Georges St-Pierre, arguably the best welterweight of all time, has re-signed with the UFC and will return to the Octagon after a nearly four year long absence. Following prolonged negotiations which included disputes regarding pre-Reebok sponsorship deals St-Pierre still holds, both the promotion and the Canadian mixed martial artist could not have found a better time to come together again.
The UFC lacks star power at the moment. Conor McGregor is mesmerized by a potential once-in-a-lifetime payday if he steps in the boxing ring facing Floyd Mayweather. Ronda Rousey is on her way out—or has probably already left the room after her embarrassing loss to Amanda Nunes. Brock Lesnar announced his departure from the UFC a few days ago. And Jon Jones, who has never been the biggest draw but could headline a pay-per-view and push the buy rate above 500,000, will return in summer at the earliest, as he is still suspended due to a failed doping test.
In a day and age, where Artem Lobov can headline a UFC card and the owners WME-IMG need every penny to pay back loans, GSP had the negotiation leverage he wanted. Although the Canadian always portrayed himself as a fighters’ fighter, he would certainly not turn down a big bag of money. When the soon-36-year-old will step into the Octagon, he will not only intend to prove that he is still capable of beating anyone, but he will also beef up his bank account. That the UFC eventually gave in and finalized a deal with GSP shows the desperation within the promotion.
For fight fans, who do not have to pay attention to the business side of things, it will be interesting which version of GSP shows up. Despite his star power, GSP turned into a cautious wrestling-focused fighter after his loss to Matt Serra at UFC 69 in 2007. The Canadian started viewing MMA as a science in which he perfected the way he could outpoint opponents while taking minimal damage.
That said, his last performance in the cage was far from convincing. At UFC 167, he edged out a close decision win over Johny Hendricks and retained the welterweight title, only to later announce his temporary retirement and vacate the championship. Many viewers including UFC president Dana White believed that Hendricks won the fight. When GSP arrived at the press conference afterwards, it seemed that his heart was not in it anymore.
“Rush” probably needed time to recharge the batteries and get his hunger back. Or GSP is as delusional as other fighters of his generation who think they can still hang with the current elite. A few weeks ago, we witnessed B.J. Penn, who was one of GSP’s biggest rivals back in the day, being embarrassed by a much younger, much more dynamic fighter in Yair Rodriguez.
On the other hand, St-Pierre has always been a true professional who would most likely not return to the UFC if he was not 100 percent sure whether he has still the ability to beat top-level fighters. Oddsmakers think that Michael Bisping, the current middleweight champion, is the most likely opponent for GSP in his first bout, which, of course, would put a potential title fight for Yoel Romero on hold.
From a sporting perspective, this matchup does not make much sense. From a promotional standpoint, however, this fight could generate a high PPV buy rate which is exactly what the UFC needs. GSP has always worked best in the buildup of big fights when his opponent played the role of the villain and talked a lot of trash, while GSP was keeping it professional.
The same scenario could play out for a potential second fight between GSP and Nick Diaz who has not accepted any fight the UFC has offered him since his suspension expired. And against Diaz, GSP’s chance of winning his comeback fight would be much higher than against Bisping. The Englishman has a larger physique, at least equal cardio and can negate St-Pierre’s wrestling.
A matchup against the winner of the welterweight title rematch between Tyron Woodley and Stephen Thompson, scheduled for UFC 209 in a few weeks, seems unlikely. GSP has trained with the latter. And a fight against the former is dangerous because of Woodley’s knockout power, yet it would not generate as much interest as other fights—such as a bout with Anderson Silva.
Once a dream match for almost every fight fan, both legends could finally meet in the Octagon despite being not in their prime anymore. The former middleweight Silva against the former welterweight champion St-Pierre, two of the best pound-for-pound competitors of all time—that is something the UFC can put on a poster and headline a show with, even when a title would not be on the line.
These last few sentences show that even in the case of St-Pierre’s return we have to consider the promotional aspects of matchmaking. Before his hiatus, GSP was great at selling the image of him as a true fighter who would not join the trash talking squad or sacrifice the style that made him successful to appeal to the “just bleed”-audience.
Nevertheless, he developed name value and pushed the UFC’s popularity in Canada, a big market for the UFC a few years ago. At least his first bout will create a much-needed buzz before we can judge how much of his skills in the cage are left. And who says that GSP in 2017 could not win a UFC title. That possibility does not even exclusively depend on his fighting abilities. The UFC needs his star power, and that could open a lot of doors for the returning Canadian.