Three years ago, Georges St. Pierre defended his title against Johny Hendricks, winning a split decision in a very close fight, and during the post-fight interview, he said he needed to take time away from the sport. It was a somewhat bizarre announcement because GSP didn’t say he was going to retire, but offered no explanation as to why he was stepping away from a sport that he dominated for several years.
Since his abrupt exit from the octagon, GSP has shed some light on his decision, saying that an obsessive compulsive disorder made the preparation for fights an unhealthy process. Sadly, it seems like mental health problems are overlooked far too often and for anyone that wanted to criticize St. Pierre for vacating the title, they should realize that only he knows how the disorder effected him. Obviously, medical records are private, but GSP seems to be doing better and last week, he announced his intention to return to mixed martial arts.
First, this gives the UFC some much needed star power with Ronda Rousey’s future unknown and the historic Madison Square Garden card in November, which is probably the event where St. Pierre will step back into the cage. Although, the landscape of MMA has changed drastically since his hiatus so just how will GSP transition back into the sport?
The argument can be made that GSP was the most dominant champion in UFC history (Anderson Silva has a legitimate claim to that accomplishment, but the taunting that led to lackluster fights dilutes the argument) and keep in mind, while almost every dominate champion of the current era has lost their championship, St. Pierre stepped away while still champion. With a record of 25-2 and avenging both career losses in rematches, GSP defended his title easily for the majority of his reign as welterweight champion. In fact, he was actually subject to some criticism for using the Greg Jackson theory of playing it safe and winning on points when he wasn’t able to finish opponents inside the five rounds of a championship bout. There might be some validity to the criticism, but since GSP switched trainers for his most recent (and more entertaining) fights, he sustained more damage. Was that because of the switch in fight tactics or was it just the competition? The answer depends on perspective, but the point being St. Pierre defeated every contender in the division at the time.
Will GSP be successful if he returns to the UFC?
There have been rumors that St. Pierre might request a fight with middleweight champion, Michael Bisping and if that’s the case, the 185 LBS division would be a different dynamic for him. Perhaps more than the weight class, the most important question is, will St. Pierre return to the top form that he was prior to the time away from the UFC? At 35, GSP spent three years of his theoretical prime outside of the sport and while it was the right decision for his health, there’s no guarantee that he automatically assumes the top spot again. Don’t get me wrong, GSP is a tremendous athlete and one of the best MMA fighters of all time, but there would be a question about ANY fighter returning after a few years absence.
That being said, if anyone could take a few years off and return without missing a step, it’s George St. Pierre. His cardio is always top-notch, he’s extremely well-rounded, and he always has a game plan. How many times has GSP made a major mistake during a contest? The ring rust is doubtful to be a major factor in a return to the octagon considering how well prepared he was for each opponent previously.
According to an interview on the MMA Hour, the only major hurdle left toward a GSP return is an agreement on a new contract. As I’ve said before, mixed martial arts is about competition, but the UFC is a business, and there’s major money for a potential St. Pierre fight after an extended absence. Since the UFC’s top PPV draws are Ronda Rousey and Conor McGregor, it’s reasonable to think that GSP should at least get a similar deal. More specifically, with those two being the only major draws in terms of PPV numbers, that actually gives St. Pierre more leverage to negotiate because he’s one of the few MMA fighters that could generate major numbers for the company. Besides Rousey and McGregor, who’s going to draw better numbers than GSP? That’s not a jab at the great UFC roster either, just the observation that St. Pierre draws money for the promotion. In fact, Montreal became one of the major UFC cities because of the star power of St. Pierre and it was a key for their international expansion.
The bottom line is, the UFC should offer Georges St. Pierre a good deal because they need the star power, and this provides the unique opportunity to see the next stage of one of the most successful fighters in MMA history.
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