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In a shocking upset, sanity and legitimacy have prevailed in a high-stakes Ultimate Fighting Championship decision-making process. Yes, UFC President Dana White on Wednesday took to Fox Sports Australia's “UFC Fight Week” to drop the bombshell of rationality: The promotion was done waiting for recently unretired welterweight legend Georges St. Pierre, who has repeatedly stated he will not fight until after October. As a result, his proposed middleweight title challenge against Michael Bisping was on freeze. Instead, “The Count” would defend in the coming months against the rightful No. 1 contender at 185 pounds, Yoel Romero.
“I made this GSP fight; we did a press conference. The thing was supposed to happen in July. Michael Bisping is going to have to defend his title now. We’re not waiting for GSP,” White said. “[Yoel] doesn’t need to voice his opinion on why he needs a title shot. He definitely deserves a title shot. He’s next in line. He’s the No.1-ranked guy in the world.”
Everything seems right all of a sudden. May I remind you that this is coming from someone who, shortly after Bisping-GSP was announced, wrote in this very same space about how it did not suck.. I stand by my larger thesis: The UFC's concession to give GSP a middleweight title shot against Bisping was a move born of desperation after a slow start to 2017 and with very little on the immediate horizon that would produce serious money. Ultimately, Romero was being victimized by a cruel system. Bisping is the fight St. Pierre coveted for his return, seeing him as an easy mark and steppingstone to a title in a second weight class, profoundly enriching his legacy in the process. I don't think it's a terrible concession.
That is, of course, if you can actually make the fight happen. News of St. Pierre inking his new UFC deal broke on Feb. 15 and was officially announced two days later. On March 1, White confirmed what most expected. He said Bisping-GSP was “likely” for Las Vegas and that they were waiting to confirm a date. Clearly, the target was UFC 213 on July 8, to cap off International Fight Week. When that was the blueprint, it was sensible. As soon at it became clear that the UFC and St. Pierre weren't on the same page as far as the 2017 calendar went, it became an ongoing blunder. After all, St. Pierre had all the leverage in negotiation, as the new WME-IMG ownership need stars to draw on pay-per-view; it's how he got the Bisping fight in the first place. The minute “Rush” showed he was in no hurry to make the bout happen and seemed resolute in waiting well into autumn, it was a bridge too far. The situation seemed to get more absurd every day.
Yes, sanity has prevailed; in this sport, with this particular business outfit and especially at this moment, it is a victory for the legitimacy of UFC championships and the idea that elite MMA should be conducted in a meritocratic fashion. However, it is born out of exactly the same frantic impulse that got the the UFC into this situation in the first place, that suddenly familiar desperation. Oftentimes, saying that the “right answer” was achieved by the “wrong equation” is a mealymouthed centrist maneuver, maybe best exemplified by “Well, both sides do it!” hack political writers. This is not a fence-riding position, though. The UFC didn't “come to its senses” and alter its course on account of rationality but rather panicked, pivoted and ran headfirst into a more sober solution. The UFC blindly stumbled into sensibility in this case.
I know that the UFC is not used to acquiescing to fighters, but the only way a play like Bisping-GSP works is if you can deliver it quickly without any additional baggage, since you are undeniably screwing with your middleweight division in the pursuit of a mega-fight and accompanying money. Just by the simple blunder of not having St. Pierre confirmed and locked into a summer date, what seemed like a wild but potentially profitable gambit for the UFC quickly turned into a boondoggle that has made the company look confused and ineffectual, rankled fans, hurt the morale of fighters on the UFC roster and highlighted White's ongoing passive-aggressive beef with GSP.
"Life waits for nobody; that's just too long,” White told Jim Rome on Thursday. “It's not fair that the rest of the division should have to wait that long for Georges St. Pierre. Georges St. Pierre has been saying he's going to fight for the last three years, and now it's November. I can't wait for GSP."
You'd almost think GSP held the UFC hostage, forced the company to sign him and promote a title fight with no agreed-upon date. While passive aggression, aggressive aggression and general BS-ing are long-held traits of White, this kind of rudimentary blundering is more of a recent development that comes in the absence of pay-per-view stars and major bankable fights, especially with the $4 billion investment WME-IMG wants to recoup. It crops up visibly in other places, too. While it ultimately didn't impact anything, how straight-up silly was the fumbling of “The Ultimate Fighter 26” announcement and the fact it would crown the first UFC women's flyweight champion? It's a press release; then it's premature; then it's all good a few days later anyway? Again, it is a fairly trivial note but nonetheless a keen reminder of how surprisingly daft the UFC regime is on some levels, which helps nurture its newly developed, ill-advised penchant for just announcing things before crossing Ts and dotting Is.
One of the many “new normals” of the WME-IMG-era UFC, by and large, is an inability to keep many of its fighters -- champions and stars included -- “on brand” or “on message” or from just outright telling the company to go [expletive] itself. Fewer and fewer fighters, especially noteworthy ones, fear the UFC as an entity. At the same time, they are galvanized by the reactions of fans and the media. This is how we get Gegard Mousasi, prior to UFC 210, smirking and laughing while talking about the preposterous nature of Bisping-GSP openly in the media with no repercussion; it would have been hard to imagine a few short years ago. It's how Luke Rockhold can say that fighters need to stand their ground and “tell the UFC to [expletive] off.” It's what sparks Romero to call Bisping's Sirius XM Radio show to verbally mock and accost him, as well as “The MMA Hour” with Ariel Helwani to support Anderson Silva in his quest to line up a UFC interim title fight.
Speaking of Silva, now officially removed from the UFC 212 card in Rio de Janeiro on June 3: “The Spider's” entire wacky ultimatum to the UFC -- “Give me an interim middleweight title fight with Romero or I'm retiring, or at the very least not fighting if you call my bluff” -- was only made possible because of the promotion's insanely laissez-faire handling of Bisping-St. Pierre. Short of petty tactics like not giving Al Iaquinta fight night bonuses as a matter of rule, the UFC has lost its ability to effectively police and control its fighters, especially at the highest level, for anything other than blowing a drug test. When Silva decides he wants to fight again, do you think White will let Silva mockingly calling him “Almighty” stand in the way?
White's not wrong when he says November is too long; it's why I went from viewing Bisping-GSP as a tolerable if complicated diversion for the sake of business, history and legacy to seeing it as a farce. On the other hand, he's the UFC president, and that's a detail that should've been ironed out before mucking up the middleweight picture and giving his own fighters the ability to weaponize the promotion's public failure against it. Bisping-Romero on July 8 or even shortly after if need be is a wonderful and just fight. St. Pierre can still fight Bisping if the champ retains his title. If Romero topples Bisping and St. Pierre isn't hip to that, they can still have White browbeat “Rush” in the media until he at least fights Silva.
As I said, sanity prevailed but not for sanity's sake. It was only because the same compulsion that drove the company to bungle Bisping-GSP -- “We need money-making fights now!” -- also meant that another four months with Bisping and the middleweight title on the shelf was simply too long when the UFC is this desperate. I liked the UFC's attempt, however dubious its catalyst, to go off the beaten path in pursuit of a blockbuster fight, but the execution was terrible. The UFC is back on the well-trodden road, but found it by stupidly stumbling in the dark for 10 weeks without a map or a clue.