Prior to his unexpected departure from the sport last year, Georges St-Pierre was one of the most dominant and popular champions in MMA history.
The Quebec native boasted accolades few could even approach: two reigns as UFC Welterweight Champion, with the second-most title defenses in UFC history. He also recorded the most career wins in UFC history, and headlined many of its biggest and most successful shows.
For much of his almost ten year UFC run, a fan couldn’t really mention the welterweight division without mentioning Georges St-Pierre.
So, when he decided he needed time away from the sport following his last title defense at UFC 167 in November, it seemed a huge blow — a time to totally rebuild what had been one of the promotion’s most glamorous divisions.
Maybe, it was even more of a blow than we originally thought.
St-Pierre later remarked that, in addition to some undisclosed personal problems, one of the reasons he decided to leave the UFC, and vacate his title, was the failure of the promotion to support his efforts to improve drug testing. One of the good guys, it seemed, was gone.
Still, there’s always a silver lining, right?
As Carlos Condit remarked last week, there are fans who became bored with the champion’s fighting style. St-Pierre’s departure, for some, did indeed spark some new interest in the division — and create some new and interesting match-ups. We saw some of them on Saturday night at UFC 171.
That night, fans enjoyed an excellent bout to decide the vacant title, featuring Johny Hendricks (who St-Pierre narrowly defeated back in November to retain his title) and Robbie Lawler. Hendricks showed improved and more varied standup skills in securing the victory over the always-game Lawler. It seemed a good way to re-start the division.
However, unfortunately, the other two showcase bouts for this new-look welterweight division were somewhat disappointing. In the co-main event, former UFC Interim Welterweight Champion Carlos Condit fell to injury in his fight against Tyron Woodley. While the bout was fairly ruled a TKO win for Woodley, many fans felt like we didn’t see the action develop the way we had hoped.
Finally, Hector Lombard continued his successful move to welterweight by dominating Jake Shields as no one had, earning picture-perfect takedowns and dominating the standup with powerful overhand punches. But the Cuban expat also drew criticism continued his practice of slowly “coasting” through victories.
Then again, Georges St-Pierre endured some of the same criticism. In his book, The Way of the Fight, reviewed here, he notes:
“In our sport, at our level, risk equals knockout, and not usually for the guy ahead in the fight. When you take a risk against me… chances are you’re the one who’ll get knocked out. When people start understanding the science of mixed martial arts better, they’ll understand this part of the fight game. In boxing… no one complains when one of them wins a scientific battle. One day this will be true of MMA.”
Maybe that will be true one day — but that day clearly hasn’t come. It’s an issue which remains a hot topic among commentators and fans — unlike the aforementioned issue of improving drug testing (which seems swept under the table for now).
That’s where we get our answer about GSP’s departure. Maybe it’s the best thing for him, but it’s a sad day for the sport.
Simply put, our sport has all the same problems as when he was champ — it just lost one of its heroes.