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The Ultimate Fighting Championship vs. Georges St. Pierre saga is a code-red level of fail and pretty much one of the worst ways that the biggest mixed martial arts promotion can start under new ownership.
WME-IMG had better hope that this little situation that finds them at odds with one of the greatest fighters of all time ends in their favor. Otherwise, they might unknowingly have tipped the first domino in a public backlash that could allow another promotion to sneak in the back door.
The UFC-GSP situation is a culmination of various fighters under contract with the UFC actively searching for a way out. They believe they are underpaid and undervalued. From Jose Aldo to Al Iaquinta, the dissention has been growing at a time when the company is making a shift. It’s difficult enough to keep people happy with an ownership change considering that everyone is on pins and needles as they wonder what changes are to come. The last thing you want to worry about is the fighters. But that’s exactly what WME-IMG is dealing with.
It’s an odd situation to watch unfold as St. Pierre sought to end his three-year hiatus from the Octagon this year. But as he publicly stated that he was ready to fight again, UFC President Dana White has done little more than undermine the French-Canadian’s desire to compete. It’s a strange way to say “we don’t really want you here,” but that’s exactly how White has played it. The suggestion that St. Pierre doesn’t have the desire to fight is one that should be taken with a grain of salt. The real reason that we haven’t seen GSP back in the cage is simple: money.
With so many things changing since St. Pierre last fought, it makes sense that a restructuring of GSP’s contract was in order. The Reebok deal is clearly the biggest hurdle to get over as St. Pierre rakes in a healthy amount of money due to sponsorship and his deal with Under Armour (which also may be a stumbling block with Reebok being the official outfitter of the promotion). According to St. Pierre’s side of the story, it appears that the UFC is unwilling to pay up.
This is relatively strange considering that GSP had been the model of consistency for the promotion before he decided to take some time off. The former champion routinely dispatched of opponents and proved to be a significant draw for the organization. But, for whatever reason, the UFC doesn’t feel the same. Maybe that is because of the rise of Ronda Rousey and Conor McGregor. The pair have taken the organization to new heights. However, the problem with the thinking that GSP is “old news” is that both Rousey and McGregor are a bad fight or two away from being yesterday’s news. Rousey will attempt to reclaim her perch on top of the women’s division when she faces Amanda Nunes at UFC 207 while McGregor will look to become the first fighter to simultaneously hold titles in different divisions when he faces Eddie Alvarez at UFC 205.
Rousey clearly cannot afford a second consecutive loss while McGregor’s stock would also take a significant hit if he’s unable to defeat Alvarez. If both were to go down, the UFC doesn’t really have a backup plan. And, unfortunately for Nunes and Alvarez, neither will become the next big thing with a victory. So why wouldn’t the UFC keep one of their biggest stars in their pocket?
If nothing else, give St. Pierre what he wants because he’s earned it. You need a piece in place for a potential showdown with McGregor that would be a massive windfall of money for the UFC. Under no circumstances should GSP be allowed to walk into the doors of a rival MMA promotion (read: Bellator MMA). Sure, the UFC can make this messy and really test GSP’s desire to fight by dragging this thing out Randy Couture style. But what’s the point?
Furthermore, if you want to send company morale between fighters further down the toilet bowl, let GSP walk and see how they will react. Because if the UFC can’t take care of one of its biggest stars, how does that bode for anyone else? If you want to find one thing to point to when it comes to the UFC’s mistreatment of its fighters, this would be the thing that sticks out.
Whatever is going on needs to be rectified quickly. In a previous column I mentioned how Bellator could become the WCW to the UFC’s WWE if they weren’t careful. Well, St. Pierre could be the Hulk Hogan that turns the tide and makes Bellator a valid destination for every fighter with a gripe. Does the UFC not believe that others will follow the former champion out of the door? Especially when you consider that Bellator has been known to treat their fighters pretty good from a financial standpoint.
The UFC could drag this into a courtroom and watch the prime years of GSP’s career waste away. But then nobody would win. The UFC would think they won but the backlash would eventually come full circle.
Simply put, the UFC can close the cage door and take on GSP. They’ll probably win but at what cost?
Andreas Hale is the editorial content director of 2DopeBoyz.com, co-host of the boxing, MMA and pro wrestling podcast “The Corner” and a regular columnist for Sherdog.com. You can follow on Twitter for his random yet educated thoughts on combat sports, music, film and popular culture.