best. Why did McGregor get such a ridiculous push? Because the UFC knew what they potentially had and the guy delivered on his potential. Now,
So, what makes the most money? If St-Pierre is coming back regardless, then fighting Woodley and Thompson is the best way to generate money for the long haul. Either one of them gets a ton more exposure fighting on a big card prior, with the hope that they can carry the torch after beating GSP. The UFC wins because money. Stephen Thompson wins because champion and money. GSP wins because as a result of his alien probes he has superhuman strength and, er, I mean, because money. The fans win because GSP. Nick Diaz always wins because he’s Nick Diaz and he always gets money regardless of who he fights (GSP after GSP his return match?). Tyron Woodley loses in the short term, and loses really big if he loses against Thompson. Sorry Tyron, enjoy your first championship payday, because the odds are it won’t be the big bucks you’re hoping for, and it may be the only one you ever see. Because money.
FRANK HYDEN, MMATORCH CONTRIBUTOR
What makes the GSP fight more okay is that he never lost the UFC Welterweight Title. So it absolutely makes sense that he gets an immediate title shot upon his return. That sucks for Thompson, and I’m a big fan of his, but it’s hard to argue against it. It makes sense from an entertainment perspective, as there will be tremendous interest in GSP’s return. It also makes sense from the sports perspective, too. GSP never lost the belt. I’d hate to see Thompson get passed over like this, and he should be allowed to sit out and wait for a title shot if he wants, but there’s too much on the side of having GSP get the next title shot.
CASH NORMAN, MMATORCH CONTRIBUTOR
Many MMA purists are aghast at Woodley boldly proposing a fight with GSP. On the surface it does look somewhat suspect for Woodley to call out GSP, especially since he hasn’t fought in nearly three years. Fans want to see their champion theoretically take on the best competition. While GSP left the sport as a champion, it would be difficult to say he is best competitor for Woodley at the present moment. Money fights are great if you can get them and while, I understand Tyron Woodley’s objective, he’s not a draw. Therefore, it makes sense for him to called out Georges St. Pierre who is a former PPV juggernaut.
What does GSP have to gain from accepting a fight with Woodley? Most people would say the belt, however, who’s going to promote the fight? Remember Woodley’s comment there wasn’t an incentive to promote his fight with Robbie Lawler? Even if you don’t, I guarantee the UFC brass will. In order to be a big money fight there has to be some sort of intrigue. The only intrigue between GSP and Woodley would be fans eagerly awaiting St. Pierre’s return. While being an astute politician and successfully lobbying for the Lawler fight and ultimately winning the matchup and the belt, I have a sense that politicking isn’t going to work for Woodley in drawing the money fight he wants.
Rather than promoting and marketing himself during 18-month layoff, Woodley didn’t do anything at all. Of course, I know he was on the silver screen in Straight Outta Compton but he didn’t have a starring role or seem to benefit from gaining any additional fans. So, once again, the question becomes why would GSP want to accept a fight with Woodley? Woodley is a relative unknown fighter, a very dangerous opponent, and who’s only selling point is that he holds the welterweight title. GSP will be accepting a ton of risk with very little return as he can have big money matchups outside of fighting for the UFC title.
Although people hate hearing about Conor McGregor, one of the best things he did when he was saddled with the ACL injury was keep his name relevant. McGregor picked twitter fights with almost the entire UFC roster, keeping his name in the mix during a nearly year-long absence. Woodley did not have the foresight to do any of this, yet, wants to now call for big money fights like McGregor. Maybe Tyron Woodley doesn’t have the personality nor gumption of McGregor, but the one thing McGregor has done is market and promote himself well enough to become a PPV draw and not rely on semi-retired fighters such as Georges St-Pierre for a big payday.
NICK GRINUPS, MMATORCH CONTRIBUTOR
If GSP is available and willing he should be first in line to get his title back. I do not blame Woodley for looking for the big money fight. As a fighter you never know when you will be on top or in demand. So when you are you need to take full advantage of it. Although GSP is the former champion and the biggest draw, I think the champion needs to fight Thompson first to defend his belt. After a successful defense, then Woodley can get the big money fight with GSP or Diaz.
JOEL WIELENGA, MMATORCH CONTRIBUTOR
If GSP wants to come back and wants to fight for a title. Then yes give him the shot. He was the greatest welterweight of all time and although it was off a controversial win he left with the belt. Give him a chance to win back what he never lost in the first place. Let “Wonder boy” fight the winner off Carlos Condit and Demian Maia for the next shot at the belt.
If GSP does not come back then there is no other fight that I want to see for Woodley other then a fight vs. Thompson. Everyone wants big money fights now a days but if you have never defended your title I believe that is the first thing that needs to be done. I know Conor started taking money fights without defending but he is a bigger draw then Woodley and I believe he to should have defended his belt by now.
MATTHEW PETERSON, MMATORCH CONTRIBUTOR
If GSP is willing to come back and fight again, there is absolutely no way the UFC picks Wonderboy over the former champion as an opponent. St-Pierre was one of the biggest PPV draws in UFC history and McGregor-Diaz 2 shows us the UFC wants bankable stars leading the way. Now as to whether it should happen or not, that’s where I am conflicted. Thompson earned his way to a title shot and beat two of the best in Hendricks and MacDonald. On the other hand, St-Pierre never lost his belt and may be more deserving than Thompson in that respect. I won’t be disappointed in either fight, but I have to lean towards GSP getting the title shot on his return.
RICH HANSEN, MMATORCH COLUMNIST
Kind of a moot point since Dana has said that Thompson is getting the shot. That said, of course GSP should get the shot. He left as the sitting champion. And not just any champion, not just as the greatest welterweight of all-time, not just as one of the most popular fighters ever, but he left the sport after successfully defending his title 917 times in a row. Nothing against Johny Hendricks, Robbie Lawler, or Tyron Woodley, but they all were (or are) interim champions, and when GSP wants to return, his first fight should be for the welterweight championship.
[Photo (c) Butch Dill via USA Today Sports]
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