Georges St-Pierre vacating title might be the holiday gift UFC needs to restore order
Despite vacating his title, GSP opened one of the most stacked divisions in the sport
Let's not pull any punches: 2017 has been a weird year for UFC.
Canceled fights, rampant weight-cutting issues and a lack of star power became the norm as UFC endured a wicked hangover fresh off a record-breaking year and well-publicized $4 billion sale.
With pay-per-view sales way down, the fact that president Dana White can brag about UFC having its best financial year simply due to compensation received from Conor McGregor moonlighting as a professional boxer in August lets you know just how wacky it has been.
There's no question that the aforementioned star problem was the biggest cause of UFC's issues as McGregor, Nate Diaz and Ronda Rousey sat idle, Jon Jones exited one suspension for drug test failure only to fail another one and Cody Garbrandt endured injury and defeat. Even heavyweight champion Stipe Miocic largely sat out due to contract issues.
But the biggest effect of UFC's star problem was the epidemic of short-sighted matchmaking that became the company's crutch. The result has been a gluttony of interim titles and an overall mockery of its own divisional rankings for the sake of desperately chasing crossover attention that was rarely there.
One could also argue UFC hastily created a pair of divisions it either doesn't need or, at the very least, failed to properly take time to fill (women's flyweight and featherweight) before crowning inaugural champions. Meanwhile, the two most crowded and competitive divisions (men's lightweight and middleweight) failed to gain the clarity that the top contenders deserved.
So if you're looking for hope to build on as a UFC fan just weeks away from the start of 2018, a flurry of recent news -- some rumored and some confirmed -- just might be the cure for the uncommon calendar year.
No news was bigger than Georges St-Pierre's decision on Thursdayby returning from a four-year layoff to defeat Michael Bisping. And when it comes to breaking news so close to the holidays, both UFC and its fans should strongly consider this one to be a gift.
Despite walking away from the shortest title reign in UFC history, St-Pierre made the type of decision that allows an incredibly deep division to truly find out who the best fighter is.
After enduring a 17-month reign from Bisping -- featuring a life-or-death title defense against an undeserving, 46-year-old Dan Henderson and a long injury layoff -- what the middleweight championship needs most is credibility. That will come on Feb. 10 in Australia when former champion Luke Rockhold challenges interim titleholder Robert Whittaker at UFC 221.
White was quoted just last week in saying how upset he would be should St-Pierre, who had a contractual obligation to defend against interim champion Robert Whittaker should he stay at middleweight, give up the belt.
"I don't want to hear that. That's not what I want to hear," White said. "I want to hear he's going to defend his 185-pound title. That's the agreement we made. That's the deal we made when we made the deal ... I'm going to be super-pissed."
But not only does St-Pierre's decision somewhat serve White right for stiff-arming the top contenders in line in order to book the financially promising GSP-Bisping bout at UFC 217, the former welterweight king appears to have given up his title for all the right reasons.
"My fight at UFC 217 was one of the greatest nights of my life but I now need to take some time to focus on my health," St-Pierre said in a statement provided by the UFC. "Out of respect to the athletes and the sport, I don't want to hold up the division. I will be giving up my belt and once I'm healthy, I look forward to working with the UFC to determine what's next in my career."
Despite GSP's star power, the middleweight division doesn't need him. Plus, the move opens up big-money options for him to return to welterweight in 2018 and possibly chase the 170-pound title he gave up upon retiring in 2013.
All of this is good news for just how bright the opening months of the new year are starting to looks when it comes to big fights that matter for all the right reasons. Along with Whittaker-Rockhold in February, the UFC 220 card one month before in Boston is headlined by a pair of title fights that scream with potential for knockouts: light heavyweight champion Daniel Cormier against Volkan Oezdemir and Miocic defending his heavyweight strap against red-hot Francis Ngannou.
Considering lightweight is also being hijacked from clarity by McGregor exercising his 100 million reasons not to return on UFC's timeline, the promotion might be better off stripping him of the belt as a means to speed up his return and restore order where it's most needed.
Big-name stars tend to get created on their own when the best are constantly forced to face the best -- a working statement the Zuffa-run UFC originally built its success upon -- and are rarely made in inorganic ways. After 12 months of unsuccessfully cutting off its nose to save its face, it's time for UFC to ride the resurgent wave that appears to be coming and put the mistakes of 2017 behind.
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