Every sports fan has that moment they look back on was the pinnacle of their fandom. Canadians often point to Joe Carter winning the Jays their second consecutive World Series, Team Canada beating the Soviets in the ‘72 Summit Series and Wayne Gretzky beating the all-time points record in a third of the time as being some of the biggest “where were you when…” moments. My moment was November 18, 2006.
I first saw Georges St-Pierre fight for a small Montreal promotion called UCC (later renamed TKO) at a time when I was consuming any fight content I could get ahold of. I felt a certain extra pride as some of these young Canadian dudes I had the pleasure of seeing early in their careers make it into the UFC. Menjivar, Hominick, Stout, Loiseau, etc. these were MY guys.
When Georges got his first title shot against Matt Hughes it was clearly too early for him, but this was at a time when the divisions were so thin, and there were (comparably) so few UFC events, we had guys like Justin Eilers and Gan McGee getting title shots on the regular. He looked great against an extremely dominant champion, but ultimately one small mistake – sleeping on Matt’s top game with seconds to go in the round cost him his shot at the crown.
A lot of fighters at that time fell into obscurity after missing their shot, but to his credit Georges owned up to the loss and got back to work. A five fight win streak including top contenders Sean Sherk and Frank Trigg, and a real war with Hawaiian legend BJ Penn got him back in the cage with Hughes (that and an all-time classic post fight interview begging Dana White for another shot).
On that cold Canadian November night, as usual my friends and I gathered together, a ton of beer in tow for another fight night – but this one was special. This was the one we’d been waiting for. For two years GSP had been steamrolling the competition and his combination of skill and personality was quickly making him as big a Canadian sports star as we had. We knew it was his night before Bruce Buffer ever touched the mic.
When he landed that head kick and dropped that big bully Hughes we exploded. I vividly remember pumping my fists in the air and screaming like a four year old that just found out we ordered pizza. We were hugging, toasting our drinks, there may have even been a few tears shed. It’s a moment of excitement that no other UFC moment has come close to touching and will always have a special place in my heart.
So why on Earth am I not excited for the return of this Canadian icon? I love to watch him fight, I really admire him as a person, the UFC certainly needs a bit of an adrenaline shot on the general interest side of things right now… why am I and so many others shrugging our shoulders at this comeback? I believe it comes down to five reasons.
THE RETURN IS SET…SORT OF
After months of will they-won’t they, the UFC announced on March 3rd that GSP would be returning to the Octagon, and he even had an opponent (we’ll get to him later). This announcement was a pretty big deal as far as UFC related bombshells, but there was one perplexing detail left off the announcement. When would this monumental return take place?
The next few months were a frustrating path to navigate as both fighters shared the plethora of reasons why they couldn’t just set a date to fight. The talk turned from “end of summer” to September, to late December, to 2018, and finally back to early November. I truly hope a lesson was learned here about holding back blockbuster announcements for really having something concrete to announce, as the months of uncertainty took away a lot of the excitement for even the most hardcore of GSP fans.
THE WRONG FIGHT
Michael Bisping at this point probably has a great case for being one of the most underrated or at least underappreciated fighters in UFC history. The Ultimate Fighter Season 3 winner has spent over ten years fighting the best competition in the light heavyweight and middleweight divisions, scoring huge wins and some equally weighted losses to living legends of the sport. As dubious as his title ascension and reign may have been so far, he has certainly earned his seat at the table.
But Georges St-Pierre is a welterweight. Despite what some say these days, he was a pretty damn big welterweight, but 170lber none the less, and has never competed at the higher weight class, or even hinted at any interest in it in the past. Why on Earth is the unconquered welterweight king returning to fight a relatively untested middleweight champion?
You could make an argument that their clash of personalities – the consummate professional vs. the loud mouth brit could be a selling point…if anyone involved could sell that to the audience. This brings us to…
MISUNDERSTANDING THE “MONEY FIGHT”
There are two fighters on the planet that can use the concept of making a dump truck full of money to fight as the gimmick to sell a fight… you might remember they boxed in the summer. Everyone else that tries this tactic immediately looks second rate.
The concept behind the “money fight” is not a new one. There’s been countless times where a deserving challenger has been passed up because there was a more lucrative contest to be made. Fight sport history is steeped in the tradition. Usually those fights are met with overwhelming excitement (after all, there’s a reason those fights sell – people want to see them!), but there’s always a vocal minority screaming about meritocracy.
These fights generally have a “hook” to them that draws people in: a larger than life look or personality, an out of the ordinary clash of styles, a corresponding world event that sets the stage, something that raises the stakes of the sometimes hum drum MMAth of Fighter B beat Fighter C so now he fights Fighter A. Something that allows people to look past the fact that the fight really doesn’t make a lot of sense. Dan Henderson fighting Bisping in a rematch of the most famous knockout in UFC history for the title in what would presumably be his retirement fight fits that bill.
GSP vs Bisping really has no such hook. When both fighters have spoken at length about wanting this fight because it’s going to make them the most money, it negates all of the promotion that has followed it. The poor attempts at trash talk and the cringe worthy shoving match at the press conference all ring completely hollow and do nothing but make it harder to suspend the belief that there really is no reason for this fight to happen in the first place.
HOLDING UP THE MIDDLEWEIGHT DIVISION
Rewinding back prior to the fight announcement, the middleweight division was on fire. Yoel Romero had won his first eight UFC fights including a run on Machida, Jacare and former
middleweight champ Chris Weidman. He was unquestionably the number one contender and had many a back and forth with Bisping with some pretty heavy shots fired from both sides. This was the fight to make.
Fast forward a few months and with the division on hold due to a combination of this fight announcement and injury, the UFC is forced to move the division forward and create an interim title. Romero lost the fight to the fast-rising Robert Whittaker (instead of the on paper logical number two contender Gegard Mousasi) and all future plans for the Romero/Bisping grudge match are spoiled. Mousasi left the UFC for greener but smaller pastures, and not one fighter in the entire UFC Middleweight rankings has strung together more than two wins in a row due to the steep competition it holds, leaving no clear contenders outside of the dual champions. The sport’s most exciting division almost resembles the always fledgling heavyweight division.
GSP’S UNFORTUNATE EXIT
The final reason this fight is just not enough to get excited about was the way Georges walked away. Not the actual act of retiring at the top of your game, that’s actually amazing. The idea that this guy had spent ten years busting his ass to be the best in the world and made millions of dollars but hadn’t had five minutes to sit back and enjoy it was borderline heartbreaking. Good for him, enjoy your life, you’ve certainly earned it.
No, what I refer to is the controversial fight that proceeded it. Ultimately I had scored GSP ahead, no doubt in my mind, but there are more than enough people that scored it the other way. Not the sexiest way to walk out on top.
I must say that I think Georges is an extremely exciting fighter to watch. For my taste, it is every bit as satisfying to watch someone beat the ever-loving tar out of someone for 25 minutes and never give them an inch as it is to see a cool knockout. However, it is difficult to ignore that “Rush” hasn’t actually finished a fight in almost nine years.
Combining the long run of 5 round decisions with a razor close final fight against a man that would go on the single biggest downward spiral seen in this sport doesn’t exactly lend itself well to the conquering hero returning home to reclaim his sport.
ALL THAT SAID…
I’ll be there Saturday night on my couch with a few friends and a few beers watching the fight. I’m part of the 100,000 that’s going to order regardless what they put together as a card. For the health of the sport I hope another 7 or 800,000 viewers join me, but I’ll understand if they don’t, because this is an example of a bad idea on paper being executed in the worst possible way.
NOW CHECK OUT THIS ARTICLE: HEYDORN’S TAKE: 5 reasons to end your negativity on Bisping vs. St-Pierre this weekend