Earlier this week, UFC welterweight champion Georges St-Pierre took to his official Twitter account to announce, at long last, that he has been medically cleared to fight. GSP also said he would be returning to the Octagon to defend his belt at UFC 154 in the friendly confines of the Bell Centre in Montreal. The fight will be GSP’s first since an April 2011 decision victory over Jake Shields and was naturally met with a lot of excitement from around the MMA community.
GSP’s head trainer, Firas Zahabi, in an interview with MMAJunkie.com, even went so far as to predict that UFC 154 could break pay-per-view buy records due to the popularity of the Canadian champion and the curiosity surrounding his ability to bounce back from a knee injury.
The fact that GSP faces some truly dangerous competition in the form of Carlos Condit certainly lends some intrigue to the bout as well. By all accounts, UFC 154 should be one of the promotion’s most important events to date and will re-establish GSP as a true pound-for-pound great. Fans will once again get to see him defend his welterweight title against another of the division’s top dogs, and the UFC will likely reap the financial rewards.
But let’s pump the brakes a bit.
Yes, it’s great that one of the sport’s best fighters (and box office attractions) is planning on returning to the cage. Let us not, however, rule out the possibility that between now and Nov. 17, St-Pierre could fall victim to yet another career-pausing ailment. Remember, this is the same guy who was supposed to fight in November 2011 and again this past February, but had training injuries force him out of competition for 16 months and counting.
Perhaps just as worrisome for the UFC brass is the plague of fighter withdrawals that has stricken the last several cards. Looking back just as far as to May, we’ve seen the following UFC main events altered due to problems with fighters:
- UFC 146 was supposed to feature Junior Dos Santos against Alistair Overeem before the questionable integrity of Overeem’s training practices forced the UFC to sub in Frank Mir.
- UFC 147 was originally promoted as Vitor Belfort vs. Wanderlei Silva, but Belfort was injured and replaced by Rich Franklin.
- UFC 149 had Jose Aldo fighting Erik Koch for the featherweight title before Aldo was injured. The UFC removed the fight from the card, and it was instead headlined by Urijah Faber vs. Renan Barao.
- UFC on Fox: Shogun vs. Vera was first called UFC on Fox: Stann vs. Lombard. You can probably predict what happened by now.
Oh yeah, and there was the time a week ago when an injured Dan Henderson pulled out from his fight against Jon Jones at UFC 151 and the UFC proceeded to cancel the event in its entirety.
GSP is, indeed, supposed to fight at UFC 154, but the UFC should not—and almost certainly will not—ignore the possibility that the injury bug might just sting the champion sometime in the interim. This, of course, begs the question: If GSP does get injured before Nov. 17, what should the UFC do?
Should the UFC simply continue the charade of interim titleholders until the “true” champion—the one who probably would not have defended his title for two years or more at that point—is healthy enough to actually make it to the Octagon in the first place? Or should it strip GSP of his belt?
One must admit that the temptation to simply strip the champ of his title would be strong if he suffers another injury. Not only would this finally clear up the title-contention logjam at 170, but it would potentially free up GSP to settle the score with Nick Diaz (in a fight that could easily headline a PPV, even if it wasn’t for a title) or even make that long-discussed superfight with middleweight champion Anderson Silva happen. If GSP isn’t interested in diverging from his welterweight title path, he would certainly be allowed the first shot at the new champion whenever he would return to full health, while still allowing the division to churn through contenders in the meantime.
The other factor the UFC must consider with regard to GSP’s health is the overall quality of the rest of the UFC 154 card. If the other fights scheduled for UFC 151 had been stronger, the promotion would not have had to cancel the entire card just because the main event was no longer happening.
At present, the presumed co-main event at UFC 154 would be Johny Hendricks vs. Martin Kampmann to determine the next top welterweight contender. This fight would be a fine main event for an FX or Fuel TV show, but it will definitely not have fans clamoring to spend $50 to watch. The UFC should do itself a favor between now and November and see if it can get another solid main-card fight to ensure the event will take place even if there’s an injury to a main-event participant.
If everything goes according to plan, we’ll all be sitting in front of our televisions on Nov. 17 to see Georges St-Pierre (likely grind out another decision) win against Carlos Condit. The pay-per-view numbers will probably be among the best the UFC has seen, and fans will be able to actually watch a card that hasn’t been altered a half-dozen times.
But, as the poet Robert Burns wrote: “The best laid schemes of mice and men/Go often awry/And leave us nothing but grief and pain/For promised joy!”
Photo: UFC Welterweight Champion Georges St-Pierre (Dave Mandel/Sherdog)