Photo by Josh Hedges/Zuffa LLC/Zuffa LLC via Getty Images
For all of the memorable fights and new developments of which it comprised, 2013 was a strange year for the UFC’s most dominant champs. It was the year we saw Anderson Silva pummelled into unconsciousness by the middleweight division’s new alpha wolf, Chris Weidman. It was also the year that we all watched on in horror as the former champ’s leg turned to spaghetti after a kick gone awry. And of course, it was the year we saw the legendary reign of Georges St-Pierre come to an end. After a hard-fought battle with Johny Hendricks at UFC 167 the long-time welterweight king announced his retirement. Or did he announce a hiatus? No, he was definitely retiring. But it was an open-ended retirement, a non-committal break...
What I’m trying to get across here is that the circumstances of GSP’s relinquishing the title and stepping aside were initially quite unclear. It was clear that he was taking some time off, but for how long, and if he’d return to competition at all, no one could say for sure.
The welterweight division chugged on without him, as Hendricks defeated Robbie Lawler for the vacant title, and Rory MacDonald, Tyron Woodley, Hector Lombard and Matt Brown emerged as serious contenders. Yet through all the new developments at welterweight, one divisional x-factor has remained, and that’s GSP. When he returns, whom should he fight? Does he deserve an immediate title shot? Can he hang with this generation’s top welterweights? Will he even come back? All these questions, particularly the latter, have had fairly elusive answers.
However, just a few weeks after we learned that Anderson Silva will return to action after his nauseating leg-break, new information has come to light that suggests St-Pierre might do the same. It was his long-time coach, Firas Zahabi, who broke the news, announcing that we might see the former champ back in the octagon sometime in 2015. If there were ever a reliable source for information on GSP’s absence, it’s Zahabi. So the MMA community took the bait and it wasn’t long before questions started to rain down on UFC president Dana White. It was in the face of these questions that White announced the conditions of GSP’s return, should it come to fruition. If the dynamic Canadian does come back, he’ll be welcomed to an immediate title shot.
Photo by Josh Hedges/Zuffa LLC/Zuffa LLC via Getty Images
But that would mean that hard-working contenders like Rory MacDonald, Tyron Woodley, Hector Lombard and a reinvigorated Robbie Lawler would be ushered into the waiting line. Yes, as celebrated as GSP’s comeback will be, it will cause some serious divisional gridlock. If he does prove to be the once and future king—if he does win the title again—he’ll be faced with a long line of new faces who would like nothing more than a crack at the greatest welterweight of all time. Even if he loses on his return, there is still an infinite number of enticing match-ups for him within the confines of the division. For the UFC welterweight division, the return of GSP—as a contender or a champ—will cause an undeniable shakeup.
But GSP is the most accomplished welterweight our sport has ever known. There was a time when a case could have been made for that title going to Matt Hughes, but after scoring wins over Hughes himself (twice), BJ Penn (twice), Jon Fitch, Josh Koscheck (twice), Thiago Alves, Jake Shields, Carlos Condit, and Nick Diaz, it is abundantly clear who really owns that crown. After years of domination, GSP has set records and guaranteed himself a spot in the UFC Hall of Fame. He has nothing left to prove. So perhaps, his return needn’t be to his old division at all. Sure, a GSP welterweight comeback would be thrilling, but for a fighter of his caliber, there are always multiple options. Dana White said as much in a recent interview with UFC.com. “GSP can do whatever he wants.”
So, what if GSP wants to follow the course of his middleweight counterpart, Anderson Silva? Silva has acknowledged that his days of title fights are probably done. However, that doesn’t mean his days of entertaining fights have come to a close. At UFC 183, in January of 2015, the former middleweight champ will take on polarizing welterweight contender, Nick Diaz. And while Dana White has suggested that match-up has title implications, it probably doesn’t. Silva has expressed his disinterest in belt fights, and given the size disadvantage Diaz will carry up to middleweight, it’s unlikely he will contend regardless of the outcome of his fight with Silva. As far as divisional standings go, Silva versus Diaz is irrelevant. And that’s the beauty of the match-up. We’ll get to see Silva, one of the most iconic fighters of our sport, take on a seriously bad dude in Nick Diaz. All the technique of both men will be on display. Someone will win, someone will lose, no strings attached. And perhaps, given that GSP has already accomplished everything he needs to as welterweight champion, middleweight is the smarter strategy at the current juncture of his career.
Should GSP take this road, the most obvious match-up is one that fans have been salivating over for years—a fight with Anderson Silva himself. Silva, in all likelihood, will defeat Diaz. So why not book a Silva-St-Pierre match-up sometime thereafter? Sure, the fight would have meant more if it had happened a few years ago, when both men were laying waste in their respective divisions. But that’s what people said about a fight between Chuck Liddell and Wanderlei Silva. Just look how their long-awaited meeting went. Both fighters were long out of their primes, but their eventual encounter was an entertaining clash of legends and one of the most beloved fights of all time. There’s no reason St-Pierre and Silva couldn’t battle to a similar, iconic end. Then again, maybe a match-up between the two is MMA’s Loch Ness Monster—something that’s fun to think about, but just too spectacular to exist. It’s a fight fans have always clamoured for, but maybe it just isn’t in the cards. That would be an undeniable bummer, but luckily, the options for a returning GSP do not end there.
If it can’t be Silva, why not light heavyweight legend, recent middleweight title challenger, and long-time Silva training partner Lyoto Machida? I can just hear the groans. I know, it’s a fantastical match-up. But that’s the appeal. Machida recently hit a fairly serious career-snag. After some disappointing losses at light-heavyweight, he dropped to middleweight and worked his way to a title shot against Chris Weidman. But despite a solid showing down the stretch, Machida came up short against the champ. Now, he finds himself at a strange standstill. He’ll have some work to do before earning another shot at Weidman, but at 36, “the Dragon” is short on time. So maybe he, like Silva, ought to start thinking about legacy fights. Just imagine it: a bigger, stronger, clear-headed GSP taking on one of MMA’s true jigsaw puzzles in Lyoto Machida. Don’t pretend for a second that you wouldn’t tune in.
For a fighter like GSP, the options are endless. A matchup with Ronaldo “Jacare” Souza would be a veritable grappler’s delight. A clash with Chris Weidman would be a true and undeniable super fight. Even a matchup with one of the UFC’s ballsier lightweights—say, Donald Cerrone or Benson Henderson—would be intriguing. Yes, at this stage of GSP’s iconic career, matchups with whomever will generate massive interest. If he attempts to chase down the welterweight title, so be it—the fans will watch. If he chooses the fun-first, super fight route, you better believe that fans will tune in for that too.
Of course, all of this remains in the realm of the hypothetical, at least for the moment. Until GSP actually walks back onto the canvas there are no guarantees that we will ever see him in action again. But with the recent buzz—between Zahabi’s confidence in his return and White’s openness to anything—a St-Pierre comeback is becoming a wildly exciting prospect.
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