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Georges St. Pierre this week gave an update on the ulcerative colitis that plagued him during his preparation for his fight with Michael Bisping and ultimately contributed to his decision to vacate rather than defend the middleweight belt he won from “The Count.” As part of his State of the Colon Address, St. Pierre stated his desire to return to action with the Ultimate Fighting Championship once his recovery is complete.
St. Pierre’s tone in stating his wish to fight again was clear, however: He was in no hurry to sign anything and would only accept matches that he felt made sense. That is not only GSP’s prerogative but the only sensible thing for him to do. At 37, recovering from a significant illness and having fought only once in five years, St. Pierre has a finite number of fights left in him, and it is not a large number. Furthermore, as one of only a tiny handful of fighters with the clout and wealth to deal with the UFC on anything resembling even footing, he would be foolish not to weigh his options patiently.
The question is what St. Pierre should do with his limited window of remaining time -- and motivation -- as an elite-level mixed martial artist. As arguably the greatest fighter in history and one of the best at building himself into a marketable brand that transcends the UFC cage, what St. Pierre clearly needs is the unsolicited career advice of a part-time MMA writer. That’s where I come in.
There are two good ways forward for “Rush.” I would argue that anything other than these options doesn’t make much sense for him competitively or in terms of legacy, even if they result in a nice payday. That being the case, he might as well just seek the easiest, lowest-risk paycheck of all: a rematch with Chris Evans.
Option 1: End the ArgumentWith his scintillating recent win over Darren Till, Tyron Woodley has now defended his title four times, good enough to move him into third place in divisional history behind St. Pierre and Matt Hughes. His coach, Din Thomas, claims that Woodley is only a defense or two away from surpassing St. Pierre’s legacy at welterweight. That’s overstated, just as you would expect from a fighter’s coach, but not insanely so, and it depends in large part on whom Woodley fights in those defenses. Colby Covington and Kamaru Usman would be credible names for “The Chosen One’s” ledger. St. Pierre would be in a trophy case all his own. Woodley surely knows it and has called for the fight, knowing what it would mean for his historical stature and his bank account.
PROS: This is a rare opportunity for an all-time great to cement his status by addressing a challenger directly. Woodley is nearly the same age as St. Pierre but was a much later bloomer. If St. Pierre retires without fighting Woodley and then watches from the wings as Woodley defends the belt five more times, he has nobody to blame but himself. If, on the other hand, he beats Woodley in uncontroversial fashion, he wins. Forever. Even if Woodley regained the title and went on another tear, “GSP” would hold the ultimate trump card over him, and it might be a very, very long time before another Greatest of All-Time candidate came along at welterweight.
CONS: This is a hard row to hoe competitively. Woodley offers many of the same strengths that Johny Hendricks used to push St. Pierre to the limit in their fight -- airtight wrestling, numbing power and the elite athleticism to close distance and pressure him -- but perhaps to an even greater degree. There is a distinct possibility this fight ends with “GSP” staring up at the lights and wondering where he is. Furthermore, while it would be an absolute blockbuster of a fight, St. Pierre would be very much the A-side. If he wants to leverage his remaining time in the sport into paydays where he is not the sole attraction, this is not the fight to take.
Option 2: Go for GreatnessDustin Poirier and Nate Diaz, in a charming show of moxie, tried to out-UFC the UFC this week, claiming that their bout at UFC 230 would be for the inaugural 165-pound title. While anything can happen, it appears UFC President Dana White rebuffed their efforts.
It was a nice try. While Poirier and Diaz are popular, they appear to lack quite the clout to make that kind of power play on the UFC. However, there is a pair of significantly bigger stars than those two who could also make 165 pounds without much trouble: St. Pierre and Conor McGregor. If McGregor is only going to stick around MMA for a few more gigantic paydays, there are none more gigantic than this one to be found. The fight is more marketable if McGregor beats Khabib Nurmagomedov at UFC 229, but it might still be the biggest fight in history even if it’s made off of a McGregor loss.
PROS: One nice thing about having a pair of two-division champions fight for a newly created belt is that one of them becomes the first three-division champion in UFC history. That is the kind of legacy-making achievement that is hard to equal. In addition, while the Woodley fight would certainly be a huge event, McGregor-St. Pierre would be much bigger. During the promotional run-up, St. Pierre could settle into his accustomed role as the buttoned-down good guy as McGregor hurled invective, hyperbole and beverages.
CONS: While most observers would agree that Woodley is the greater threat to St. Pierre, McGregor brings unique tools to the cage and would be unlike any fighter for whom “GSP” has prepared. At 37, St. Pierre is likely as strong as he has ever been but may have lost a step, making the challenges of a fluid technician like McGregor even trickier to navigate.
In addition, even if St. Pierre’s role as the “face” at press events with McGregor would be a familiar one, that doesn’t mean it would be comfortable or enjoyable. It is noteworthy that one of the reasons “GSP” cited for not being in any hurry to sign a bout agreement is reluctance for the media circus to start, which he described as “stressful.” If St. Pierre finds the idea of publicity stressful at this point in his career, McGregor will be a nightmare for him. Remember that Nick Diaz was able to get St. Pierre visibly flustered with middle fingers and semi-coherent name calling, and then picture a McGregor-St. Pierre press conference.
Option 3: All of the AboveOf course, there’s nothing to say St. Pierre can’t do both of these things. (Please?) The only limiting factors are his motivation and the fact that if he tries one option and loses, the other matchup loses some -- though by no means all -- of its shine.
Whichever option St. Pierre chooses, everyone wins. The fans get a fight with real intrigue and historical consequences. St. Pierre gets either a colossal or a super-colossal payday and a chance to add far more to his legacy than he did with the Bisping fight. The UFC gets one or possibly two more performances out of one of its greatest fighters and most transcendent stars. Let us hope.