Did Georges St-Pierre do a disservice to fans, fellow fighters, or the UFC when he relinquished his middleweight title without a fight? Would the answer change if a less popular fighter pulled the same maneuver? MMAjunkie columnist Ben Fowlkes and retired UFC and WEC fighter Danny Downes discuss in this weeks Trading Shots.
* * * *Fowlkes:Georges St-Pierre is no longer the UFC middleweight champion after a little more than a month with the belt, Danny. And UFC President Dana White? Hes not mad at all. No way. In fact, he knew this would happen.So when he said just a couple weeks ago that he’d be “super pissed” if it happened? Nah, he didn’t mean it.
I have a couple questions here. For one, if this was indeed the outcome White expected, that GSP would not even attempt to defend the middleweight title upon winning it, does he deserve some criticism for making the fight in the first place, since this very foreseeable outcome has now disrupted the lineage of the 185-pound championship?But more importantly, what should fans make of GSP now? He’s got an out in the form of his ulcerative colitis diagnosis, but even before that he didn’t seem thrilled about defending this belt. And if he wanted to wait, get healthy, and then defend, you know the UFC would let him.
Sure seems like he picked the easiest path he could find (which is not to say it was an easy fight) to a second UFC title and a big payday, and then he bolted once he got what he wanted.
If this were almost anyone else who skipped the line, nabbed a belt, and then fled like a thief in the night before the actual contenders could get a crack, seems like MMA fans would be all over them. Why isn’t that happening here? And should it?
Downes: The holidays must have you frazzled, Ben. You’re all over the place today. Let’s try to unpack all these questions one at a time.
As usual, you make an assertion with little evidence. Who says GSP played anyone (other than fans)? I believe White when he says that he saw this coming. As for why he said he’d be “super pissed” in the lead up to the fight, I hate to be the one to tell you this, but promoters lie.By saying that he’d put the pressure on GSP to defend the middleweight title if he beat Michael Bisping, he avoided a PR problem that would hurt his pay-per-view buys. Even though most of us were skeptical that GSP would defend the belt, there was still the possibility. If White admitted he thought this was going to happen in the build up, it would have overshadowed the entire fight.As far as the “lineage of the 185-pound championship” is concerned, I think a lot of this relates to our discussion last week. Sanctity might be too strong of a word, but UFC titles don’t have the same weight they once did. They’re thrown around haphazardly like the term “for a limited time only.”
Even the idea of a two-division champion seems blas now. GSP may not have had his titles in as close succession as Conor McGregor, but his win was still a major accomplishment, even though fans and media welcomed this feat with indifference. Part of that has to do with the disrespect people have for Bisping, but the response was still tepid.
Having said that, I do think fans should be mad at the UFC and GSP. They were sold a bunch of wolf tickets. GSP had no intention of defending the middleweight title, and the UFC knew it. They colluded together to sell PPVs. Even though this is a regular occurrence in the combat-sports world, we should still be outraged when it happens.
What about you? I know you always have room in your heart to hate on the UFC brass, but can you find some room for some GSP anger? A conspiracy to defraud requires two parties. Do you find GSP guilty, or is he too “classy” to be mad at?
Fowlkes: So your theory is that White and GSP had this planned all along, but lied to us about in order to sell PPVs, and now that the money’s all in the bank, the final phase of the plan is to admit that it was all a ruse? Brilliant. Right up there with the villain explaining his whole evil scheme before leaving the hero alone to die in a cave that’s slowly filling up with water.Here’s the rare instance in which I almost believe White. You know, to an extent. Like, when he says he put Robert Whittaker in GSP’s contract because he knew St-Pierre wouldn’t want to defend the belt after winning it? That I believe. When he says he knew it would go down this way from the very start and now he doesnt even mind? That I don’t.
If he’d known all that, there would have been no point in trying to pressure GSP with the threat of his rage just a couple weeks ago. And if the plan is to promote him in another one-off money fight whenever hes healthy enough, it would be pointless to de-promote him now by making him sound like a hit-and-run mercenary whos scared of the actual middleweights.
What I think is the UFC really wanted GSP to defend this belt but feared he wouldn’t, which is why it tried, in whatever ways available, to ensure that he would. But even if White suspected that St-Pierre might find a way out of it, he didn’t much care because he was too focused on the short-term gain to think about the longterm repercussions. And honestly, that’s been the UFC in a nutshell for the last several years.
As for GSP, the goodwill he’s built up with fans is one reason they’re not coming down hard on him. The colitis excuse is another, since who’s going to tell a fighter that he’s obligated to risk his health any more than he already has for the sake of our entertainment?There’s also the fact that his win is still so fresh. Contrary to your claims about it being “tepid,” GSP’s win over Bisping might have cemented him as the consensus GOAT of his era, especially when you factor in Anderson Silva’s second doping fail and Fedor Emelianenko’s continued descent into cautionary tale.
St-Pierre came back after four years and choked out the champion in a weight class above his. Now he’s acting like he wants to ride off into the sunset, which is something we can never seem to convince our heroes to do in this sport, so who’s going to demand that he stay and get beat up some more?
Plus, promoters have been getting over on fighters since the dawn of combat sports. There’s something satisfying about seeing it go the other way. And if the UFC doesn’t care about guarding the legitimacy of its titles, why should the fighters feel obligated to do it?
I mean, sure, now Whittaker will never get the chance to truly unify that title. But why is that GSP’s problem? Seems to me he learned the lessons of this business well, and then put them to work for his own interests. Maybe because it’s so uncommon to see a fighter pull that off, I just can’t get mad at him for it.
Downes: You just performed a lot of rhetorical jiu-jitsu to simply say “fighters don’t owe fans anything.” That’s a perfectly fine position to take. One I even support to a certain extent. At the same time, though, you have to acknowledge a graft when you see one.
You’re making the mistake of viewing MMA as a bilateral relationship one that simply occurs between fighters and promoters. Promoters exploit fighters, so seeing a fighter “getting over” on a promoter is a welcome change to you.
What you forget is that MMA is what the French-Canadians would call a “mnage trois.” A “household of three” if you will. And within this household, there are certain agreements that are agreed upon. Thomas Hobbes would refer to it as a social contract. Chief among these agreements is that you don’t defraud fans of their money.
I draw a line between embellishments/exaggerations and straight-up lies. GSP entered into his agreement with the public in bad faith. We all understand why he chose Bisping. We all know why he wants to take some time off (colitis aside). Just because we understand all these things doesn’t mean he should get a pass.
I agree he’s built goodwill up through the years, and that accounts for the lack of outrage. I would also argue that indifference is a major contributor too. Hardcore fans are so inundated with content that it’s difficult for them to focus on any one fighter when there’s an event every week. Casual fans who care about big names like GSP are indifferent to the day-to-day operations of the UFC, so they couldnt care less about the middleweight title implications.
I guess I’m surprised at how nonchalant you seem to be about the whole ordeal. You’re always looking for something to be outraged by, yet you seem unfazed. Scam is too strong of a term, but can’t you admit that we were sold a bill of goods?
As far as MMA scandals are concerned, GSP getting a title shot and dropping it immediately is a minor one. I mean, it’s not like he’s refusing to defend his belt to go fight Miguel Cotto. At the same time, giving him (and the UFC) a total pass will embolden this type of behavior even more.
The next time St-Pierre makes a promise to fans, we should be more skeptical. We should distrust all future statements a little more than we did a few moths ago. And he just can’t get mad at us for it.Ben Fowlkes is MMAjunkie and USA TODAYs MMA columnist. Danny Downes, a retired UFC and WEC fighter, is an MMAjunkie contributor who has also written for UFC.com and UFC 360. Follow them on twitter at @benfowlkesMMA and @dannyboydownes.