COMMENTARY | The main event of UFC 167 on Saturday, November 16 ended with a confusing decision and even more confusing statements from current welterweight champion Georges St. Pierre.
Clearly emotional from a tough title defense, St. Pierre continually stated that he needed time away from the sport for personal reasons. The immediate outcry from UFC president Dana White and other parts of the MMA community were quite interesting and disturbing to see.
During the post-fight press conference, White was clearly frustrated with the result and the non-committal way St. Pierre answered the important questions. One of his champions would be walking away from the sport at a time when a prime opportunity for success was in front of them.
"You owe it to the fans. You owe it to that belt. You owe it to this company and you owe it to Johny Hendricks to give him that opportunity to fight again," White said during the press conference."Unless you're going to retire."
Coming into UFC 167 there were rumors swirling about whether or not this was going to be St. Pierre's final bout in the sport. It was his 9th defense in more than a decade of professional fighting. After the victory, he was only willing to state that "personal problems" were going to cause him to take "time away" from the sport. He reiterated those comments during the press conference and wouldn't give a straight answer to if and when he would return to competition.
White's comments, along with St. Pierre not providing the answers desired, created the perfect firestorm for the MMA community to last out. Fans on social media and even some media professionals began to comment on what the fighter known as "Rush" owed to the sport. For example, Bleacher Report columnist Levi Nile chimed in on why St. Pierre owes the sport to immediately rematch Hendricks and not take time away from the sport. That mentality held by fans and media professionals alike creates a slippery slope on how these fighters should be treated as athletes and people.
St. Pierre's professional career began in 2002, but his training in martial arts dates back further than that. He's been considered one of the best fighters in the sport since as early as 2005 when his rise to prominence began. Georges regained the welterweight title back in 2008 and is currently the longest tenured champion to date. Throughout his reign complaints of St. Pierre fighting safe, avoiding risks and not finishing fights have plagued his popularity, but he's always faced the top challengers in one of the most well-developed divisions in the sport.
There has to be a point where St. Pierre has given enough to a sport as grueling as mixed martial arts. In combat sports, it's very rare that a fighter walks away when the time is right. All-time greats such as Muhammad Ali, Evander Holyfield, Chuck Liddell and Mark Coleman continued fighting well after their prime. If St. Pierre feels the need to step away from the sport for whatever reasons, he should be allowed to do so without being reprimanded for what he "owes" to the fight world. This is a personal decision that an athlete is making and should be respected the same way everyday workers expect their personal decisions to be respected.
White made it known that he wouldn't have been "upset" with St. Pierre for retiring. However, he stated that "after a fight like that and say hey, listen I'm going to take some time off and do whatever. If that's the case, retire." He made it clear that he believed Hendricks won that fight, but the issue seems to be with the inconclusiveness of Georges' announcement. Either way, if Georges St. Pierre wants to retire or take a year off, this matter should have been handled professionally behind the scenes instead of drug in front for the sports world to digest.
Stating that a fighter such as St. Pierre "owes" the sport insinuates a level of ownership that occurs all across professional sports. Multiple examples exist of serious anger for personal decisions that athletes have made from sports professionals and fans alike. Examples include LeBron James leaving the Cleveland Cavaliers or Johnny Damon moving from the Boston Red Sox to New York Yankees. All too often in sports athletes are treated as more of an item simply because they are multimillionaires that earn their money in a sport that the viewing public enjoys. St. Pierre and others should be allowed the same choice to make decisions that affect their lives as others, but that is rarely the case.
Whether or not the UFC gets its rematch of Georges St. Pierre against Johny Hendricks isn't the matter around this conversation. In fact, rumors are already circulating of a planned fight. The issue is the idea that these athletes owe something to the viewers, fans, sports and promoters in the industry. That attitude creates an unrealistic expectation on those who already give so much exchanging strikes in a steel cage.
Raphael Garcia lives in Washington, DC and has worked as a sports journalist since 2006. His work has contributed to outlets that includes multiple newspapers, websites and ESPN.
- Sports & Recreation
- Martial Arts
- Johny Hendricks